What you must not ever do

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.
— Mary Oliver

Oh, easy to write, Mary Oliver.

Tough to do!

I am a sucker for quotes about "living your best life." Even if they are on bumper stickers. 

These last few months I feel like I've been struggling with this be-lighthearted/be-accountable framework. Two months ago I finished the first draft of my book (Woot! Woot!) Then once the euphoria settled down, I got busy planning the next phase of work: 1) plug up some research gaps in my book, and 2) focus on how to market myself as an author. I'm taking a virtual 3-month marketing course to guide me.

But the book's not done!  Why would I be marketing now?

Because in today's age of jillions of books being published (tons of self-published as well as those through traditional publishers) -- if I hope to be read -- it would help to figure out who my potential reader is now, and find out what's important to her/him, and to begin to show up where they are.

So, I've been experimenting with things like:

  • Reading books in my historical fiction genre and posting reviews of them in Goodreads and Amazon and Library Thing websites.

  • Following, liking and sharing/retweeting other women's fiction authors on social media

  • Tweeting and hash-tagging topics that align with my book's message like #progress and #inspiringwomen 

  • Teaching a how-to tactical workshop on "jump-starting your art" at my former employer

To be honest, this last idea, sharing steps on how to follow the creative yen that pulls at you, felt pretty far afield of marketing my book. I mentioned it briefly in my last newsletter. The workshop was all about the process of getting started. My book was just a frame of reference. And, frankly, I wondered whether I was credible. I mean, the book's not done yet. Does that make my title of "author" a sham?

Still, I just liked the idea: Sharing a story with others of how to pursue the art that tugs at them. 

Taking a step to being true to yourself.

So, when I drove down the highway to teach the workshop, I'd stamped down the "you're an impostor" demons enough to be cheerful. Traffic was light, the sky a bright clear blue. Thank goodness that day was "business casual" -- I'd recently gleefully donated away my suits and heels. And after a late dash to a Fed-Ex print shop the night before (my printer quit working), I had colorful handouts in my bag. I'd practiced a little; I'd controlled as much as I could.

Now what was left was completely unknown: Would my story connect with the 10 people that signed up? Would the journey I've followed to be a writer be relevant to them?  Would one hour be the right amount of time? 

(Would I be boring?)

I find the conference room, and women and men begin arriving. There's been a last-minute flurry of sign-ups: 14 hurry into the room, plus four more call in to a conference line. Gulp. I have just enough handouts! There's a little bustling of introductions, then we settle in. "Let's get started," I say, "Would each of you share the creative thing that pulls at you? Why are you here? What art are you trying to jump-start?"

A beat or two of silence.

Then the magic begins.

Imagine sharing an idea you've barely given yourself permission to think, let alone, say aloud. At first, the voices are self-conscious: "I have a knack for scrap-booking. Making cards" and "I paint with oil, like to draw with charcoal." Whispers. "I love design -- gardening and interior design." A throat clears, "I've had this screenplay in my head." Words spill out jumbled together, "Theater and dance and photography." A glance up, just enough for eye contact, "I love woodworking." 

A few people use words of identity --  "I am a singer" and "I am a writer" -- they've crossed the threshold of doing their craft and now look to keep going.  A few are at the very beginning, "I've always liked photography."

Ah, and so right away I learn the hour is not about me. The content takes on a unique life to each person because the steps I share are like water to the unique seeds of each individual's deeply rooted creative expression. I needn't have worried about being authentic. The authenticity lies within each workshop participant and the steps they choose that make sense to them.

We laugh. Lightheartedness lifts the room. It's so joyful. It's as though fragile ideas are forming into skeletons and with each step in the process, a little more sinew and muscle and blood forms. It is really fun.

And it is really hard. Each individual in that room and on the conference line has demanding careers and an absorbing family life and lots of life obligations. My hope was that just seeing a path forward to do their art -- opening up the possibility, whether they choose to walk it now, or later -- is a step forward in itself.

Wow, the hour flew by. 

Here are a few of the comments I received later:

"I thought that the workshop was inspiring...The biggest goal that I have for my family is to find more time for joy. It's funny how things like that tend to slip when you're busy with the daily grind."  

"It really lit a fire under me as well has motivated me even more to perfect my craft. I went home and told my husband about how much I enjoyed your work shop and had a whole discussion surrounding your statement, 'I wish I'd had the courage to live true to myself, not the life others expected of me.' "


I'm grateful for these thoughts, but in getting back to how this whole experience got started... was the workshop a worthwhile marketing strategy for my book? Well, I...

  • Made 1:1 personal connections with others who now know about my book - Win!

  • Feel grateful for the progress I've made so far on the book - Win!

  • Have three more invitations to do similar workshops in the future - Win!

  • Recognize I am not a "sham" 

Big win.

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Never mind the baby will be in Flagstaff -- he'll be a Cardinals fan! Meanwhile I try on my first "Fabulous Grandma" t-shirt...you bet I am.

How I'm Writing the Book
Filling in Research Details - Found a cool new book on our trip to Washington DC's National Gallery, The Vincent Van Gogh Atlas. It's full of info bits. For instance, since the time period is the late 1800's I'd wondered whether it was OK for my protagonist, Jo, to send a letter and receive a response in just a few days. Turns out because of the telegraph and rapidly growing train network in some cities (like Paris where she lives) the postman made as many as four deliveries a day! 
Trave
Books on Strong Women by Female Authors - Please, please pick up Teri Case's, In the Doghouse. Perfect summer reading. A dog is the main character and he is trying his dogged-hardest to patch up a human romance. Behind this silly premise and funny story is a gifted storyteller's warm wisdom about loss, family and love. (The dog is a dude; his human is a woman who ultimately finds her own strength.)

Would you share your summer reading recommendation with me?

Personal Stuff
Last week my husband and I took off to visit our Son and Daughter and their Significant Spouses (I first wrote, "Significant Others," but that phrase --  "Others" -- makes them sound like aliens, right?!)  Our visit to our Son was a flight to Flagstaff to attend a baby shower for soon-to-appear First Grandson. The other was a 24-hour Daughter birthday-blur drive to Kansas City and back. We DO NOT SEE THEM ENOUGH, so each visit is super fun.

Also...since the drive to KC is 3-1/2 hours each way, I brought along the hard-copy of my manuscript to thumb through and make sure I'm capturing all my research questions. Thirteen chapters to KC; 13 chapters back. At the end of reading and making the last of my margin notes, I closed the 4-inch binder and said to my Husband, "You know. I think this is a pretty good story!" It's been awhile since I actually read it page-to-page. 

By the way, if your interest is piqued on taking the marketing course, Dan Blank's Mastermind, registration is now open for the July - September time-frame. 

Let me say goodbye for now with another lovely quote from poet Mary Oliver. 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Wildly,

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What to cut and what to keep

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. 
-Truman Capote

I read that novelist Truman Capote worked only from lying down on a couch, writing and revising by marking up his pages with a pen. He'd start out with a cup of coffee by his side in the morning. Then switch out the coffee cup for a glass of sherry in the afternoon, and end the day with a martini. 

He was a prolific novelist, screenwriter, short-story writer, and playwright. Breakfast at Tiffany's and the nonfiction In Cold Blood are among his well-known works. Surprising to think he wrote them all on his back like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. 

I'm revising now; maybe I should try that.

Perhaps lying down would actually settle me enough to focus.

Here it is the end of April -- it feels like one blink and the days on the calendar whipped up a froth and now the suds are settling down and it's a month later already. April's slipping away with a big sucking noise.

I have MEANT to do so many things. Start on the revision, rethink my marketing, read and review more books. Instead my desk is a mess of iterative notes and lists and calendars and intentions and hashtags and spreadsheets.

Yes, shockingly to this English-major mind, a SPREADSHEET has reared its little digit head. Because now that the first draft of the manuscript is done I've entered a new phase. The Stage of Reason: logic and structure and analysis and fact-checking.  I've gone through all 26 chapters of the manuscript to note details I want to verify. Imagine 396 rows on an Excel spreadsheet filled with phrases like, "Were Montmartre's streets cobblestone or dirt?"

It's hard to settle down. I mean is fact-checking really writing? The restlessness has been like an undercurrent flowing against me, an invisible resistance making it challenging to move forward and progress.   

And it's come out of nowhere. A big dip down from the euphoric high I felt completing the first draft.

Here's what I think: After so many months of a tight routine of focus to get the story down, when I finally finished and mentally let loose, a flood of pent-up thought rushed forward. Many of the voices are negative: Who are you to think you can write a book? Look at all the other people around who have published dozens of books. You've started too late. You don't know enough. No one knows who you are. No one will care.

Have you ever felt like this, an impostor?

Other mental voices needle that I'm not doing enough: I should update my website. I should gather essays and create a digital giveaway. I should post more online. I should become a speaker. I should update my photos. I should find more collaborators. I should, should, should.

Have you ever felt like this, paralyzed with so many next-actions you can't choose one?

Clearly, something had to give. And, finally, it was this week that I think I broke through the mess into a way forward to silence the negative, spinning thoughts. Two cool sources gave me the perspective to connect the dots. 

  • Love vs. Commerce.  I heard a podcast interview with Brian Heiler, a guy who runs a thriving online community dedicated to 1970's toys and pop culture. His motive is love not money, and in the interview (by Dan Blank), he observes how art and commerce have gotten mashed together so that often collectors get obsessed with what an item is worth, keep it in pristine condition and close it up behind cellophane, and end of obscuring the joy the item. TV shows on finding treasure in abandoned storage units or getting a pawn shop to estimate the worth of an old keepsake have created a culture where value is all about the bucks. The message is that commercial success is the yardstick for true value. So, by taking in this message, a frenzy to build an audience of potential readers or to attract thousands of social-media followers clouded the reason I'm doing this. 

My purpose for writing the book -- the joy and love for crafting an important story -- is shoved aside and forgotten. No wonder I felt like an impostor. 

  • Live True to Yourself. The second nudge on this topic came from a blog post on Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, who worked for many years in palliative care, most often with people expected to die.  In 2009 she wrote the first article on this topic (others have come along since.) Gathered from her conversations with those she was caring for, she shared the five most frequent regrets from people who knew they were dying. The most common regret struck a chord with me: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 

This is how Bonnie explained it: "This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made."

Reading this statement quieted my spinning demons. I am not in a race; I am pursuing a choice that feels true to myself. Yes, I can improve my website and change my communications, etc., etc.,  but these can be an outcome of the love I have, not an obligation to my marketing sense.

I am calmer.

I hope the restlessness is gone, but, in a way, I'm grateful. The distraction and anxiety forced me to keep searching and listening for what I needed to hear. That's what revision is, right? Deciding what to cut away and what to keep.

I'm keeping the love.

Signs of spring... a pink snowfall after an April shower and the opening of baseball season. (This is a poster soon-to-be-hung in the Baby's room -- YES -- see below!)

Signs of spring... a pink snowfall after an April shower and the opening of baseball season. (This is a poster soon-to-be-hung in the Baby's room -- YES -- see below!)

How I'm Writing the Book
 Filling in the Gaps: My goal is to finish fact-checking and making little corrections from my book coach by Memorial Day. This will prepare me to do a proper manuscript audit to figure out what I need to cut out since the book's a little long. Books on Strong Women by Female Authors. I hope you find your way to A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney. It is a beautiful, heart-rending tale of a daughter's kidnapping, and the vivid, intense, close-to-crazy experience inside Maddy, the mom's head. The whole time I imagined, "If it was me..." with all the anguish of never, never, never giving up hope for a vanished daughter. Police detectives. Russian Mafia. New York streets. Exquisitely desperate. 

Personal Stuff
My Son and Wife are expecting a BABY! End of July. I told my Husband that instead of "Nana" or "Grandma" I want to be called "Lolly" so he could be "Pop." So our Son can say to the Baby, "Lolly Pop is coming!" Ha! (My Husband is not amused.) A final word from Capote: 

The brain may take advice, but not the heart.  

Cut away!

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