Sunday, November 22, 2009

Writing Out Loud

I am sitting in my office staring at my desk. Well actually, I can’t see my desk. All I can see are file folders, opened mail, unopened mail, projects in various stages of completion, scribbled notes to myself, books, and computer equipment. It’s a mess, and I am on overwhelm. No doubt about it; I have a few too many plates in the air.

Yet, instead of trying to figure out what I can eliminate, I am musing over the impossible, completely irrational notion of trying to juggle one more plate, and not just any plate. This one is more like a platter. I have been struck by the desire to write another book—not a ghostwritten book for someone else, but a book for me. I have obviously lost my mind, but that doesn’t make me banish the idea to the recycle bin so I can concentrate on earning a living and managing my life.

The problem with wanting to write a book is that it’s like an itch that will drive me crazy until I finally give in and scratch, which in this case, means thinking through the questions I ask every would-be author who tells me he has a great idea for a book. Like my students and coaching clients, I don’t want to suffer through the preliminaries. I don’t want to complete the mandatory sentence, “My book is about …” I don’t want to answer ten questions that will tell me whether my idea is viable. I don’t want to organize little file folders on my hard drive before I do anything else. I just want to plunge in and start writing. What that tells me is, if nothing else, this could turn into a great exercise in empathy.

Why is the itch so persistent? What is so enticing about this particular idea that I must write it? And who am I hoping will read it? I don’t know the answer to the first question. Perhaps it is just the right time to do it. The right time, of course, has nothing to do with having time; it is more about knowing I am ready to write and making time. What I have discovered over the course of my writing career is that when I’m ready, there simply is no stopping it from pouring out.

I’ve been playing around the edges of this idea for what seems like years. My book will be a memoir of my life as a writer—40 years of learning, growing, and, reinventing myself to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. (OK, that takes care of the dreaded sentence!)

Every time one of my students says, “I want to write about my life or my unique experience,” I take a deep breath and wonder who will read it and why they would want to. I have to ask the same question of myself. Who is the audience, and what is the benefit? It’s a tough question, but so are the other nine I ask every student and potential client. When we add up the answers, we have an abbreviated book proposal. Besides being able to explain what their books are about, most of my students really resist the whole idea of writing a proposal. They argue, they stall, but eventually they realize they are going to need it for at least a dozen reasons.

I seem to be addicted to writing about writing. My last two were on how to survive and thrive as a freelance writer and how to write nonfiction book in six months. In the first case, I have survived (and pretty much thrived) for four decades; in the second, I honestly have written books within that six-month window. But I’ve never done it in public, so to speak, with people looking over my shoulder.

So, this will be a first-time experiment in which I will try to “talk the talk and walk the walk” (I’ve never liked that saying). I am going to sit here with my book next to the computer and go through the process of planning, writing, publishing, and promoting my nonfiction book just as I teach others to do it. And I am going to do it on my blog, The Writing Life.

Why in heaven’s name would I do something so crazy? First, because I can’t figure any way to juggle one more plate, so I’m going to combine book-writing time with blog-writing time. Second, if I am going to keep telling people to trust this process because it works, I have to prove it. Well, I don’t have to, but, frankly, I find it irresistible to try. And, third, every author needs a support system, and I am hoping you will be mine as I venture into the uncharted territory of writing out loud.


Kim said...

You go girl! And don't forget to write the proposal!

Mrs. Wryly said...

Yeah, show me the book! And the proposal! I'll sit on your shoulder.

Terry said...

Looks great. Keep sending me the blogs. Sounds very interesting.