I’m in the (seemingly never-ending) process of editing my memoir right now, something I’ve been deftly procrastinating since receiving my manuscript all marked up by my editor two months ago. Whoever said that writing, or any form of creative expression, is a constant, blissful, muse-directed journey of joyful inspiration (actually, nobody says that) has clearly not walked my journey. For me, it’s about 40% bliss and 60% gritting my teeth and powering through it. My memoir is the jagged-edged story of losing my mind (in a life-saving sort of way), and the forty years of experiences, both mundane and fascinatingly paranormal, that led to that evolution. It’s a story not easy to write. For me it’s as Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”.
Hence, my procrastination.
But once I convinced myself that opening up that manuscript was what my soul couldn’t or wouldn’t be denied any longer, despite the pages and pages of “change this” and “omit that” and “what are you trying to say here”… I committed. I gave myself to the spirit of courage, put on my imaginary Kevlar and jumped back in.
I’m not going to lie. Editing can be a tough process. Page after page, highlighting what’s wrong with your book in service to polishing it to a shine can be a blow to the ego. I’m not a professional writer. I just do the best I can, writing stories to serve my soul-purpose which is to free the human spirit so the world can come alive generated by the power of every person’s unique expression.
So after I spent three days reading through the editor’s comments, I licked my wounds a little and vented to a best friend. I told her this book was starting to feel less like a ball and chain around my ankle and more like a bear trap…while at the same time I also couldn’t bear to abandon it. I had to continue. This book has to be published. Once I took full responsibility for what I truly want, rather than replaying the tired martyr story, I settled in, took a deep breath, inhaled my editor’s brilliance, released the drama, and felt only gratitude for the insight. Not only did she give me the missing ingredients to make my book markedly better, but she illuminated some deep, important truths for me, life lessons, some things I really needed to hear right now. It felt like a psychospiritual reset.
Which brings me to what I have for you today.
I’ve distilled my editor’s feedback into five life lessons that I’d love to share because I truly think they’re universally valuable no matter how your life may be currently expressing. Whether or not creative expression in any form is your thing, these life lessons will free you of heavy, restricting energy, liberating you to do more of what you love, focusing less on the things that don’t matter to you. It’s about releasing that dead weight, my favorite version of spring cleaning.
So without further ado, these are the Five Life Lessons inspired by my book editor:
1.) Stick To Your Central Theme! — The central theme to my memoir is what it took to break my spirit free from the heavy chains with which I had bound myself. Breaking down that central theme into subcategories, the overarching messages of my memoir are a.) The Western version of “sanity” can look a lot like insanity, and visa versa. Maybe we need to be less afraid of feeling insane and welcome a little more living outside of the box. b.) I want people to decide for themselves what is right for their lives vs. following external expectations. In fact, the latter is almost always an inevitable recipe for a colossal nervous breakdown. And c.) Stand out from the crowd! For God’s sake (and I actually mean that literally), be unique. Our lives depend on it.
My editor pointed out that when I strayed from this central theme, my story meandered, got lost, setting her up for frustration and confusion. I needed to stay focused. There was no better truth for me to follow in my business as well as my writing. There is so much energy built from the power of staying focused, something creative entrepreneurs can easily lack. The central theme for my book is the reason I’m a personal and executive coach today and it felt so energizing to be reminded of that. There is no separation between the writing of this book and my day job as a professional coach– the two are one in the same.
Question: What is your life’s central theme? Where do your passions meet the needs of the world? Making things…art, building, music, engineering, writing, policy making, teaching, leading, creating on any level is always meeting a need. Never allow yourself to tell yourself anything different. Albert Einstein said that imagination is ultimately more important than intellect. Whatever your central theme, remind yourself of it, and own its importance. There is no such thing as frivolous creativity.
2.) Omit What Isn’t Necessary. — One of my editor’s side margin scribbles was, “Every single sentence should be in service to your vision. Remove anything that weighs the energy of your story down.”
So valuable a reminder. I imagined taking an imaginary chisel to my life. How, and on what, am I wasting time? What are the distractions in my life, serving only to numb me rather than to ignite me? If suddenly one rotation around the sun became 26 hours long, what would I dream of doing with those two additional hours? And how can I make that a reality now?
Question: Be truthful with yourself. What are your time-sucks? What is a habitual activity that makes you feel neutral or worse after having done it? What can you shave from your clock or calendar?
3.) Admit What Isn’t Working. — A few times throughout the writing of my book, I knew I was trying to stuff too much in, to serve too many purposes. I lost my focus, slipped into overwhelm, and as a result became lazy. My instinct nagged me and I ignored it. I knew there were loose ends I hadn’t tied up, but after combing through the story a hundred times, I was just too exhausted to address these problems. I hoped nobody would notice. With 100% accuracy the editor called me on every single example. (Argh! And also, thank you!)
My day job requires that I live in absolute integrity. I can’t assist other people in re-invigorating their lives when I myself am falling asleep at the wheel. I can’t help somebody else out of their current state of stagnancy if I myself am stagnant. My work is not just a Band-Aid. I offer tools and solutions for a person to teach themselves how to generate their own internal power. That means when I get overwhelmed, I can’t just hope nobody notices…I have to skillfully shift it. I have to do what it takes to stay open, not coast on mediocre work.
Question: What in your life is not working right now and how are you making excuses to defend it rather than searching for creative solutions to modify it? Are you eroding your own integrity through the sneaky practice of acting not in congruence with your values? Nothing subconsciously derails a journey like cognitive dissonance.
4.) Accept Only The Advice That Feels Right. — 99% of my editor’s insights I absolutely agreed with. But my dog is pivotal to my story and every scene in which she was featured my editor suggested I cut. “Not relevant to your story!” she’d scribble. Meanwhile, I argued her absolute relevance to my story! So, this left me with a directive to do a better job explaining why she was relevant but I also dug my heels in and vowed not to omit her role in the journey. No way. I couldn’t budge on this.
In an example of universal synchronicity, I recently had brunch with a dear friend. I was telling her all about my recent breakthrough– actually beginning my final process of editing– and a woman sitting next to us couldn’t help but overhear. She leaned over and introduced herself, a published author, and gave me a mini-pep talk. Her final interjection was, “Accept only the advice that feels right”.
Imperative: We can never be afraid to say, “Sorry, but I’m going with my gut on this one”. Even if we fall flat on our face, we have to know when to say, “No, thank you”.
5.) Love Yourself Through The Red Marks. — Anytime deeply personal work is critiqued therein lies the possibility to take it personally. One of the reasons I procrastinated diving back into my critiqued manuscript is that I knew the internal gremlins would start their murmurings. “You can’t write,” they’d say. “Stick to psychology,” they’d advise. Every single person who puts themselves out there in some way, offering the world their version of a highly personal creation, has these gremlins. They seem to have a central theme which is something like, “Who are you to believe you can do this, jackass?”
We absolutely have to push through these voices.
I have a client who has owned an art school, a Classical Realism Atelier. She stresses her golden rule frequently, that a person can’t make the mistake of sharing their identity with their art. If they do, then it can’t be critiqued and they can’t grow as an artist.
Reading through page after page of this editor’s critique, her guidance through the telling of an exquisitely personal story, I had to love myself through my own inner dialogue. I had to choose to reject my own inner criticism which told me I should abandon this now, while I still had some dignity. I had to gently shake my head when it said I just wasn’t a sophisticated enough writer to tell this mind-bending story with a freaking ghost as a main character.
Imperative: Love means understanding that we all do the best we can with the resources we have. It means accepting that when the heart and soul are directing a project, there’s no allowing the inner voices to take a sledge-hammer to that. Love means putting our hand on our heart, and rejecting the notion of perfection, instead focusing on progress above all else.
Let us not hold ourselves back, creative sensitives. Let’s keep moving forward, step by step, to fulfill our heart’s desire.
Please tell me about your own creative process in the comments. Share what holds you back or what ignites you. I’d love nothing better than to hear about your own creative journey, or whatever life lessons seem to be tugging at your sleeve today.
So Much Love,