Ugh: Lena Dunham on "The Sting" We've All Felt


By Megan Conley

Earlier this month Lena Dunham hosted a sold-out event at Housing Works in NYC to promote the launch of the offspring of her uber-popular online feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter. The new brand, Lenny Books, is part of Random House and is the brainchild of both Lena and Jenni Konner. 

The night celebrated the first book to be released by Lenny, Sour Heart. Lena took the stage alongside the author, Jenny Zhang, in an evening that was just as entertaining as it was inspiring. 

The advice Lena and Jenny Zhang dispelled was relevant to not only female authors, but any female trying to achieve more in their career. 

Here are some takeaways from the evening:

Push Yourself

While Jenny’s fictional collection of short stories just hit shelves August 1st, the book has already been deemed both “unforgettable” and “elegant and unconventional” by the press. Such rave reviews make it easy to imagine a scenario where once she’s formed an idea for a story, everything else just flows out onto her page.

Not so. 

According to Jenny, in order to get the most out of herself she writes against her ego. She said, “Writing against the worst of who you think you are is my writing process.” 

Know Your Unique Value

The dialogue between Lena and Jenny was relaxed and natural, and the event felt as though you were seated next to them at a dinner table. 

When describing the experience of developing her own voice in an academic setting, she spoke to the advantages and disadvantages of being continually critiqued. As with life, if we listen and take advice from each and every person we lose our uniqueness. Doing so would cause us to turn out, as Jenny put it, “like a very bland, boiled peanut.” 

She also said to develop your voice independently of all the voices speaking around you.

Allow Yourself to Be Mentored

Both Lena and Jenny spoke about having their work edited. They each praised their editors, and mentioned the sting that comes alongside putting your heart and soul into something only to be told it isn’t quite there yet. 

No matter what we do for a living, we’ve all felt that sting.

A good editor, as with any coach or work mentor, will take your work and encourage you to make it even better. We should allow ourselves to be mentored and edited by those who are appreciative of our potential.

As someone who’s always been in awe of Lena’s writing and television I wanted to know why, at this point in her career, she’d decided to take launch Lenny Books. I was thrilled* (*Beyonce is to Adele as Lena is to me) when she read that question aloud. Her response:

Lena: A huge part was Jenni. We knew we wanted an imprint with smart, diverse feminist content….The goal is when you see the insignia you’ll know you’ll learn something and feel something. You’ll feel more connected to yourself and less alone. Even if you hate it you’ll step away being like, I had a really powerful experience. And books are the best. 

With the next book up being a collection of never-before-published essays about Michelle Obama we know what’s to come will continue to inspire. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received in your career? Let us know in the comments!

Megan works for Wellness Amplified, where she helps clients develop and execute campaigns with online Influencers. In Megan's free time she enjoys writing, taking spin classes, and experimental attempts at cooking. Her writing has been featured in Social Media Week, Social Media Today, and Brides. P.S. Her New Year's resolution was not to become one of those insanely annoying "just engaged" people. But... if you want, you can check out her proposal video here.