Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Three Writing Rules

When I started talking to my editors about this book, I gave them special permission to ask any question they wanted, inquire about the back story of any poem. They have only taken advantage of this once and when they did, it was to ask if a poem was about romantic love. I assured them it was not and then I explained to them my three self-imposed rules limiting what I write.

  • I never write about romantic love. This is usually not something I have to state outright but now that I have a book with the word “love” in the title, I’m going to have to include this fact in the introduction so people know to look beyond that particular expression of bonding. Besides the fact the whole point of this book is to open up a wider view of what love is, I also don’t share something that can be so fleeting in so public of a forum.

  • I never mention names in poetry and rarely in a story. Even when I have someone particular in mind when writing a poem, I never mention their name. This is partly to protect them, partly to protect myself, and partly to let the reader interpret the words into their own life and story without being encumbered with my details. If I’m writing about my life in an article or as part of a talk, I will refer to a person via our relationship such as friend, mentor, or sister. If I use their name, it’s always just their first name with no personal details that is only their right to tell. Being in a personal relationship with a writer is hard enough without worrying about what they’re going to say about you.

  • I rarely share the stories behind the poems. One of the great things about poetry is people read their own lives into the poems and don’t often wonder at mine. Still, I rarely share my own experience behind them as I want my words to stand on their own merits. This rule also lets me write with greater honesty and openness knowing I can keep details to myself. Though my editors have permission to ask any questions they want, for the most part, I choose not to talk about the stories and leave people free to see themselves in what they read.

These three rules have helped immensely as I’ve written my books. They give me boundaries and help protect those I love.

What guidelines have you created for your writing?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Warning Labels for Writers - Publishing a Book Series

I joke that I ought to come with two warning labels worn as buttons on my clothing so everyone around me is prepared for what may come.

“Anything you do or say may and can be used in my next book.”
Much of my poetry is inspired by what I experience in life whether it’s watching a man dancing with wild abandon or the words said by a friend as she hugs me. I take those moments that stay with me, haunting my deeper awareness, and turn them around in my head by writing them down. If the poems are good enough, I then share them in a book or magazine. Though most readers will never recognize where the words come from, some who know my heart well will recognize themselves and the words I’ve shared with them in the lines. The experiences of my life are what I draw on to share larger truths and I often include those I love in my words as it’s another way to treasure their presence in my life.

“I reserve the right to see in you the face of God.”
Sometimes when I’m looking at people, I see God in their faces. It’s such a beautiful sight and once in a while, what I see inspires what I write. One night I watched a woman at a concert clapping and dancing in her seat. I imagined it was God singing along and taking joy in the ones onstage. Another night I watched my art teacher work her way around the room encouraging and praising every student for their work. I take these moments of visibly seeing the qualities of God and include them in whatever I’m writing whether it’s an article or poem to illustrate my point or to give readers an image of God they not have thought of yet. It’s a joy to be always looking deeper into those around me to find God.

As I work on writing these last sixteen or so poems for the book, you can bet I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for experiences I can use whether or not the people around me know about the invisible warnings. You never know what I’m going to come up with next.

What other invisible warnings do you think writers should come with?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Managing Multiple Editors - Publishing a Book Series

For several weeks, my editors have been across the board concerning how much of the book they’ve worked on. One editor has been through two out of three poetry batches and my other editors have only gone through the first. In between trips and holidays, I’ve been working on catching everyone up to the same point. Last week, I stayed with one of my editors so we could go over the third batch. In a few days, I’ll meet with my other two editors after they’ve arrived at the same point. I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of the new material and discussing some changes to writing they’ve already seen. I also want to start discussing the order of the book with them.

It’s been somewhat stressful having people at different places and keeping track of who has seen what but I would rather have this be a fun experience for my editors with no pressure to be done by a certain time. This is not always a grace I can confer but with no strict timeline to follow, I’m giving us all space. Two of my editors, especially, have enjoyed spacing the poems out, reflecting on one each day.

The point I want to get to is having a clean manuscript to set aside for a while. Once I’ve talked with everybody and made corrections to the master files, then backed them up, of course, I’ll print out all the poems, place them in the order I want them, and then store the manuscript away for a time so I can focus on writing the rest of the book.

When I’ve been at this point in the process before with the other books, I‘ve juggled two hats: one as a writer and one as a publisher. It’s a dichotomy I’m well used to as this is my fifth book but a benefit of taking my time with Finding Love’s Way is I can concentrate on one hat at a time whereas I usually have to juggle both in nearly equal measure. I deeply believe this book will be better for it. A beautiful place to be, I anticipate marking off the majority of the book as having been completely approved for publication and then having everyone on the same page once again.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Taking My Time - Publishing a Book Series

Last summer, I made a decision to not pin down a book publishing date for Finding Love’s Way. With all my other books I’ve had firm deadlines but with this one, I’m giving myself the grace to let the book take its own course for however long it needs. As authors, we have a tendency to rush things along, to curtail the process because we’re tired of slogging through the manuscript and want to be done or we’re so excited to see it published, we don’t take the time to refine the sharp edges. Only later do we find the errors, the improvements we could have made if we’d simply taken the time. Such a book is often badly written and hard to read. No time was taken to refine the work and remove the excess verbiage. I don’t want to let that happen with this book and the difference I’ve experienced in choosing to not have a definitive timeline has been, for me, refreshing. There’s no pressure; I can let the book become whatever it desires and give myself the time to make any corrections before it goes to print.

As this book is so personal, so much about growing into the deeper meaning of love, by giving it space, I’ve also given myself space to develop and learn. At different times, I’ve let the manuscript collect dust so I can come back to it with new eyes when I’m not so attached to what I’ve already written. By tweaking the words after a time of rest, I better understand what each section needs, where I want to go with each poem, and I can change phrases to form a more cohesive whole making one poem blend into the next. Truths I learn in the latter half of the writing stage can be worked into the first.

The other tendency authors have is to let a manuscript sit so long that it’s never published. Or we might have a hard time letting the manuscript go—we keep going over it with a fine-tooth comb. Though I am all for the editing process and making sure a book is ready to be published, there has to come a time when we come to the end and release it. There has to be a point when we call it good and put down the red pen.

How do we know the difference between when a book is done and when it needs more work? How do we know when to keep going and when to stop? For myself, I listen to that voice deep inside that just knows. My intuition has served me well. My editors, too, help a great deal. They’re good at letting me know when something still isn’t working or when it’s ready to go. I trust their advice even as I make the final decisions.

At this point in the process, I know I’m far from being finished with the writing. There are still holes throughout the book: three larger holes and thirteen small ones. The poems are like seeds in a garden that haven’t sprouted yet. They need time to grow, time to send down roots and mature. I don’t want to give in to the temptation to hurry them along just to have a “completed” manuscript. The point I want to get across would be scraggly, weak, and unfulfilling. After putting so much effort into all the other poems, I want to give these poetry holes the same treatment. There are things I’m learning and thinking about every day, pieces I’m being given I know I want to include, new understandings to build in. When they are ready, the poems will be there tumbling out of my mouth onto the paper. They will be what they were meant to be because I waited, because I let them grow until there were ready. Only by choosing to not have a publish-by-date has this been possible.

Sometimes we have to have a due date. There is no way to get around it, an article or book has to be ready by a certain time. In this case, don’t put things off until the last moment. Use the entire time you’re given. Give it thought and listen to your editors. I am sure there will be books down the road with a tighter deadline but since I have a choice with this one, I’m taking all the time it needs. When I have at last finished writing and editing the material, I know it will have been done right and done well. 

I’m excited to see what a book looks like that’s had time to really come together in the way it should. I’m excited to see what truths come out that wouldn’t have been otherwise thought of. What will I learn through this process of not rushing myself or anyone else helping me with the book? We move forward, certainly, but the pace is steady with time to enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Finding the Holes - Publishing a Book Series

In the post, “Bringingit Together,” I talked about the process of putting the book into order. Last week, I opened the manuscript and took a second look at how one poem flowed into another. Laid out on my living room floor, I went through the whole manuscript, line by line, and on a pad of paper, wrote out what part each poem plays in the larger storyline. Going through the book like this gave me a chance to appreciate and refine the curves and turns along the way.

At times I was amazed at how the placement of a poem influenced its meaning and gave it greater depth. At others, I found holes where the storyline left off and where the book needs new material to fill the gaps. This is actually a relief to me for I know I’m not done writing what I have percolating inside quite yet. I know there’s more.

Because of this process, I have a far better grasp of where I am on the timeline of having the manuscript completed. I can see the larger picture and can thus focus my writing efforts on what the book really needs instead of a more scattered approach just to get to a total number of poems in the table of contents. Each piece now comes under closer scrutiny. Does it work? Is something not here that should be? Is this message repeated elsewhere? It will be a fun challenge to answer these questions as I work on writing poems for the open spaces using whatever inspiration comes my way. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Was I Thinking? - Publishing a Book Series

I often write when I’m grieving, upset, or have a strong emotion. It’s a way for me to process the emotions and get them out. This wouldn’t be a problem for me except for the fact I then publish such feelings in a very public forum. Whenever I get close to releasing a new book, I can be found, head buried in my hands, wailing aloud, “What was I thinking?” I’ll even go back to my editors and ask if we should take a poem out as it’s just too personal but they inevitably respond, “You can’t take that out. It’s so powerful!” This is partly why I have editors – to keep me away from the trash can. I also know the most vulnerable poems, the ones where I don’t hold anything back, are usually the ones people tell me mean the most to them. And so I publish and let my heart’s lament live out there for all to see.

This is not an easy place to be on a continual basis – it brings new meaning to the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve” but, in general, I don’t think we’re open enough with each other about our inner thoughts and feelings. Aside from the seeming intimacy of the internet, when in life do we really express those deepest places within us face-to-face? It’s good to have a handful of people in our lives we know we can go to for a good talk but what about when we write? It can be hard to express such things on paper and have no control over who reads them.

“How do you share such personal thoughts so publicly?” is a question I’ve been asked and that I still struggle with. Now that I have an idea of what this book will be, I’m right there asking once again, “What was I thinking?” I then have to remind myself of a couple things. Perhaps what I tell myself will help you the next time you go to write such words.

  • You are not what you write. Writers can be artists and as artists, we equate ourselves closely with what we create. However, what we create is not us. My words do not define me any more than what I wear. Whenever I write or sell a book, I remember that I am not what I put down on paper. My soul is always my own. Once a creation is produced or a book published, it takes on a life of its own and it’s out of my hands. If you want to get to know me, I would love to meet up with you and talk over coffee. But don’t think because you’ve read one of my books or friended me on Facebook that you know who I am. That takes time and friendship.

  • Don’t be ashamed of those thoughts and feelings you’ve expressed. The thoughts and feelings you’ve expressed are beautiful and genuine. So much of yourself has gone into your writing that it is valuable no matter what you’ve said. Do no harm, but be honest and vulnerable. If we as writers aren’t willing to be open with such thoughts and to then share them, who is going to be?

  • What you write will help other people. Everyone has these deeper thoughts and feelings but many times we need someone else to express them first before we’re willing to hear our own. Our words travel far more widely and to more unexpected places than we could possibly go ourselves. You have no idea who you’re reaching and in what ways all because you were willing to be open with yourself. Anything written in love never goes to waste but is planted and grown in the lives of those who turn the pages. This always happens. You may not always see it.

  • When people read your words, they don’t see the full story behind them, they see their own. Much of my poetry and writing in general lies at the intersection of my life and deeper truth. However, what I've discovered over the years is when people read my words, they don’t see my story, they see their own. I may have written my heart out about a relationship or an experience but they read it and see their own relationships, their own experiences. You can, metaphorically speaking, stand center-stage under the spotlights and tell of those things you would never otherwise say aloud but what they hear is their own life. I would bet, even when I’m writing about my relationship with a specific person, that person can read it and not even recognize themselves. (I never use names.) It works that well. This is why I balk at how poetry is taught in schools. We don’t really know what the author was thinking but we teach that kind of analysis to students. Just yesterday, someone read a poem going into Finding Love’s Way and told me what I had done within it. I didn't say anything but in my mind, I was thinking, “Wow! I did all that? I didn't even mean to!” But he read himself into the words. People do it every time. Write whatever you want.

Sometimes it’s our strongest emotions, the darker ones we don’t easily express that can be filled with the most light. Sometimes it’s in the depths where we find the treasure and remember, as you write, this treasure is not just for you. We are all so connected, it is a gift for us all. So please, write. Write honestly and openly, share your thoughts and feelings. I want to learn from them. I want to be able to say, “Me too!” and “I never saw it that way.” I want to be challenged, to hear what I haven’t had the courage to say myself and maybe what I've written will do the same for you. Keep writing.

For more on clearing the clutter within before taking pen to paper read, “Clearing the Clutter: Journaling for Writers.”

(This is the 14th post in my "Publishing a Book Series." To see the others, click here.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Gift of Mother in Us All (and Thanking You)

As a woman without children, I have come to see that mothering is more than genetics and adoption. Mothering is helping each other grow and develop, to invest in someone become, in a deeper way, who they already are, while founded in deep affection. Mothering can take place in any relationship between women whether through family, friendship, or even between strangers. We are more us because of these women, because we have learned from them and perhaps we have taught them something in return.

My mom means a great deal to me and I am deeply grateful for her. She was there to clean out all the rocks and bugs from my pockets, taught me how to tie my shoes and shave my legs, understood when I needed to climb a tree, danced with me at my senior baccalaureate, and came down for Mom’s Weekend when I was in college. As adults, we went out for a game of pool.  

This Mother’s Day, though, there are many more women in addition to my mother whom I wish to honor. As the holiday has approached these last few weeks, all the women in my life who, amid our wider bonds of friendship, have played this kind of mothering role in some way, have been gathering together in my mind – a vast array of love across my thirty-five years of life. These women have each in their unique way been a model of womanhood, of love, of wisdom, and never-ending grace. And they have invested in me, oh, so deeply. Huge swaths of who I am are there, colored wide on the canvas of my life, because they walked across it and left their mark, helping birth something more me than there was before.

Though there are many more, I’m sure, who have faded in memory or slipped my mind, I would like to take this opportunity to honor these women who have given me this grace, whether they’ve known it or not, and who I am so deeply grateful for (in no particular order):
  • The teacher who wanted me in her class then stayed to teach that subject another year so she could keep me as a student. I always felt her genuine affection and thrived in it.
  • The teacher who let me stay with her every day after school to the point where her mother nicknamed me her shadow. She taught me to line dance, throw a basketball, make sure things are straight, how to be organized, and most of all, she was my rock when my life was topsy-turvy and she enjoyed my company when I didn’t enjoy it myself.
  • The woman at church who encouraged my writing when I was a teenager, invited me to eat lunch with her sometimes when she taught at my school, and as adults, has been my loudest cheerleader in all things: writing, spiritual direction, and valuing my get-up-and-go.
  • The mother of a friend I’ve known for well over twenty years who has been there that whole time with motherly advice, hugs, dinner (both there and to-go), wisdom, and compassion.
  • The friend who took me on as an intern in college, taught me to laugh at myself, treated me to dinner week after week, got me to consider a nose piercing, and who still calls me “Missy.”
  • The friend I met through a job who then held me as I cried when I lost it, assuring me that one day I would be grateful for it all and who has since, been there with wisdom, an example of genuine integrity in her own messes and successes, and who has challenged me to think farther and beyond my own self.
  • The woman who gives me the grace of space to be utterly myself, broken and whole all at once, whose gentle hands have given me comfort and shared my delight.
  • The woman who has taken me in as a part of her family, who has opened her table and her heart to me.
  • The step-mother who listened to me as a child, who heard what I had to say, a huge gift to someone needing to be heard.
  • My grandmother who has always been hugely supportive of me and my writing, who genuinely loves my work, and who loves me.
  • My three aunts who each in their own way have been my friends, women to lean on, who help me understand and know my family, who tell me stories, and who have given me grace and love.
  • My older sister who was there with her protective love to clean up my skinned knees and tears and who is still the one I can call when I need someone who understands where I’ve come from.
  • My teacher who taught me to dare, to take chances, to find a part of myself I had only longed for before, and who expresses motherly concern whenever she feels it’s warranted.
  • A friend of my family when I was growing up who still honors that history and her affection by showing up, unasked, at my seminary graduation, theatre shows, aerial shows - whenever I have something to perform, she’s often there in the crowd.
  • The friend who held hope for me when I couldn’t hold it for myself, who talked with me about sexuality in a beautiful way, who taught me so much in my core, and who has been there just beyond my sight, ever supportive and encouraging with her whole heart.
  • The friend who has taught by example how to be light and love and to see farther and more deeply than I imagined, who shares worlds with me whenever we get a chance to talk about them.
  • The teacher who taught me boundaries, saw in me my leadership gift, and who still sees inside things I’m still learning to give space to in myself.
  • The friend who opened a world of spirituality I had never known existed, saw the same traditions in me, and who is there with wisdom and knowledge whenever I have ideas to discuss.
  • The woman who taught me the value of every single day of life and who knows I still need to be held sometimes.
  • The friend who taught me so much about seeing into people and then knew enough to let me be angry at her and others when I was learning it was okay to express such emotions.
  • The friend, who, when I got really sick at a women’s conference, made sure I had medication, a blanket, and water, and who then let me lay my head in her lap and stroked my hair after I threw up.

Though I’ve called these women teachers or friends, they are still today nearly all dearly loved friends first and foremost. In fact, I expect many of the women I’ve mentioned have never thought of themselves in this way. But I also know these women have given me something precious that has shaped who I am as a person even as I suspect they would each say I’ve given something to them as well.

I am now at the stage in life where I’ve been given the gift of walking with others in various ways, of being there for them, perhaps as an advisor, a friend, or a mentor. I dearly love them all and it’s hard to imagine what I could be giving them in light of all they’ve given me but I look at the friends who have played such a giving role in my own life and am stunned at the love they hold out to me day after day. I feel overwhelmed at the gift and can utter little more than a deeply humbled thank you and to tell you each that I dearly love you too.

On this Mother’s Day, I want to challenge us to think further than familial relationship. Helping each other grow and learn, being supportive in a variety of ways, is something we can all do for each other. Who has given you love and grace? Who has been there with encouragement and support? Do you do this for others? Whether you have your own children or not, some of these women do, some of them don’t, please remember this wider view of what mothering can be and thank someone who has done this for you.

Happy Mother’s Day.