I was something of a health nut in my youth, when the word “organic” was not yet even in the common vocabulary. Alternative healing fascinated me and I read every book I could find on the subject.
Sometimes I asked myself, why am I reading all these books about healing when I don’t need them?
Eventually, I came across Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book, Love, Medicine, and Miracles. It was about the power of love and the mind’s influence to heal the body and even produce unexpected cures, or miracles. In the 1980’s, the book was considered pretty out-there, but I thought it made perfect sense and I found it very inspiring.
Fast forward a few decades to when I find myself struggling with severe Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a very debilitating condition with intense nerve pain, migraines, and other difficult symptoms. Nothing the medical community had to offer helped - not the medications and not the treatments.
But something of Bernie Siegel’s ideas must have stayed with me, because I began looking for my own path to healing through changing my perceptions of pain, changing my beliefs about what was possible, and, instead of hating my pain, sending it love.
The book that resulted from all this is coming out in a few weeks, and guess who my editor found to write the foreword?
Yes, that’s right, Dr. Bernie Siegel.
For me, that’s it’s own little miracle.
Some of us are afraid to write about what deeply moves us because we don’t have a degree or an official certification in that area. We think we don’t have the requisite credibility. After all, people who want to author a book should have the appropriate academic credentials, correct?
Certainly, as a culture, we are sold on the idea that we learn what’s most important by attending school. Along with adding to our storehouse of knowledge, degrees confer status, validation, and the right to write. And it's true, attaining a degree is a true accomplishment and has meaning and worth.
When we’re writing for an academic audience or are expounding on something technical or trying to teach complex methodology, a degree can be a boon. Some readers will only look at our books if we have letters after our names.
On the other hand, do all readers value the same things? Are they all looking for input from school-taught experts?
In my experience, the answer is a big “no.” People want to read about how others like them are meeting life’s challenges. They want to hear personal stories about loss, renewal, redemption, victory, and just slogging along until you get to the other side. And they want to hear from writers who have been through it, writers with whom they can identify.
How do you do that? How do you write a book with authority that appeals to readers? You do that by writing to someone like you. And to do that, you only have to be an expert in one thing. Your own experience.
And you’re the only one who can do that. No one else can write a book based on what you have gleaned from your travails and your triumphs, big or small in scope. You are the top expert in your field because you are the only one who can write from your life experience and with your unique perspective.
So, don’t be afraid to write about what interests you and what you feel strongly about because in all the millions of people on the planet, there are many who want to hear from you. They want your brand of clarity, your humor, your quirkiness, your angle, and your unique insights.
After all, for many subjects, Life is our best teacher, and direct experience our highest certification.
Do you ever get that? You know, the thing when you've got something brilliant exploding in your mind and you're sure you'll know exactly what to write only the words aren't there and then you realize that you have no idea how to say anything about it that will ever come close?
I have this thing I'm trying to write. It's about living and pain and breath and the astonishing vitality and beauty of the small things that make up our lives.
So, I ask myself. Why do I do this thing? This thing of writing? This weird, lonely task that I have set myself? I mean nobody ever tells anyone they have to be a writer. Honestly. We choose ourselves. There's really no one else to blame for this.
So I fume for awhile and go back to the thing I'm writing and hate it. I hate everything I've said. It's all wrong and it will never be right. I will never say the thing I'm trying to say.
I get up and walk around town, looking in windows and taking a movie out of the library I will not watch.
I come back to the computer and mess around with the words again. They are saying the same things over and over and not getting to the heart of what it is I want to say and do I actually really know what that is? and I think I should just give up.
Only I've decided I'm a writer, so I don't. I dive into the middle of the words and I pull out the ones that aren't cooperating and then I've pulled them all out and I'm staring at a blank page again.
Only it's not the same blank page.
I stare for a long time and then something starts to coagulate into a new thought. Now I see that I was starting in the wrong place and I have something different to write, something that comes from a richer place inside me, and it's good. Well, I hope it is.
And I work it out onto the page, writing and rewriting and refining over and over and in most ways it's not as good as the vision in my head was, but in other ways, it's better. It's better because it forced me to look for it. I had to dive deeper and discover more than I had planned to say, and in some places less than I had planned to say, and somehow, it falls together in the end and I can breathe again.
Ok, then, I say to myself, I'll keep writing another day.
So there I was at Open Secret Bookstore, in San Rafael, California, my favorite place to hang out, sip homemade chai, and work on writing.
And this person comes in with postcards for a new book he's published and we start chatting about books and publishing and I point out my self-published book, The Pain Companion, and he politely takes a look. I wander off.
He's still looking at it when I return.
This book is really well done, he says, and I thank him. He introduces himself as Patrick Miller of Fearless Literary Agency and he says he'd like to represent me. I am flattered, of course, but hey, I say, I don't have a platform - you know, thousands of fans on social media, the workshop circuit, a name, and a following. It's what publishers want these days, right?
He says, right, but I think it won't matter with this book. I think this book is worth publishing without that, he says. I'm dubious. Not about the book's value, but about any publisher picking up an unknown author like me. I mean, do I really want a traditional publisher anyway? I've heard tales of how they take your book and change it and then drop it if you don't become a bestselling author in like, 3 months.
I don't say anything because I've already decided that the only publisher I really want to work with is New World Library. They did a great job with The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and they seem interested in the longevity of books and long-term relationships with authors. I would like to work with them if I could get in the door, but, of course, I can't get in the door because I don't have a platform.
Writing anything and putting it out in the world is like being out in the street naked. It's scary, it's vulnerable, and you feel fully exposed to the world.
So, I understand why so many are "going to write that book" or "going to start that blog" any day now. It's not just that writing is work - which it is - but there's a boatload of fear that comes with the act.
Just starting. Putting pen to paper, staring at the blank screen, pulling the napkin toward you at the coffee shop to jot down a couple of notes. Just that much can bring up all sorts of fear and trepidation. It feels like an act of power, an act of rebellion, an act of necessity, an act of foolishness, an act of creative freedom, and the worst idea in the world all at the same time.
I know about that.
I dreamed about being a writer since I was in grade school. I published my first book 30 years later. So, I know about procrastination. I know about fear.
But guess what? The world didn't crash down around my ears. I'm still alive to talk about it. My first book, and every book, is like my soul walking exposed out in the world. And it will be for you too. Probably. If you write from your heart and if you write from truth.
And that's okay. That's what real writing, deep writing, is about. Deep writing is about transformation. It transforms your readers and it transforms you while you're doing it. It exposes your soul.
And that's exactly what the world needs right now. Writing from your deepest places, from your soul. Even if you write comedy, children's books, TV sitcoms - all of that when it comes directly from your soul creates the belly laughs, the engagement, the nodding of the head, the shared understanding.
And maybe even a shared vision for something different in the world.
So, take a deep breath and dive in. You're not alone.
I'd like to hear about your process.