I just finished a huge project, editing a memoir and taking it all the way through the self-publishing process. It is not my book. It is the memoir of a remarkable 91-year-old former missionary to Congo, Martini Reimer Janz. Stargazer’s Children is available—today!—on Amazon. It was a labor of love all around. Continue reading
This morning I woke with a stressful dream about being in a barren, cement barracks with a group divided into men and women. We all have to take showers, get dressed, and get to a choral rehearsal across an unknown city, by unknown means, by an unknown but precise deadline. I get into the wrong bathroom, the men’s, and then get to the women’s but have to get something in a room and then can’t find the bathroom where I’d left my towel. Many more complications. I may not get the shower. I am wearing a long yellow dress with navy patterned tights and cloddy shoes. Will it do? I wake searching and searching.
This has echoes of the terrific novel I’m reading, The Orphan Master’s Son, which is getting more and more disturbing as it progresses. But the most distressing thing is that this frenetic dream wiped out a dream image from the middle of the night that I felt was important and that I surely could remember though I didn’t wake enough to write it down.
I lose dreams all the time and I always regret it. What treasure of wisdom or entertainment is now lost to me forever because the bubble burst before I could capture it in my memory?
Yesterday, though, I found a dream that had gone missing and it really was important. It belonged in my book, The Dream Matrix, but it ended up on the cutting floor in my last revision. Without it some later references make no sense.
When I discovered the mistake I immediately revised the book. This is one great advantage of self-publishing. The changes get registered almost immediately. If you already have a copy of the book and would like to have the missing dream, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It goes into the first letter in Chapter 3.
This discovery just goes to prove my own maxim that even a great editor (which I am) needs an editor. I dare you to find a typo in this book! And it reads really, really well. But earlier I almost ended up with two chapter fives.
I didn’t discover the missing dream. My wonderful writing mentor, Deena Metzger, who had read earlier versions of the manuscript, pointed it out. She actually remembered the dream, as I did—it was still in my head, which was why I didn’t notice that it had gone missing in the final revision.
Like any great teacher she tacked the note about the missing dream as a P.S. onto an ode of praise for the book. She claims she says these things not because she knows and loves me or because she is connected to the book:
I finished your book yesterday. I had read it, rapt, whenever I could during the day. It is an extraordinary text. Beautiful. . . . And brilliant. Startling in its insight, perception and intelligence. . . . We, readers, know at the end something of the possible range of what it means to be human, the potential for extraordinary understanding and accomplishment despite, or because of, the struggles and difficulties that we all encounter.
[As] one who was present for some of this and has read much of it before [I am] awed, really, by your ability to render the great mystery of connection with so much light and so lightly. By your ability to render the great mystery of connection! I am and am not surprised that Spirit would challenge two women who were raised in and practice a soulful religious path to see what else exists, how else Spirit moves in the world so that Spirit’s ways might become known so that we can begin to live accordingly.
Dream and daily life, religion and Spirit, meanness and generosity, possibility and devastation, dolphins, beached and leaping, Aberdeen and sacred trees, the grove restored, hard and relentless work about nuclear and environmental danger, the world restoried, and friendship, friendship, friendship, and love in so many of its forms, lived truly and passionately from the heart.
These words do not come close but your words do come close. I will try to find the right words to honor your heartfelt work. . . .
I want everyone to read the book so they will know what writing is and can be, also, what might happen in a circle, what might come to be if one gives oneself, despite or through, skepticism, to everything that is indeed occurring and related in the holy universe that is without limitation.
If you aspire to write soulfully and for the soul of the world, you should work with Deena. If you want to know what that is like, read this book. You can start by telling and writing your dreams to a friend.
I like to think I am a self-starter but sometimes I get really tired of being totally responsible for myself and my work in the world. So I am a frequently lazy self-starter.
On this last day of January 2013, however, I can say that I have gotten a good start on my self-starting this year. It helped to pick a theme for the year–“flow”–because that is how I operate best. I am not a big-oomph, ta-da! initiator. I prefer to ease into things, one step at a time. And so the flow-synonym I adopted as this month’s subtheme was “streaming,” evoking the e-flow of tiny packets of information through the ether, one after another. (I watched a lot of Netflix streaming movies during the dark January evenings but then I always do.)
One step at a time I have created momentum for several projects that I want to complete or continue this year. You can go to plenty of self-help books and blogs to tell you how to do such things. I do not presume to do that. I only report. Here are the tools that have been most effective for me this month.
My flow journal. I have created spreads and sections devoted to several of these major projects, including publishing a book, generating the next writing project, and weight loss and fitness. I record even the minutest bits of progress on these projects in this journal. It makes me feel good.
The List of Difficult Things. Just thinking about things is no good for me. Unrecorded, ideas and tasks float unanchored in my brain, bumping into each other and morphing into overwhelm. Three A.M. thinking is the worst kind–the helpless body and mind take on the to-do lists in the dark and spang! I am awake but paralyzed and everything seems impossible. Because it is, just then.
My antidote to overwhelm is to make a list–at a rational, waking time–of specific tasks that seem somewhat difficult, things that will require some effort, some self-starting. I am generous with what I include on the List of Difficult Things. For example, I hate making phone calls so phoning always goes there, even for overdue chats with friends. (On the other hand I love to be called. Please phone me!)
I then promise myself to tackle one Difficult Thing a day. However, just making the list often makes some of the things on it far less difficult. Yesterday I breezed through two items on the list.
The truth is, the Difficult Things are often not really difficult. Sometimes they are things that seem hard because I haven’t done them before, like formatting a manuscript for e-publishing. When you get right down to it, the task is challenging but not impossible. But often it is amorphous 3 A.M. thinking, conflating everything, that blows things out of proportion. Writing the hard stuff down in the light of day keeps the tasks and ideas discreet and helps me line them up in a sequence. It gets them streaming.
Low-hanging fruit. That sequence for me usually starts with the easiest things. I pick low-hanging fruit. Sometimes I never get farther up the tree, because when I pick the low fruit the higher stuff comes within grasp. Enough of that metaphor; an example: I started by publishing the e-version of my book and now I am working on the print version and it doesn’t seem hard at all.
(Just . . . I could sometimes kill Word and all its little hidden helpers that mess with things. You do not want to know how hard it is to make a linked Table of Contents when Word tucks in default bookmarks that spoil everything. And does it again after you take them out. It has to do with using a Heading style. See, you do not want to know that, either.)
And as I said at the beginning, one thing at a time. I am often a Big Picture thinker. I want to understand the world, people, the future, war and peace. But this does not help my ideas and projects get out in the world. So I direct my attention to the small things, the here and now, the one thing I can do, the one thing I want to do, right now. And I trick myself a little by easing into it. I play. I just mess around, signing up with Weight Watchers for a trial period, daydreaming about my next trip to Congo, downloading the self-publishing manual. No commitments, no promises, not even to myself. Just see where it goes.
This month it went pretty far. More about that book next time.