A couple weeks ago I watched daily video interviews with coaches, speakers, therapists, and social media gurus on a free online summit called “Write Because it Matters,” hosted by Dawn Montefusco.
Some of what I saw inspired me. It was great to see fellow coaches getting themselves out there and sharing their messages. It gave me ideas about building my business and platform, and inspired me to roll up my sleeves and dig into the second-to-last chapter of my memoir, which I’d been avoiding.
But there was also information and conversation that didn’t resonate with me, such as Montefusco’s conviction that “Books ‘should’ be written in ninety days.” I don’t agree with this at all. Some stories take time. For example, I had to work intermittently on my memoir, RAW: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, when five family members died over three years. The events I lived through became part of my story. That never would have happened if I’d hammered out a draft in ninety days.
I’ve been a writing teacher and coach for over a decade so I understand the importance of giving the unconscious mind free reign while composing. I also appreciate the power of deadlines, but there are many ways to write a book. Our task as creative beings and writers is to get out of our own way, and to allow what wants to come through us to do so—in whatever ways it needs to come. We are not always in control of that process. My students, clients, and I have grown when we’ve surrendered our agendas, our egos, and our ambition to our deeper wisdom. This is the intelligence we trust not only to guide what we write, but also how we write. Sometimes slowing down—in writing and in life—is what’s needed.
Many of my clients are successful professionals—attorneys, therapists, and entrepreneurs—with demanding workloads. And families. While some people have the time, space, and desire to crank out a book, others don’t. This doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong, or that they “should” be working differently. The only magic formula for writing books—if there is one—is for each writer to know herself well enough to know what works for her.
And this is the key to navigating the chaos of the experts. Know that you are the expert of your work and of your process. In my writing classes, when a student’s work is being discussed, I tell that writer to sit back, take a breath, and jot down who is saying what about their work. I ask them to record rather than respond to what’s being said, and to listen. Later, in the privacy of their workspace, they can evaluate the comments, taking into consideration who said what. I ask them to consider what feels true for them on a visceral level. It’s their story. There’s no right or wrong answer. The trick is to slow down, to get quiet enough to hear your own voice—and trust it!
This process requires a clear intention and conscious effort, especially in a world bombarded with newsletters, emails, ads, texts, social media, conferences, classes, and more. I don’t know about you, but the busier, faster, and louder the world becomes out there, the greater my need for peace, clarity, and calm in here.
Any time you hear an expert wield the “should” word, pause. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Does this feel authentic? Is this a thought I want to invest my belief dollars in?” We are all in choice about our beliefs, whether we’re conscious of that or not. Part of our work as creative writers is to turn inward for truth. It’s fine to enlist the help of teachers and guides, but choose them wisely. Not everyone will uplift and inspire you, though you may still learn from them. If you treat these interactions the same way my students handle critiques, you’ll know on a gut level what’s useful and what’s not—and you won’t give away your power, especially when you remember that no one is the architect of your story, and your life, but you.
One guest I watched on the “Write Because it Matters” Summit was Kevin Knebl, a speaker, author, and coach who procrastinated delivering a first book to McGraw-Hill, and ended up writing it sequestered in a hotel room over forty-eight hours. That’s one way to meet a deadline, but not the one I’d choose. The best part of his interview, aside from his down-to-earth effervescence, was this comment: “Small activities repeated over time produce massive results.” Writers, take the time you need. Beware of rushing, which some people do to avoid feeling. Most agents will tell you their best advise is “Don’t rush.” Your work needs to stand out and be polished. Give it the care it deserves. Give yourself the care you deserve. Don’t be in a hurry. I’m not suggesting you drag your feet and throw yourself a procrastination pity party—I’m asking you to respect your process.
In writing and in life, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The key is to take what you like—what resonates, what feels true, and what uplifts you—and leave the rest. This requires discrimination, focus, self-awareness, and a willingness to be your own expert.