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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is This Book About?

When I started writing this book, Finding Love’s Way,  I did it without knowing where I was going. I wrote about whatever caught my attention or the words and thoughts I needed to get out. I let myself go without concerning myself about where it would end up. It’s much like starting a journey without planning where you’ll go but taking one step at a time. Some may call this poor planning and they may be right. But my poetry is, first and foremost, an expression of me and my relationship with God. It’s honest and open and real. If I planned the larger story out, I believe it would come across as faked and unsubstantial. So I let it go knowing I would look back later to find the way I went.
I’m now at a stage where I’m doing this - looking back and finding the over-arching story. Having the title has helped immensely with this process. It’s given me a point to the journey and now I can go back and retrace my steps in order to find out how I got here. What have I struggled with? What did I learn through those experiences? What have been my joys along the way? Where is the path through the hills I created with the tread of my feet?
I have the pieces I need and what I find to be missing I’ll be able to fill in. It’s like one giant puzzle with each poem being a piece of the larger picture. What is that picture? How does the journey lead to the point of it all?

Woman sitting in the middle of a labryinth.
Image Source
Perhaps the poems are more like a labyrinth with all it’s twists and turns. A labyrinth is a single circuitous path that winds around back and forth in the larger shape of a circle until it reaches the center and then back out again. Learning to love unconditionally is much the same – it’s never a straight path – it’s filled with some of the same lessons over and over again each a little different yet so much the same. There are joys like candles as we walk as God lights our way. Just as God is in all of the labyrinth and not just in the center, so God is in all our experiences of love no matter what labels we put upon them. Love is far, far more than the “good feelings” we usually equate it with. Love is a bond, it connects us. We’re all living in it, walking the journey on the same road but going all different directions. Love is making way for another person, love is honoring their journey even if they seem to be going a different direction than us most of the time. Love is the most real thing there is.

This is what I want the book to stand for. It's what I want the book to proclaim. This is what I want my life to proclaim. If I can communicate some of that reality of love through the written word and make even one person more aware of it, more aware of the joy and importance of love, it will have been worth it. It will have all been worth it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Stripped to Our Bones

There are times in our lives when we need to shed our skin. There are times when the life we have been writing about has become too heavy and needs to be let go of for a while or released completely. Maybe you’ve had a lot going on, maybe the growth has outpaced the roots, or maybe it’s just time to retreat to somewhere else far away.

This is where I have found myself: ground into the dirt, weary and worn, with a heart that’s been stretched and pained, a spirit parched for God, and a body crying out for rest—time away from everything and everyone involved in my regular life. In short, I needed to leave and go somewhere nourishing to my soul.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been so tired you just needed to put down your life, as much as you love it, pack your bags, and get on a plane? Sometimes that’s what we have to do, especially as writers. Sometimes we need to take a step back from both our lives and what we’ve been writing about. We need to get ourselves and our book manuscripts out of our normal environments and to somewhere else where we can “dry out” for a while and find out what’s left of our souls and our words.

For this retreat of soul, I chose to spend the time with a friend who lives in a small town on the other side of the continent from where I live for an entire week. I’m lucky, I can work from anywhere, so I just packed my laptop, some clothes, good books, and the manuscript for what will, hopefully, be a great book. In addition to having time to rest and visit with people I love, I also wanted to use this time to look with fresh eyes at my manuscript. Away from the places and people who inspired me to write this book, with the exception of the friend I’m visiting, I wanted to see what my words were really made of away from all that. I wanted to take the manuscript apart, undress it, and see the bones underneath. Would it translate? Would it still work, still stand by itself, away from the people who support it? Would I?

On the Saturday morning of my retreat, I took my manuscript and spread it out on the floor of my friend’s living room to edit. Being a believer in positive energy infusing itself from one thing into another, I loved the fact my manuscript was being stripped to its bones in the loving shelter of a house built in 1864, one that has been filled with love, laughter, and togetherness for so long, a house that feels good the moment you walk into it. This is the kind of rooted energy I want in my book and the energy I want to guide me as I put it together. It’s the energy I have been searching for but not finding. I found it here.

Poetry books are nearly always very personal to the author who writes them no matter what way they are later read and this is certainly true of Finding Love’s Way. Taking a deeper look at the words is very much taking a deeper look at myself at the same time. This is also why so much of my heart is in this blog series. My poetry comes from the deepest places in me and I can’t write about it and not talk about my heart at the same time. So sitting there on the floor, I started seeing themes, how the pieces connected, and what I’ve been learning that I was only half aware of at the time. Away from the usual hustle and bustle, for the first time I saw what this book was becoming and what I was becoming along with it.

I sense I needed to find this out in a place where I had the space to reflect, time to dig down new roots and rearrange myself. In the dining room of this house where I’m writing, Abraham Lincoln must have been discussed when he was still alive, a house just northeast of where he grew up. This good man spoke of mercy, integrity, and love. He is one of my heroes and as I work on organizing and editing my own words with the same message in this same land, I think of what he said, “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all.” Maybe what I have to say has been told thousands of times. Maybe what I want to write about from my heart has been written by countless authors before me but I have a deep conviction the world still needs to hear it. They still need to hear love. And perhaps I needed to come to this land of rooted history so when I stripped myself and my book down to our bones, we could both dig down into the ground of love and wisdom in order to find the rest and grace we needed to remember where those bones first came from and why we walk the earth today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Searching for the Title

(This is the seventh article in a series recounting my experiences in publishing my next book. You can find the rest under the "Publishing a Book Series" tag.)

Just about all my book titles have two things in common: there was another “working title” before it and I came up with the final title while in my bed. So often they come to me in the night and even now, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the lack of outer stimulation when my mind is finally quiet enough that the right words have the space to come into my conscious awareness. Whatever it is, it’s developed into a rather mystical habit.

This book has been without a title of any kind thus far. Two or three months ago, there was a title I’d thought of (not in my bed) that I bounced off my editors and a close friend. None of them liked it. Frankly, I was disappointed as I thought it was a good title but I decided to listen to the people I trust and wait for the right title to come along. Then, last night as I was praying beside my bed and talking to God about what I had been learning at a workshop this weekend, the title appeared in my head. There is no other way to explain it – it was just suddenly there and it clicked: Finding Love’s Way. The words encapsulate so much of what I’ve been learning while writing this book and it’s a title I feel I can flesh out with the words inside. The book and title seem to belong together.

When considering a title, I always go on Amazon first and search for it so I know what kinds of books have the same or a similar title. Not a lot came up relating to Finding Love’s Way and certainly no direct matches. I also Googled the title and the only match was an event in California advertised on Facebook that took place last week. I took this as a great sign.

My next step was to ask my editors what they thought and this is what I received back: “I really like that title!” and “Love it! Beautiful wording!” I’ll be asking my close friend about it, too, when I get a chance.

Finding Love’s Way has been, and continues to be, an incredible journey of discovery and growth. Through all the angst and joy in every line of every poem I’m learning what it means to love with no limits and no expectations. It’s a book with a message, even more so than the first three were. It’s a book full of questions and the answer doesn’t come until the end where everything is thrown up into the air and the one truth remains: to learn to love yourself and God unconditionally and to then love others unconditionally: this is the truest, most real, and the greatest beauty ever known.

There is a deep part of me now at peace. With this title. I not only have a book, but I have a purpose as well. I’d had the sense while writing the book that the theme, the story, would become apparent as it came together and I’d find it at some point, hopefully, before publication. And now that I have, I can go back to all I’ve written and refine it, polish it up with its part of the story in mind. I feel like the book has just burst open and a whole new level of enthusiasm has ignited my writer’s and publisher’s heart. I’m now excited to write the last parts and to bring it all together.

One of the things I’ve learned through this process is I oughtn’t be afraid to wait for the right title to come along. Like naming a child, the title is going to be around for a very long time so I want to make sure it suits the material well.  However, even now, I don’t know if this is the final title. This could, in the end, turn out to be the working title. I may yet come up with an even better title as the book comes together and I get to know the overarching story. Time will tell.

It will be exciting to see how things come together in the coming months!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Where's the Focus? - Publishing a Book Series

For this book thus far, I’ve been writing whatever comes to mind, whatever message has to get out at the time. I know the book is about love and there are a lot of water references in it (a theme my editors pointed out to me) but it was all mixed together with no conclusion. The words weren’t going anywhere. Something was still missing.
It was at this point I met with a friend, not about the book but to just talk about life and God – not that the two can, in truth, be separated.  Before we left, she told me this: “If you’re upset, lower your expectations.” At first I laughed because it sounds so funny and also because I had recently reread a favorite book of mine, The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, who says the same exact thing, albeit in different words. The idea is to know there is unconditional love within yourself – all the love you need – and thus you don’t have requirements on the love of others. You then learn to love yourself and others unconditionally without expectations. It’s a beautiful and freeing way to live. And I’m still working on it. So when my friend shared this wisdom with me, it was a shock to my system to realize I had the focus for my book all along: learning to love unconditionally. That was the answer, that’s the conclusion. 

Nearly two weeks later, I found out Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., an author in his own right who is carrying on the Toltec wisdom writings his father began, was giving a workshop that very weekend an hour away from where I live. It was as if a huge sign was in front of my face proclaiming in blinking lights, “This is where you need to be.” I have found when God wants you to go somewhere, it’s really hard to ignore. But in this case, I didn’t need to be told twice. These books have made a huge difference in my life and I was enthusiastic to learn more.  The truths he spoke of were also ones I’ve really needed to hear lately and he spoke to precisely where I’ve been at. It was like water to my parched throat after months in the desert. I came away from that time with a lot of truths to think about and soak in along with new tools to use in living my life. I also came away with a much better handle on what my book is all about and where I want to take it at the end.
Every book needs a focus. Every book should be able to be summed up in a sentence or two. Find it, shape the book around it, and your writing will be far better for having a point. Unconditional love is my point.