Writer mom?doing some “movement” with a monkey on her back
We have a winner, folks! Congratulations to Erin, who will be joining the workshop for free.
There are still spots available, and the “bring a friend, each get $10 off” offer still stands.
My friend An Honest Mom is doing a giveaway! And the giveaway? A free spot in the March 19 writing and movement workshop I’m co-teaching with a friend. If you’re not yet sick of hearing about it, and I hope you aren’t, because I’m so excited about it and it’s gonna be good?head on over to An Honest Mom’s blog for the details of how you can win a free spot in the workshop (and the kind benefactor who wants to help out a local writer/aspiring writer who’d like to go but can’t afford it).
**Note! Special offer for writers interested in my Saturday, March 19 workshop?Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story?in Oakland (1:00-3:45 p.m. at Flying Studios?at 4308 Telegraph Ave.) Bring a friend, both of you get $10 off the workshop fee.?Email me through the contact page on this blog or contact Sandra email@example.com to register.**
I’m really excited about this upcoming workshop I’m teaching with my friend Sandra Stringer on March 19th in Oakland: Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story: A Writing and Movement Workshop for Writers.
I’m excited because I’ve been ruminating a lot on the nature of fear, and how it prevents?us from doing good creative work. Truthfully,?I feel like the thing that hinders?me is more like procrastination, and grading papers, and parenting, but nonetheless I think it’s all of a piece: I get?tense in my body?and in my mind?because of work, social, and familial obligations, and I worry that I won’t get everything done, so I act frantic, and then I?don’t carve out enough space to write, and then I?feel bad, and then I?can’t work because I?feel bad, and then…
Anyway, it goes something like that, and I’m excited to do a workshop where we simply slow down for a couple of hours, let the body do its thing (e.g., release), and see what happens. I realize, in fact, that I’ve been craving this kind of time to just be still for several weeks. This is always a busy time of year; the papers-to-grade seem never-ending, spring break is fast approaching, somehow we’re supposed to plan for summer already (!), and we’ve had family visiting and more family coming. (I love seeing them all, so much, and it also means that I lose some writing time.)
So it should be a good afternoon.
In preparation for the workshop, I’ve been reading the famous book The Artist’s Way, which I’ve heard of for years but never picked up. The book is full of interesting practical ideas and an overarching theory that some would probably find a little too much: this notion that, to be an artist, writer, or creative person generally you need to put your faith in some kind of higher power. It’s all a bit 12-steppy, and yet, and yet?there is something about it that really resonates with me. Julia Cameron, the author,?talks about the divine plan and how creativity works through us, like God working through us, and how, in a sense, you just need to make yourself receptive and then do the work and then, poof, it will all work out: you will become a creative and successful person. If you’re not religious, it might sound crazy (and I am not, so at first it was a little alarming for me), but it echoes notions of creativity that seem to be finding me everywhere these days: in this terrific Radiolab episode featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, and in a TED talk she did a few years back, both of which, when I first listened, absolutely blew my mind.
In a nutshell,?Gilbert?suggests that creativity is something outside of us, that creativity finds us, like a muse, or a little floating angel, as long as we’re open and receptive to it. There is something very anti-Puritanical about this notion! I, personally, was raised to work hard and not to expect too much. But for Gilbert, and Cameron, there is this belief that if you’re a good and dogged creative person, if you put the words on the page again and again and again, the universe will reward you with little gifts: a first chapter, a beautiful painting, the faith to keep going.
Whether you believe it or not, it’s?kind of comforting, wouldn’t you say? It reminds me, actually, of my decision to name?my chapbookFaith a few years back. I was obsessed with the word; it cropped up for me in everything I wrote. I think my entire notion?of “faith” at that time?centered around the belief that the words would keep coming, that things would work out if I kept at it.?And in a way, I guess that’s what Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert are trying to say.
I hope, in my way, to bring some of that wisdom to the workshop the 19th.
Enough philosophizing for today; I need to go get some work done.
But I hope to see some of you at my workshop on the 19th, and, as ever, I’d be terrifically grateful if you spread the word to anyone else you know who might be interested. Note the special offer for bringing a friend! ($10 off for both of you.)
Recently I had the good (ahem) fortune of writing a book proposal, a document I?d avoided for years because it simply didn?t seem necessary. My book was done; I?d been sending it around without one, so why the need? But when I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, an agent I?m interested in working with?along with a former book editor-cum-entrepreneur whose advice I trust?said in no uncertain terms that every memoirist needs a robust (read: 100-page) book proposal. I realized that if only for the very practical reason that if I wanted to query this agent I?d need a book proposal, that I had to write one, daunting as it was.
The tricky thing about a book proposal is that it calls on a completely different part of your brain than the one you use to write your book. You hope the book-writing part uses the creative, spontaneous, brilliantly fresh part of your brain; the book proposal requires something more like an MBA. Here is the book market, you need to say. Here is how I fit into it. Here is how my book improves upon and contributes to the many voices already writing memoir, anxiety, romance. And here is why I’m the best person to write this very book. You also need to learn to talk about your book and why you’ve written it in a way that suggests confidence, poise, and drive, plus no small measure of self-aggrandizement.
My first draft was a disaster. I followed a template to the letter of the law, in the process confounding an editor I’d hired. In my chapter summaries (oh yes: you need a roughly 1-page summary of every chapter in your book, which in my case is 20+ chapters long) she couldn’t find the theme of the book; she didn’t understand what the climax of the story was or how anxiety even fit in. Since anxiety is supposed to be the very bottom building block, the most important thing, I knew this was a major problem. And while the editor didn’t have much negative to say about my 12-page Marketing and Publicity section, it was killing me:?I spent hours coming up with a list of blogs and publications and connections and opportunities, but somehow this all felt?folksy, redundant; that it didn’t really describe how I plan to market and promote my own book. Did I really need to state that I planned to Tweet about it??I mean, duh, right?
Luckily, a writer friend to the rescue. She let me look at her book proposal. And then I found a few others, remembered that an old college buddy had, years ago, sent me his. Reading these through, I?realized?that the most salient point of a book proposal is that, while in an actual?book you have pages upon pages to allow themes to marinate, in a book proposal you have mere sentences to make yourself understood. You have to hammer home your points in a way that a busy agent or book publisher, skimming your proposal, can easily grasp. So I rewrote and rewrote those chapter summaries, emphasizing?the two main threads of the book?making peace with fear, and love as acceptance, if you’re wondering?in every single one. And in the Overview section, I strove for an almost-painful clarity: the theme of the book is this, I said. The most important takeaway is this.?Finally, instead of concentrating all my industry-speak into that one Marketing & Publicity section, it occurred to me to sprinkle it throughout, and to use the “About the Author” section to tout my accomplishments (man, that’s an uncomfortable phrase to write) and emphasize the ways this book fits into a larger scheme of me as a writer.
The surprising thing about writing this book proposal was not facing the discomfort of shamefully selling myself, though that did give me pause, but rather how damn useful it was. Being forced to write a sentence like “the themes of the book are X, Y, and Z” helped me to reflect on, well, the themes of the book. It allowed me to go back and look at the book and ask myself whether those themes were in fact clear (and if not, to take one last moment to make them clear). Similarly, writing the “Comp Titles” section?where you compare and contrast your book to others in the same genre?allowed me to really envision where my book sits on the shelf at the library. It allowed me to come up with catch-phrases to describe the genre and what I’m trying to do. It gave me the opportunity to think of ten books that I really, really like and describe how my book complements them. Finally, the book proposal was a great opportunity to talk a little about anxiety, to throw some statistics around, to say what I know and very much believe to be true: that Americans are more anxious than ever, that anxiety has become a huge part of our national identity, that more people need to be reading and writing about it. Because I truly believe that.
Last week, with very little fanfare but a nice oomph of satisfaction, I sent out that book proposal. I’m now in that awful period where you wait and wait and wait. But it actually doesn’t feel so awful, I think because I’m really happy that I finished that book proposal and feel good about it. If nothing else, writing it helped me to really put the cap on the pen that has been this long, long writing project. If nothing else, I gave it a very good shot.
Resources That May be Helpful if You Are Writing a Book Proposal: