Monday, October 6, 2008

From First Draft to Firestarter

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about my firewood supply for the upcoming winter. Making a romantic, roaring fire in the family room hearth is one those things that gets me through—even allows me to enjoy—the harsh winter months.

I live on several acres with lots of deciduous and evergreen trees, so wood is abundant. Over the past few years, random piles have accumulated around the yard from trees that were trimmed, damaged by lightening or windstorms, or died of natural causes. (Hmmm…how else would a tree perish?) Things were looking a little messy until my neighbor, Bud, paid me a visit last week.

Retired and an avid outdoorsman, Bud arrived in his Ford pick-up and offered to take all of my wood piles, pass them through his electric wood splitter, and stack it all very neatly near my driveway. Along with restoring my faith in basic human kindness, Bud’s neighborly deed provided me with a good analogy for the writing and editing process.

Many clients come to me when their writing projects are in the draft stage. Some parts of it are like cherry wood, sweet-scented and solid enough to be the foundation of their story. Other parts may look like a bunch of craggy sticks and small fragments but bundle them together and they’re perfect kindling to get the fire started. Still, other parts are dead wood, rotted, and should be tossed, nothing more.

Do have something in draft stage? I suggest you look at your project as a fire in the making. Keep chopping and splitting and tossing and stacking until you have not only a thing a beauty (like my picture, above) but something that will provide warmth, comfort and a glow of romance to those who read it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Being Published: What a Road Trip

(part 2 in blog series)

To continue my story, below . . . I now had a solid first draft of something. What to do next? Life ensued, busy as always, and my daily writing work took precedence. In addition, I’d been hired to co-author another nonfiction book with a woman in Hollywood (I promise to talk about that amazing story in an upcoming blog entry); the writing of that project was to commence in the fall of 2006. As spring warmed to summer, I thought about MY manuscript. If I didn’t do something with it soon, it would have to wait until the following year.

So I made a commitment to polish that draft—again, in my spare (!) hours—enough to feel comfortable showing it to an editor at St. Lynn’s Press. Honestly, I didn’t know what I had (was it substantive enough for a book?) and didn’t actually think the publisher would be interested in it. My goal for sending the manuscript to the editor was November 10—my birthday, a gift to myself. The following week, I dove into the co-author project and stayed immersed in it through the following May.

Here’s where the story gets really good—well, for a writer, anyway. Within a few weeks after turning in the co-author project, I received a call from the editor at St. Lynn’s. The publisher was interested in my project! On a mid-June afternoon, a contract arrived in the mail. Warm summer rain fell on my arms and face as I tore open the envelope . . . warm, cleansing, redemptive rain. With outstretched arms and my face lifted heavenward, I began to twirl right there on the driveway, a happy dance of dreams come true. I signed the contract on July 14—France’s Bastille Day—as a symbol of my independence and “uprising” as a writer!

In the meantime, a second contract with Findhorn Press was offered for the co-authored project. Go figure. I’d hit pay-dirt: 2 book contracts for 2 separate manuscripts with 2 different publishers…in 2 months time.

So now I’m on a different sort of road trip. These past months, I’ve been traveling to promote Everything Matters, Nothing Matters: For Women Who Dare to Live with Exquisite Calm, Euphoric Creativity and Divine Clarity. How these writings came to be a book is itself an example of the topic I’ve written about.

And in keeping with my book’s theme of embracing paradox, I will end with this: I’m somebody . . . I’m a published author! And I’m nobody . . .meaning, if I can do it, so can you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Being Published: What a Road Trip

(part 1 in blog series)

I’ve promised the readers of my latest book, Everything Matters, Nothing Matters (which releases nationwide in two weeks!), that I would reveal the back story of how these writings found their way into the world. I’m sharing this with the hope that all of you aspiring authors out there will gain a smidgeon of inspiration from it.

It started on a road trip in January 2005. Traveling alone with a lot on my mind (apparently), I began speaking into a digital voice recorder that I typically take with me on magazine interviews. Three hours later, to my surprise, I had dictated to myself the contents of a book outline—although I didn’t know this at the time.

Months pass. I rediscover this file on my DVR and transcribed it. Whatever “it” was certainly had good bone structure—it just needed to be filled in with connective tissue in the form of a provocative narrative. Six months later, I find myself extemporaneously pitching this content as a book idea to a literary agent at a writer’s conference. He is intrigued and asks to see some of the writings.

That winter, I feed him chapters by email, which I’m fleshing out furiously in my spare (!) work hours. He helps me to crystallize the premise, tone, content and marketing angle by offering seasoned advice (he worked at Random House for years and is the former publisher of William Morrow). By the time the snow thawed that spring, I was on my way to signing a contract for representation with this agent—or so I thought.

In the end, while complimentary of my writing, he wasn’t drawn to the topic (something he told me in his very first email) and therefore didn’t feel he could enthusiastically represent the material. “It's simply a matter of taste and sensibility, and not one thing to do with your talent,” he said. “Some people like meatloaf and peas, others like the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright.” So we parted ways and, don’t get me wrong, I was disappointed . . . but having a proclivity towards optimism (a good quality to have as a working writer), I believe that all things happen for good reason.

Yes, I remained agent-less. Ah, but now, miraculously, I had a solid first draft of something. And as Irish writer Seamus Heaney says, “The excitement of something coming out right is its own reward.” I felt good about what I'd cobbled together and that was enough for the time being. But I’d come too far to let it moulder in a file cabinet for very long. What to do next? Stay tuned for my next post…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scenes from a Sweat Lodge

Recently, I was invited to participate in a sacred Native American prayer ceremony called a sweat lodge. A “sweat” is basically a cocoon of people praying together in the heat and the dark, in a hole in the earth covered by sticks and tarps. Red hot rocks are shoveled into a pit in the center of the lodge and water is splattered on top, causing intense steam to rise up. This goes on for 7 or more “rounds.” It’s a test of physical and psychological endurance and, by the end of the ceremony, you feel purified and even transformed. This sweat was led by an author whose work I’ve always admired, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD (Lewis is Cherokee-Lakota).

So there I was, crammed into this tiny earth-womb—doing something that I’d wanted to experience since I learned about this Native tradition—and by round 2, I’m asking myself: WHY the heck am I doing this again? Two people had already dropped out and Lewis made some comment about the Grandfather Spirits making the stones hotter than usual. By round 4, we were all suffering. Two more people had exited. Then, the woman to my left wanted out quickly—she was feeling faint. I was blocking her way, so I grabbed her arm, walked her out of the lodge, sat her on a blanket and looked around for a bottle of water to offer her. By then, the lodge door (basically, a blanket) was closed and round 5 had begun. I sat and listened as everyone ELSE sang and drank medicine of geranium-frankincense-clove.

Now I was on the “outside” and, not knowing the protocol, wasn’t sure I could go back in. I lay back on the dirt, drenched in sweat, really internally upset. The mental theatrics began: Why am I out here? Should I have thought just of myself and gone directly back in? Others outside the lodge could have helped that woman…was I using her as an excuse to not go right back in? I think I have courage but maybe I’m a wimp, a wuss. Eventually, the person guarding the door came over to ask if I needed anything. “I need to go back inside!” I said. Before the next round, he opened the door and I quietly slid back in. The final rounds were the most ecstatic.

Wow, a second chance to go back in! A second chance in the circle! An opportunity to find a deeper courage that speaks to what I really want: I want the experience! Being on the outside was more suffering than taking the suffocating heat.

So, I offer this creative thread for the day: what is it that you’ve started to write or create, then stopped because you didn’t think you had the courage or stamina to keep going? Are you suffering more now because you stopped? (Be honest!) If so, return to this project. Or perhaps there is a situation in your past that you would like to “rewrite”. Face your own fire and allow your creative spirit to purify and transform this situation. Writing is powerful that way—it has the ability to transmute. So, step back in the circle. As of this moment, you have officially been granted a second chance.