Friday, March 28, 2008

Gathering Ghosts

The Writing Goddess has one hell of a sense of humor.

I received wonderful news earlier this week that Writing Begins with the Breath has sold almost 6000 copies in the first six months of sales. It hasn't even entered the academic market yet. A sample book mailing of 500 books were sent to all instructors who used Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg) as an adopted text this fall with hopes of course adoptions for spring 08 and fall 08. I received this news with a note from Jenn, my editor at Shambhala. They want to have another writing book.

I've avoided this ever since Breath came out. It is too easy to get pigeonholed -- to get branded as a certain kind of author and never find your way out again. It's also way too difficult to get published at all these days, and with literary fiction readership and lists shrinking, I am not at all interested in turning down another contract. But what to say?

Those of you who've been following this blog know I've been struggling with this memoir, as well as a novel, for the past six months. It's always such a challenge to find the writing space during a teaching semester. This time after spring break is always particularly bad. We're all tired -- the students want out; the teachers want out -- and the onslaught of student work pours down in April. To add a writing book on top of all of this means at least another year out on the novel. I'll be 41 then! Yike. This is not the instant gratification business.

I asked my classes this week what they'd like to see in a writing book. I wanted to know what they haven't found in a book and/or what they found valuable in my classes that they'd like to see expanded on. If any of you reading this have any suggestions on what would be interesting to you, please post a reply, or e-mail me.

As I've been mulling things over this week, I think some of what I've been trying to force into a memoir might be more about writing. I think Breath is personal, but it maintains some distance that wouldn't be found in a memoir. I would like to get more personal with a next book, but maybe not being chained to a narrative arc required in memoir might be just what I need.

Here's where I think I'm strong:

- Voice
- Helping people find/access what's already inside them
- Vulnerability -- demonstrating it in my work so others can find it in themselves
- Creating connections between my experiences & the reader's experiences

I think my background in counseling & grief work lends a unique dimension to what I bring as a teacher as well as a writer. I also think the way stories come to me is unique (though variations are extremely common among writers). I think the ghost angle, which is such a part of who I am, is a part of how I "see", which is directly connected to how I write.

I've come up with this:


This narrows the focus of what I've been struggling with in the memoir and would allow for me to explore specific areas of what makes a writer a writer. This also allows for an open ended book in terms of genre, which I think is very important for a broader audience, and it would not be a didactic kind of textbook. I want to express myself more personally than I did in Breath, and I think a series of essays/chapters exploring who we are & why we do what we do would be valuable to other writers and would be a topic I haven't yet exhausted in my own life. It likely would also be valuable to people who aren't writers, as I've found Breath to be valuable to people who have no desire to write based on the feedback I've received from people who are using it in women's groups, church groups, etc... I hadn't anticipated that broad of an audience when we began.

I'd like to flesh this out into a proposal. Do any of you have any thoughts? They would be most welcome.

Thank you!

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