This week's Sunday Scribblings challenge:
The books I would write would allow me to travel to the places I've been dreaming of all my life, and to write about them not in the usual here's-the-best-hotel-in-town and where-to-get-the-best-deal-on-shoes style of travel book, but to write about my personal experiences while traveling. I would write about my first time seeing the Mona Lisa, or about the time I got pickpocketed on the Métro in Paris. I would write about what it feels like to travel alone as a woman... when I feel scared to be out alone in a strange city at night, when I feel lonesome for love because there's no one to share a gondola in Venice with me, when I feel exhilarated by the freedom of not having to consult someone else about my travel itinerary. I would write about unexpectedly falling in love in a foreign land... and perhaps, sadly, about falling out of love as well.
I used to think that if I wrote about things from my own experience, no one would be interested. I thought, "Isn't it just my ego run amuck for me to believe that my little, insignificant life experiences would have meaning for someone else? Who would really care?"
I think a lot of writers suffer from this false belief. We're raised to be modest, humble and self-effacing, to hide our brilliant light under the proverbial bushel basket, because "no one likes a braggart". We're taught that it is selfish and egotistical, not to mention boring, when someone talks about himself or herself constantly... and let's face it, sometimes this is actually true. So is it any wonder why, as writers, we're often hesitant to share our true selves on the written page? One of the biggest dangers for any writer is self-censorship out of the fear of what others will think.
In 1999, I started my first e-newsletter as a business-building tool for my life coaching practice. I was in the motivation business so I wanted each issue to be inspiring and a catalyst for my readers, so every month I tried to include a relevant story or two from whatever was going on with my clients or other people I knew, and when I didn't have an actual true story to draw from, I just invented one. And I got a fairly nice response to those issues.
Then one day I decided to cross over the edge of my comfort zone and write entirely from my own point of view and experience. I shared my own struggles with my readers as well as the steps I was taking or had already taken to resolve whatever the challenge was. I was surprised and gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response I got whenever I did that. Not only did I get more people writing in to comment about the issue, but my subscribership skyrocketed after that, and within a year my little newsletter went from 50 subscribers to nearly 800!
Blogging is another thing I was actually very resistant to doing, and for the same reasons. I thought that if I started a blog to write about my life and my take on things going on in the world, who would give a damn, anyway? Then I remembered what happened with my newsletter, and decided I would just go ahead and blog, whether anyone else was interested or not. Well, here I am, 16 months and over 10,000 readers later... so I guess, after all, someone else was interested.
A few years ago when I decided to fold up my personal coaching practice and focus on a writing career, I thought about what kind of books I would like to write -- because for years, other people had been telling me I "should" write a book about one thing or another. First I was told I should write a book about web design, and then internet dating (I had considerable expertise in both). At the time, I poo-pooed the idea of writing a book entirely, never thinking I would ever do it.
When I became a coach and got to help people focus on personal and professional development, I spent a few years thinking about what kind of self-help/personal growth book I "should" write, because it seemed like the logical thing to do -- every coach I knew either had written, was writing, or was planning to write a "how to" book on coaching or something related to their coaching work. By this time I knew I really DID want to start writing books, but every time I tried to come up with a good topic, one that I could get really passionate about, the best I got out of myself was a luke-warm "that might be nice" kind of feeling... and that's not enough to motivate oneself to spend months planning, writing and editing a book manscript. One needs fire and passion to follow through on that kind of long-term writing commitment.
Then one day I remembered a conversation I had with my young niece, Beth. She was about 7 at the time, and I was trying to explain to her what I did for a living as a life coach, and to put it in a context she would be able to understand. I said: "Some grownups are working in jobs they really don't like very much. I help people figure out what they are really good at and what they love to do more than anything else, and then I help them figure out how to actually go and do it." She nodded sagely, as a 7-year old girl is wont to do, and said "Cool!" -- she seemed to get the general idea.
Then, seeing an opportunity to plant a seed, I said to her: "Did you know that when you grow up, you can do any kind of work that you really want to do? Even if there isn't a job out there that you would like, you can actually create your own job, your own work, and make it just what you want it to be." Her eyes got very big and she said "Really? I can do anything I want? Like what?", and I said, "Well, think about it for a moment - what are you good at and what would you really love to do some day?" She said, "Well, I would really like to travel, and I'm really good at reading." And I said, "So, what if someday you decided to travel around the world to different places, and you wrote books about it? It's called travel writing." She seemed to think that was a pretty great idea, and that was the end of that conversation; I figured it didn't matter whether she ever did that particular thing or not, the point at the time was to open her young mind up to the possibility that maybe she didn't have to settle for some boring 9-5 job her whole life if she had other ideas and interests.
Little did I know, what I was REALLY doing was planting that seed in my OWN mind. Because in remembering that conversation, I suddenly felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I thought, Why do I think the books I write have to be in the personal growth and self-help genre? Why am I so focused on the idea that I "should" write something spiritual or inspirational or a how-to? What if I could just travel, and enjoy myself, and write books about it that would entertain people who like to read about travel to foreign places? Who knows, maybe some of those people would read my books and be inspired anyway, to go and face some of their own challenges or to live out their own dreams.
So, the books I would write -- and will be writing -- are likely to always be written, in some way, shape or form, from my own personal experience. It's the kind of writing I love doing most and for which I seem to have the most natural ability. I wrote my first book that way -- even though it is a "how-to" for aspiring authors, not a travel book or memoir -- because I used my own book-writing research and coaching experience to write it. Now I'm setting my aspirations on living in Paris, and writing about that from the perspective of a single woman of a certain age -- and beyond that I've got the book framework all set for writing about tracing my grandmother's steps through Europe.
After that, who knows where my travels -- and the inspiration to write -- will take me next. It doesn't really matter to me right now... what does matter is that I have found my "niche" as a writer: the personal/travel memoir. Because anyone who knows me personally knows that, yes, I absolutely DO enjoy talking about myself (and be honest, don't we all like to do that at least some of the time?) By doing it as a writer, I've found a way to let that little internal egotist out of her cage once in a while, in a way that is creative and valuable.
And, let's face it... I'm still going to write about where to get the best deal on shoes. Hey, I know what really matters in life!