As the vaccines roll out, we feel cautious jubilation for the ending of this time of constriction and death, but also uncertainty about what’s next.
What will it be like? Who will I be?
Let’s face it. The world we left in March of 2020 simply doesn’t exist anymore.
The pandemic swept normal away with it in a tsunami of worldwide devastation and restriction.
Humanity was brought to its knees all at once, all over the world by a microscopic organism on a rampage. Nothing was left untouched.
Every crisis that we face in life changes us. Death, sickness, divorce, accidents. They all force us to dig deep inside ourselves, asking us to look within for solace, understanding, and strength.
But a crisis of this magnitude is fundamentally world-changing.
It prompts all of us, everywhere, to examine our lives, our institutions, our societies, our beliefs, our relationships, and our very identities.
Many died, and the rest of us went through a kind of collective near-death experience, a global spiritual wake-up call.
We have been given the opportunity to see how flimsy our house of cards really was, but at the same time it has also shown us our resilience as individuals and as communities. The pandemic elicited the magnificent ability we have to be there for each other, to make music on rooftops and sing to one other from balconies, to bring groceries and cheer to our elder neighbors, and to create humor amidst the fear. We found reservoirs of strength, love, and endurance within ourselves we didn’t know we had including tenacity, the ability to persevere, courage, resourcefulness, strength, hope, and hidden reserves of kindness and patience.
At a very deep level, the pandemic has reminded us of our humanity. It has, in a sense, called upon us to reassert our humanity.
As we find our way back into the world, into the fullness of our lives, we will undoubtedly recognize just how much we have each changed. We are simply not the same people we were in March of 2020.
For many of us, our boundaries have shifted. We are less tolerant of things that cause pain of any kind. Sexism. Racism. Highly biased reporting. Amassing stuff for the sake of amassing stuff. Anything that hurts children. Media that misrepresents whole groups of people. Wealth inequality. Pointless tasks. Long commutes. Healthcare that doesn’t.
Our expectations have changed. We want more of what works for everyone, not just the few. More inclusion, more equality, more depth and meaning in education, more relevance in religion, more personal satisfaction in work, more reality in our media, more actual service to our human needs from our institutions. More kindness and compassion and truth and sincerity and authenticity from everyone everywhere.
The questions we ask ourselves now as we adjust to who we have become and who we are still becoming are not just about our continued material existence, but about MEANING. These deeper questions arise from our souls, our core being. What is life for? Who am I? Why am I here? How do I BE? What is the life that I really crave? What kind of relationships do I want to have? Who do I want to be as a parent? A partner and lover? A creator? A dreamer? A soul?
Along with challenging our personal identities, this shared pandemic experience has shown us the permeability of national borders. It asks us to examine the impact our lives have beyond our small circle of friends and family and to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life on our tiny, vulnerable globe.
One thing we have learned from this pandemic above all else is that we do matter. Each one of us. Each of us has made a difference in someone else’s life during the pandemic, and each of us has had the experience of how important human connection is and felt gratitude for that. Our lives have reflected the macrocosm in the microcosm. We have seen how dependent we are upon each other, in big ways and in small, and we must not lose that understanding, because it is what will recreate our world.
We are on a precipice, right at the edge of the potential to birth something new, a world that will be infinitely more satisfying, sustainable, healthy, kind, and, well, HUMAN.
If we don’t choose what is meaningful and real and life-affirming and inclusive of all life now, we will not only have lost the planet to pollution and over population and poverty and greed, we will have lost ourselves.
Surely, we must concede that we cannot go back to what we were doing before the pandemic and expect a different outcome.
Next time it may not be a pandemic. It might be war or terrorism or artificial intelligence misused or the food supply chain completely disrupted or our water supplies poisoned, like a global Flint, Michigan.
But who am I to change the world? you may well ask. That sounds like too tall of an order. I can’t remake the world all by myself. No, and you’re not expected to. But we can. Together. It starts right here with realizing the power we already have. The power to choose. The power to believe. The power to re-think, re-know, re-see everything. Including who we think we are.
We are more powerful than we have realized.
It is an illusion that the world is run only by the few at the apex of money and influence. Who do you think placed them there? The world is made by the many. When we truly realize this and embrace it, the center of power will become clear. It lives in each of us.
We create the world anew by first shifting how we see ourselves, how we run our energy, how we choose to perceive others, and, finally, how we express that in action.
But I’m not a mover and a shaker, you say. I don’t want to run for office or stand on the street corner with petitions. You don’t have to.
There are myriad opportunities, even in these restricted times to practice more kindness, more presence, more caring, more forgiveness, more openness to others. We can start by acknowledging the exhausted teen who is packing groceries for us. Have a conversation with the checker and find out a little about who they really are. Hold the door open for someone and wish them well. Slow down and let that aggressive driver go ahead of you without giving them the bird. Assume more positive things about people’s motivations, give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not?
Can’t change the whole world that way, you argue? I beg to differ. It is the small interactions by all of us, over time, that will, indeed, change the world. The most important choice we make is the one we make right now, this moment. Accept it. Your life does matter, your thoughts do count, and your attitude and choices do shape reality, one moment at a time.
Everything we do in a positive way and with positive intention affects everything else in a positive way. That is Metaphysics 101. We do not live in a vacuum. This world, this plane of reality is connected molecule to molecule, electron to electron. Where we put our attention and the quality of our attention changes things.
If you doubt it, look up quantum physics.
Everything affects everything.
That is our spiritual wake up call.
Who will I choose to be? Who will you choose to be?
This is a great time of transformation on the planet. Things are coming to light. Old wounds, transgressions, evils, and inequalities are surfacing to be recognized and healed. But more than that, WE are coming to light.
It’s time to move from being spiritual children to spiritual adults.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
The pandemic has been awful, and something I wish we never had to go through. But it has also provided a massive wake-up call to us as humans and as souled beings, all over this globe.
How much compassion, loving-kindness, open-mindedness, forgiveness, gratitude, creativity, optimism, inclusion, positivity, and willingness to re-see, re-think, and re-know ourselves can we really expect?
Honestly, after what we’ve been through together, I think we can expect the world of ourselves.
So, you’ve finished writing your nonfiction book. Excellent! I congratulate you!
But you're not done yet – for the greatest success, it is imperative that you make sure your book is the best it can be before you either 1) send it out to agents/publishers or 2) publish it yourself.
How do you do that? You take the effort to professionally edit your book. You can do this yourself by following the plan outlined below.
These seven steps are simple and straightforward, and you will be surprised and delighted by how much more professional your work is after you do them.
STEP ONE: CREATE A TABLE OF CONTENTS
STEP TWO: COLOR CODE TOPICS
Now, this next part will take a little bit of time, but it is well worth it.
STEP THREE: REVERSE OUTLINE
Write a full outline from your book, topic by topic (this is not the outline you created before you wrote the book, this is a new outline based on what you actually wrote.)
STEP FOUR: READ THE WHOLE BOOK OUT LOUD
Take the time to read your entire book out loud and record it into a program such as Quicktime, or into your cell phone. Don’t skimp on this. Reading your book out loud will show you many things that you miss when reading it silently. Listen back to the whole book with your highlighter ready. You can print the whole book out so you can circle problem areas and make notes, or you can make notes on your computer, if you prefer.
As you listen to your work, you will be astonished at how many problems you catch this way, even if you’ve reread your manuscript several times already!
Here’s what you will be looking for, and you must be ruthless with yourself to remedy these problem areas:
As you listen, do you notice that you already said this same thing several times before? It’s a very common problem. Notate where this occurs as you go along and, later, go back and choose the strongest writing and keep only that. Excise the places where you said the same thing several times. Only keep them if you are going deeper into the matter and need to reiterate an important point to remind the reader of what you are talking about.
This is a term that means writing in unnecessarily flowery, ornate, wordy, or dramatic language that doesn’t really serve a purpose. Look for run on sentences and places that you stumble over when reading through out loud. Are all those big, fancy words really necessary? Can you be more precise and concise? Always look for the shortest and most clear way of saying something.
Avoid using big words or long, fancy sentences because you think it sounds smarter. You will only annoy your reader. You certainly don’t want to over-simplify or talk down to your reader, but don’t write as if you’re trying to prove you’re a genius either. Write closer to the way you would speak.
If you can’t breathe while you’re reading your work out loud, your sentences are too long.
Will every reader know what you’re talking about? Are you using terms that assume a certain level of familiarity with the topic that most of your readers won’t have? Are you talking in circles, but never coming to the point? Clean up any writing that seems to wander about but never get anywhere. Ask yourself what you’re trying to say and then say it. Sure, you may need to include some background information and some explanation, but make sure they stay on topic and then gets to the point in a clear, useful manner. If you can’t get to the point, ask yourself if this section is really necessary and consider cutting it.
Overused phrases or words
We all have favorite phrases and words that we tend to use over and over again. As you are listening back to your book, you will hear repetitions that you didn’t notice when you were reading through silently. Make a note of them on a separate piece of paper. When you’re done listening to the whole book, use your word-processing Search or Find tool to look for all the instances of that word or phrase and find appropriate substitutes.
Topics that are underdeveloped
Notice the times that you introduce a concept but don’t fully follow through with it. Note it and decide if it really belongs in the scope of this book. If it doesn’t, excise it. If it does, then do the necessary writing to explore the concept more fully and relate it to the other topics in the book.
Topics that don’t really belong in this book
You may discover that you introduce and work with concepts and topics that are beyond the scope of the book. You may even have whole chapters dedicated to them, but they just don’t feel right. You might be trying to stuff too much material in one book and you may need to develop it separately in its own article or book.
STEP FIVE: INCORPORATE YOUR CHANGES
Look back at all your notes and take the time to incorporate the changes that you see are needed. Yes, this can take some time. In fact, sometimes the rewriting process takes as long or longer than your initial writing. If you believe in the value of what you are doing, however, you will take the time to do the rewriting necessary to make your book the best it can be.
STEP SIX: SEND THE MANUSCRIPT TO READERS
Now is the time to ask a few trusted people to read your manuscript and give you their unbiased feedback. I would advise you not to ask family members or intimate partners to do this unless you know they are capable of giving you honest feedback. Most often, they will say they liked even if they don’t.
Find at least 3 or 4 people who are avid readers, who are interested in the topic you are writing about, and who will give useful critiques. Then, take their feedback and really think about it. Incorporate the ideas for changes that make the most sense to you.
STEP SEVEN: COPY EDIT
Once you have your book in the best shape you are capable of, then you need to go back over it one more time with a fine toothed comb. You’ve had a few weeks or months away from it as your readers have looked at it, so you can now reread it with fresh eyes. This time you will focus on finding errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Nothing looks more amateur than basic problems in these areas. Be sure to take the time to carefully copy edit.
I know this is a lot of work, but it will absolutely elevate your book above the others out there who are not making the effort and it will definitely by noticed and appreciated by agents, publishers, and readers.
Unless you have a publisher’s strict deadline, take the extra months to polish your work. You have one chance to sell your book to an agent or publisher. Make sure it’s the best it can be.
Are you thinking of self-publishing? I'd like you to succeed! Here's a quick rundown of the 5 most common and costly mistakes I've seen independently published authors make time and time again. But I won't leave you there, I'll tell you how to avoid them if you're willing to do what it takes. Here's a hint: start working with these BEFORE you publish! These ideas are for both fiction and nonfiction projects.
This is to give you a heads up on what you'll need to consider. I'll be going into greater detail and specifics on each of these areas and more in future posts.
Mistake #1: Hey, It Reads Good to Me!
You've spent 6 months or 6 years writing your opus and it's finally done! Woo hoo! Congratulations, buy yourself something nice, eat some chocolate, call all your friends, and then get back to work. Yup, don't stop now! Please, please, please take the time and make the effort to edit your work! Then do it again. Then again.
I'm not kidding. The thing that dooms our self-published books most often is the fact that we've spent so much time and energy in actually writing the thing and we're so thrilled to be finally done, that we think we're DONE. No, we're not.
Writing the book is, honestly, only about half the job. Someone said "writing is rewriting" and I think they're write, or right. Hire a professional editor (you can find one online) or do it yourself, but be ruthless. Get several honest friends who read a lot of books to be readers for you and listen to their comments. Cut, rework, re-arrange, combine, contract, expand - do whatever it takes to polish this baby up to the professional level you want it to be. It's worth it.
Mistake #2: No One Judges A Book By Its Cover
Nope. Wrong. EVERYONE will judge your book by its cover. Especially these days when we do a LOT of shopping online and all we see is the cover!
So don't skimp here. I see too many self-published books with murky, low resolution images, funky fonts, and too many words. Yes, you CAN do it yourself, but you'll need to create about 50 renditions before you get it right. There's an art to book cover design and it's not as easy as it seems.
Again, hire a professional or look into some online book design sites that will help you for free. (Canva, Poster My Wall, and Adobe Spark are a couple to check out. I used Adobe's PhotoShop software for mine.) Send the cover out to friends for feedback. Review a TON of professional book covers in your genre and decide what it is that you like and don't like about them and copy that style. For a small fee, a bunch of people will compare two options you've created and give you feedback at www.pickfu.comPickFu.
Don't consider your cover ready until it can sit next to other books on a store's display shelf and hold its own.
Mistake #3: The Content Will Speak for Itself
Make the inside of your book as interesting and accessible as the outside.
Mistake #4: So, I Just Put It On Amazon, Right?
Yes, Amazon is a huge distributor of books, but it is not the only one and simply putting your book on Amazon alone does very little for your chances of selling it. Spend some time looking into the choices you for distributing and marketing your book long before you publish. This is a large topic which will take a number of posts to cover, but start with these points:
Yes, this means you will want to become active on social media. Choose a couple only to begin with, don't try to be everywhere at once. (Facebook is still the most active, after that you might look at Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.)
Putting your book up on Amazon is like sliding it in at the bottom of a stack of about 6 zillion books. How will anyone know it's there? Whether you like it or not, if you're self publishing, you need to become at least a little bit savvy about marketing. There's loads of information online about how to do that if you look for it, I assure you.
Mistake #5: I Have a Publishing Deadline to Meet!
If you're self-publishing, then the only deadlines you have are self imposed. Yes, I do understand how giving yourself some kind of finish-by date can help with your motivation. We're all afraid we'll never actually complete the project, so we push ourselves. This can work to get your first draft written, but for the rest of what needs to be done, it can be counter productive.
Don't give yourself some arbitrary deadline for publishing. You will be doing yourself and your book a huge disservice. All these things I've been talking about TAKE TIME. A lot of time. Make sure your book is absolutely the best it can be - the most well written, clear, and accessible you can make it for your readers. Your cover conveys the spirit of the book and is clear, attractive, and appropriate for your genre. Your interior design is well thought out and readable. You've got your website up and running and you've started writing about the book and building expectation before you publish.
You've already spent a lot of time and energy in writing the book and it's important to you. Now take the same kind of time and care and energy to put those words into the most attractive, presentable, professional package you can.
You will need to take off your writer's hat and don your business hat. Because if you're self-publishing, you aren't just launching a book, you're launching a profession. Treat it that way. It will take you much farther toward success and will give your book the chance it deserves.
In which Scott Calhoun of The Inner Typewriter asks me my thoughts about developing a writing style. I talk about approaches to writing both fiction and nonfiction and finding your personal style in both. Enjoy!
(This interview with Sarah was done by Lene Andersen of The Seated View)
Please tell us your story.
In the fall of 2007, I contracted Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a collapse of the area between the collarbone and first rib. This collapse squeezes the scalene muscle, nerve ganglia, artery and veins that have to fit through this narrow space, creating severe nerve pain in the neck, arms, and hands, which affects my ability to use my hands and arms. For quite a few years, I could barely function. My life basically stopped. I lost the ability to participate in just about everything I enjoyed. I was a single mom and struggled even to be able to cook a meal for my son. After about 5 years of being very stoic and putting up with the situation, I decided that I couldn’t live my life that way any more. That’s when I started developing the approaches I write about in The Pain Companion.
How is your book different from other books on pain?
The Pain Companion focuses primarily on the non-medical aspects of living with pain and pain relief. It offers companionship and solace, as well as many practical methods to reduce emotional, mental, and physical stress. Very unintentionally, books that promise a pain free result can make readers feel worse about themselves when the method doesn’t deliver on its promise. This leads to feelings of failure and shame. The Pain Companion does not require readers to end their pain, but walks along the path with them, offering simple ways to make life easier, to live with more grace, and to practice compassion toward the self while moving through and beyond the experience of pain.
The opioid crisis has led to restrictions on pain treatment, usually without offering meaningful alternatives to people living with chronic pain. How can The Pain Companion help?
With the current scare about the opioid addiction crisis, many are being taken off their pain meds and left to fend for themselves in terribly difficult circumstances. While I don’t offer readers solutions from a medical standpoint and I don’t promise to make anyone pain free, what I do offer is a positive, constructive approach to living with chronic pain and relieving the incredible stress, fear, and emotional distress that comes with that. I think it’s crucial that we understand how deeply long-term pain affects every aspect of a person’s life and begin to address it not just from a physical standpoint, but from emotional, mental, and spiritual levels as well.
In your book, you recommend writing letters to your pain. Why?
Interview with Lene Andersen on The Seated View
I recommend writing letters to pain in order to express and release our feelings about pain – the frustrations, anger, sadness, loss, guilt, and shame that we often feel when we’re living with pain. By recognizing, acknowledging, and expressing our emotional responses to pain, we can begin to let them go and find some emotional relief. Once we’ve expressed our negative feelings about pain, we’re free to consider other responses and can begin to create a more constructive relationship with it. Instead of fighting against it and resisting it as our primary response, we can begin to work with it as a messenger and an ally in healing.
Has your pain taught you anything?
Pain is a difficult mentor to have, but living with it has taught me a great deal. In learning how to shift my relationship with pain, I’ve learned how to shift my relationship with my body, and, ultimately, with myself. This includes learning to be kinder, more compassionate, softer, slower, and less stressed. I understand now that pain can be a guide and is the voice of the part of us that is trying to heal. Rather than attempting to completely silence it, I have learned to listen. I have learned that the way we often go about our lives – establishing and meeting goals, trying to excel, trying to be perfect, trying to be in control – is not necessarily the best way to approach healing.
What’s next for you?
I intend to continue writing and speaking with the hope of helping to shift our culture’s predominantly negative perception of pain and people in pain to one that is more constructive and healing. Pain is part of the human journey. We’re all going to meet it at some point, whether it’s physical or emotional. Living in pain is certainly a difficult and challenging experience, but one that we can learn from and move through with much more grace and well-being if we respond to it, and to ourselves, with more compassion, softness, and acceptance.
Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain. It’s a wonderful book with lots of great tips that can help you deal with pain in a compassionate and gentle way. Thank you very much to Sarah for taking the time to do this interview and for writing this great book. I highly recommend it.