Ice-fishing huts, Manitoulin Island
I’ve been working on working on a book for a couple of years now and wanted to share some of the backstory of how I decided to write it and what I’ve learned from the process so far.
I’ve had a blog for awhile now and love having a space to share my writing when I’m working through something sticky that’s happening in my life. It’s where I write and share when I get stuck.
The other big use of my blog, as you may already know, is that I post all of my poetry on it when I write 108 poems in 30 days to raise money for Yasodhara Ashram’s Young Adult Program every fall.
So this all began with me thinking – I have over 216 poems written and published. I should pick the best ones, put them together and make them into a book.
But that didn’t feel quite right… a book full of random poems… it seemed doomed to the fate of almost every other book of poetry: dusty on a high shelf; never to be read.
And so then I thought, what is the theme? What am I already writing about? If I was going to curate a book of poetry what would it be on?
So one day, in a coffee shop and then a library, on a day long study date with an old boyfriend who was working on his finance homework, I read every poem and every blog post I have ever written.
And the answer was clear: courage. I write about the courage to make the changes I need to make.
And sometimes it’s incredibly messy, and I have no idea what the courageous next step would be, and no idea what to do, and so I write about it. I write about it until I find out the courageous next step. Or I write until I have at least something to experiment with.
Once I try it out, I usually know if it was courageous or not. If I feel at peace it was right. And if feel like a crap it probably wasn’t.
So that day, in the coffee shop, then the library, my idea for the book crystallized: Finding Courage – a book of poems for courage.
And the idea continued to evolve from there. I laid out the Four Steps to Courage and was going to write a little intro to each step and then have the poems illustrate the step. I started writing, started writing about the steps and writing more poems on courage.
I created a huge Microsoft Word document with every piece I’ve ever written that has ever had anything to do with courage that I could pull from for the book.
And then I realized, I wanted to share stories too. Stories from my life that were about courage. So maybe it would be stories and poems, or maybe it would be a memoir.
I know it doesn’t really sound like it would be, but this was a major emotional crisis for me. I pride myself on the ability to keep commitments and suddenly I was about to jump ship on the book of poetry?? Would I ever keep my commitment to the book?? Would I ever finish it?? Was this book going to die alone on my hard drive??
I emailed Dan, the founder of WeGrowMedia who has been helping with the writing and marketing strategy, in a half panic. I didn’t want him to think that I was a flake so I tried to sound relaxed and said things like, “This thought was precipitated by the following facts/thoughts”
This was followed by 8 bullet points making my case.
I didn’t mention that I was scared my book might die alone on my hard drive.
His response was thoughtful. He told me that everything was going to be fine and that maybe my memoir could have poetry in it. This could be an interesting feature that no one else was working with, he thought.
And so I kept writing and have kept writing. I have written incredibly compelling stories about my life and incredibly boring ones. Some days it is hard and some days it is easy.
I write on my lunch at a cafe very close to my work every day. Today was a good writing day. I was happy with the work. I hope tomorrow will be good too, but it might be bad.
I am learning that almost all of the planning I do for my writing is wrong. I can’t think my way into a solution. I have to write my way there.
And I’ve learned that it’s incredibly scary, I have no idea where the project is going and I can’t know until I get there.
But I also love it. When I write and it’s working, my life makes more sense. I feel like I have a purpose.
Writing this book might be the most challenging thing I do in my life, and also might be one of my greatest accomplishments.
Have a great week,