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. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Printing Choices - Publishing a Book Series

This story starts a few years back at a women’s conference out on the coast. I had been looking over the contents of the book table when I saw a book called Soul Custody by Stephen W. Smith. The title intrigued me but when I picked it up, I had a hard time putting the book down. The book itself was great and I later bought it, but it was the feel of the cover that enthralled me. It was soft and velvety, a pleasure to just hold. Someday, I wanted a book of mine to feel like that.

Unfortunately, the next book I was publishing was the last of a trilogy and I needed to stay with the mold I’d already created with the first two: 6x9, glossy covers, illustrations, running headers, and white pages. But this book stands on its own. This book is complete in and of itself. I can throw everything out the window and recreate a whole new look.

To do this, I wanted to talk to the printer in person. I wanted to look at examples of previous books printed, to see for myself what they meant by “matte” covers.  So this last weekend on my drive up to celebrate Christmas early with my family, I stopped by my favorite print shop, Gorham Printing, in Centralia, Washington. As I’ve already shared, we have a great working relationship and I trust their quality. I really wanted to use them for this next book if possible.

Explaining to the staff what I wanted, I was shown some matte cover books they’ve recently printed. It was exactly what I had been hoping for. That soft, velvety feel, the kind of cover you want to keep running your hand across, that’s what I wanted for my book. Writing about love, I wanted the physical book itself to be as warm as the people who inspired me to write it. I couldn’t have been happier.

I also took a look at books on their shelves printed with cream colored paper. This is a decision I have been wrestling with: white or cream paper? I loved the idea of the warmth of cream and that it was different and would match the softer feel of the cover, but it could prove difficult for drawings. Looking at their books, though, cream is going to win the day. If I stick to pencil illustrations, I think it will look lovely. I want this book to be my best work yet, both in aesthetics and in the writing. Cream paper is what I’ve envisioned for so long, it just belongs to the book now.

I hadn’t yet decided on the size of the book. When I was putting the poems into their rough order, I noted many of them were shorter than I’ve usually written in the past and that means I won’t need as much physical space. I joked to my friend that I must be a better writer if I can write less. Making the book a 5 ½ by 8 ½ would also have the added benefit of being a bit cheaper than a 6 by 9, thus offsetting the cost of the more expensive paper.

This time there will be no running headers, just a page number centered on the bottom of the page with a simple swirl or some such symbol above. As I wrote in my last post, the poems will also stand on their own – no drawings on the same page, just at the start of the sections. Less is more is my new mantra.

The staff at Gorham sent me home with a printed matte cover from one of their current projects. I keep running my fingers across its surface as I imagine what it will be like to pick up my own book with such a cover for the very first time. I’m loving being able to match the physical printing choices to what the book is about. I also find it deeply inspiring as I continue writing, editing, and putting the poems in order.  It’s a book I can now see in my mind as well as in my heart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Important Advice for Writers: Back Up! - Publishing a Book Series

Flying back home from my retreat, I’m carrying a black shoulder bag with my laptop and book manuscript. Thinking of that bag sitting in the plane compartment above my head, I realize if something happens to it, much of the upcoming book would be lost. I have an old version of the poetry folder stored in Dropbox but only some of the poems are there. None of the edits have been backed up and certainly not the order of the book I spent an entire evening working out.

I feel like I’m carrying something precious with me. I’ve been entrusted with this book and it’s up to me to not only get it home safely, but to back it up when I get there. I need to make sure it can’t be completely lost if there is a fire or theft. I need to make sure this work is saved somewhere so no one but me can get to it.

Take a moment and ask yourself: are you backing up your writing? Are you saving it somewhere besides your computer? If something happened to your laptop, what else would you lose? After two years of working on this book, this is a sobering thought for me. When I get home, I will be saving my files to Dropbox so everything is saved in the cloud. You can also bet after my next meeting with my editors, that I’ll be reprinting all the poems and putting them in their order so I have two copies of it until I lay out the book in Indesign. Until then, I’ll be keeping close tabs on that printed manuscript above my head.

Back up and back up often!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Question of Illustrations - Publishing a Book Series

When it came to the poetry trilogy, each book had an illustrator. One was a friend and two I found while searching for someone to hire. I loved working with such talented artists and they added so much to the books but since this book stands on its own, I called everything into question including the illustrations. As I saw it, there were a few ways I could go with benefits and drawbacks to each option:
  •  Hire an illustrator and have them draw pictures to go with my words. (What I did for the first three.) The benefit to this is the artistry that such illustrations add. The drawback is the cost and the additional time and effort communicating back and forth with an illustrator entails.
  • Use my own photography throughout the book. The benefit is I get to share one of my favorite hobbies along with my writing. Using my own work is also free and I have full rights to it. The drawback is trying to match photographs with poems. Having an illustrator draw whatever was needed was easier.
  • Use the photography of one of my friends. I have several friends who are brilliant artists with a camera and I’m sure I could negotiate the cost and rights to use their pictures. This would involve someone else in the project, though, and would take quite a bit of time.
  • Use my own drawings. This is the riskiest option as I’ve only taken a community drawing class and am planning to repeat it. While I love drawing, I’m nowhere near the level of a professional artist though the drawings could be fun to create and share. I also would have full rights to them at no cost.
  • Let the words stand by themselves with no illustrations. Most poetry books use this option. It’s free, no hassle, and the words speak for themselves. However, it can lack that visual artistic touch.
In addition to the benefits and drawbacks of the various options, there are also other factors to take into account. I’ve been thinking of using cream colored paper for this book. If I do, that might not work for photographic light and colors. I also have a drawing from the class I took which I would love to use in the next book because it illustrates one of the poems.

With these considerations in mind, I talked it over with a friend I was visiting and she suggested I let the words stand on their own with no illustrations. She liked it when readers could take the words anywhere with no limitations whatsoever. However, being another budding artist herself, she also suggested I draw images just for the beginning of the sections. If I stuck with pencil as my medium, it would keep that softer look I’m going for. I really like this idea. It only involves five drawings if I keep to five sections, one of which is done, and it lets me share a newfound love.

If this choice goes well, drawing the five pictures myself will be a huge joke on me. When I started taking my drawing classes, people asked if I was going to start illustrating my own books and I insisted I was not. The class was just for fun. Just for me. Apparently there were other plans afoot. Even before making this decision, I was planning on retaking the class because I loved it so much. It’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to right now. I’m hoping my teacher (same one as I had before) will be willing to help me with the drawings and give me tips on improving them. I think it will be a fun process. It also speaks to the question I had last year: “How can I illustrate spiritual truths in a drawing?” Drawing the next four for this book will be my answer.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bringing it Together - Publishing a Book Series

I’d been looking forward to the project all afternoon. Once my work was finished for the day, I closed my laptop and pulled out my manuscript. Splayed out on the living room floor, I was delighted to finally have the time and mental space to take all the poems and put them in order. In short, I wanted to see what this book looked like as a whole.

Up to this point, the book has been a collection of individual poems. Though I knew the point I wanted to drive home in the end, I had little sense of the story arc as a whole. I didn’t know the beginning or the middle or how one section would progress into another. The poems were not written with any kind of order in mind and it would have to be created based upon what I’d already written. The experience of putting a poetry book together is rather like being handed a box of colored tiles and being told to make a coherent picture. I can still add and subtract away from the book to strengthen the flow, but with 106 poems ready to go in, it was time to put them all in the hopper and see what came out.

Taking what I learned from my first editor when it comes to putting a book together, I took a sheet of paper and drew out a story curve with notes describing what parts of the story I was looking for along the way. I then split the diagram into five sections: the beginning, going up the curve, the middle, going down the curve, and the end.

Taking the stack of poems in hand one by one, I then divided them into the five parts of the story based on what the poems were about and the lessons I learned within them. Sometimes I wasn’t sure where they fit so I set those aside to use later. If I had two possibilities for different parts of the story, I made that note on the bottom of the page.

I then took a section at a time and found the links between the poems to put them in order. Sometimes I felt inspired as I found larger stories between the poems, themes and questions that came up at the beginning fulfilled in the end. A great deal of the time, though, I struggled through, trying to find how they fit together and coming up short. It was gratifying and frustrating at the same time. The first section, especially, came together easily but the later ones were much harder. One section I reshuffled entirely and did over.

What I did find as I worked through the sections was the conversation between God and I that ran throughout the book. I also discovered some of the poems were even better when placed alongside another than they were by themselves. They brought out deeper truths in each other. Seeing the words come together as a cohesive whole, I feel like I now have the ultrasound for my baby. It’s no longer an abstract concept, but an identifiable thing. I’ve seen the picture and it’s beautiful. Even though the order of the poems is very much a rough draft and I still have some more to write, I love seeing it come together into a book.