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Mastery Journal: A List Because Quitting Isn't an Option

As I am preparing to graduate from a film course I have created a plan to stay true to my goals to become a professional writer. This is a goal I have had all my life but I didn't give myself permission to pursue it until August 2021. It's funny that I help people tell their stories but don't always give myself permission to tell my own. Since March 13, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. I have created some of my best work despite a depth of grief that I cannot fathom.

In one of his last social media posts before he died, my Daddy shared my video about why I wanted to make a movie about Paul Laurence Dunbar. He wrote, "Penn, you do good work." These words that my father posted on his social media page motivate me to keep going.

Here is a list of my renewed commitments to myself, because I am a writer and I must keep going. Why don't you join me in making a commitment to yourself:

1 - I Must Study My Craft

I commit to reading at least one book a month, listening to at least one podcast a month, networking and checking in with a mentor. I will invest in myself by attending conferences and workshops to sharpen my craft. I will lean on my Unpluckable village of supporters to hold me accountable to a standard of excellence in my projects.

On one of the most difficult days I had as a social worker my daddy gave me a lesson that I have taught to so many people. "Don't be a tulip Penn," he said. "Tulips are beautiful for a few days and they they die. Be a dandelion and dig your roots in deep." Because of my Daddy I have taught people people how to be Unpluckable and been able to pass on his lessons about resilience and strength. I must make sure that I pass the baton of knowledge so that others behind me have a beacon of light to guide them toward their destiny.

2 - I Must Network

My daddy used to say, "If you ain't networking, you ain't working." He was right, many connections are all about who knows you. So many social media sites that I now have knowledge of, I commit to checking them at least once a week.

When I tell you that people knew who I was because of my last name before they knew who I was as Penda, I am not lying. Doors would open for me because of who my Grandparents, Uncle, Parents and cousins are. That is one of the things I am most proud of, being a Horton. I come from good stock and I have no excuse to fail. I am my daddy's "love child" because my name means love. I used to think to myself when he would put the pressure on me, "Damn sir, let me breathe!" That's funny, but my parents instilled in us a love for community and service. If I want my daughter, nephews and niece to see pure joy and faith in me, I have to keep going. I must keep going because people are depending on me to live on purpose.

My father's expectations of me growing up were high. There is no doubt that carrying the Horton name came with great responsibility. As a kid I didn't understand what it meant, but as an adult, I have learned to be intentional with the responsibility that being Penda (Horton) now James has afforded me. I have a legacy to uphold for William, Elna, Wonderful Will, Marvelous Marv, Marilyn, Joi, James and Fredric. I am Penda and the pen in my name calls me to purpose.

3 - I Must Keep A Writing Schedule

I have written six books, have a blog, host a podcast, and been published in several anthologies and journals. I have probably thrown away more journals full of joys, pains and reflections than I care to admit. Writing has always been something that has kept me grounded and both of my parents were writers. Mommy wrote all the time, my Daddy inscribed with his mouth. He talked a lot and you could hear him talking from a mile away because he talked loud. The volume in his voice was passion and love. If you didn't know him, you would have misinterpreted his loudness as disrespect or rudeness, but he was a gentle giant who saw goodness in people that they didn't accept about themselves.

Daddy was an English major at Bowling Green State University. I'll never forget that he told me in sixth grade how important it is to write. He told me, "Write down what you want to say. When you speak they are thinking about what they want to say and their focus is not on you. If you write it down, you have their full attention."

I participated in a writing accountability group in 2021 for 8 weeks and developed a habit of writing daily for two hours. Although I've been writing for as long as I can remember, I put it into my passion planner and hold true to it.

4 - I Must Give Myself Grace and Slow Down

The important moments of my life require me to be fully present. Many people in my life remind me that I move too quickly and the quality of my work suffers when that happens. I think I move too quickly because I put pressure on myself to perform at an unrealistic standard. One second. One minute. One hour. One day at a time from now on.

I recently watched a father and his son interact on a bus. I watched the father call out to his son who is legally blind. The son trusted the sound of his father's voice and followed it to him. Watching this happen, I recognized that being led by the voice of your father is a gift that God gave me and I am deeply appreciative of it. My path has already been illuminated by my natural father's voice and my Heavenly Father's plan. All I have to do is listen. When I feel the urgency to move too quickly, I must take a selah moment and rest in God's grace. I commit to being present and etching more moments into my mind.


There is an African Proverb that says, "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground." This is more true than I can verbalize. The library that I am creating will ensure that the legacy of my father (mother, grandparents, and other elders) is not lost. I could not get Daddy to write his own book, but I will make sure that the books he inspired are published. Maybe I will be able to get my Doctorate after all.

One of the last text messages that my Daddy sent me was, "I'll keep reading for a finale." In order for him to "keep reading, I must keep writing. Although spoken words are stuck behind a wall of tears right now, I must keep going as a writer - my daddy would have it no other way.

How can I help you keep going?

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