When things don’t work out the way you want

Chuy's enchiladasReaders of my newsletter and this blog know my next book. I introduced the concept of The Intersection between your craft and your spiritual practice this summer. I shared the beautiful graphic Sandy Cromp designed, and taught the first Intersection teleclasses. My editor at Conari asked for the proposal. The next stage in my writing life was clear. Or so I thought.

Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) spoke on Oct 8th at a Tampa event designed to coincide with the launch of her new book. In dozens of interviews in the past year, she talked about Matrimonium. But there were no books for sale in Tampa. Elizabeth explained why. She said she was halfway through the manuscript when she realized it wasn’t the book she wanted to write. So, she told her publisher she was starting over. But first, she went to the garden. For six months she planted, pruned, watered, and weeded. And somewhere in the midst of not writing, not thinking, not planning, her new book said hello.

My story is not so dramatic. I don’t have the weight of a mega-advance or millions of readers impatiently waiting. But like Elizabeth Gilbert, I knew my next book. I named it and started talking about it with my publisher and readers.

But then, something happened. On September 27th, I had my first low turnout for a workshop. Jennifer Hill Robenalt, my heaven-sent publicist and book sherpa, watched as I taught deep soul writing to four people. As a consolation prize she took me to Chuy’s, an Austin landmark.

Over enchiladas, she scolded me. “That turnout is proof that it’s time to let go of Writing Down Your Soul.” Jennifer could see the shock on my face and tears in my eyes. “Hey, listen,” she softened, “you’ve done a great job. You sold out the first run. You’ve done more to keep your book alive than anyone I know. But now it’s time to move on to your next book.”

I sighed. Jennifer was right. But it was so hard to hear. I love my book and I love teaching Writing Down Your Soul. But the turnout was undeniable.
“OK,” I sighed, “when I get home I’ll start working on The Intersection.”

“Oh, that’s not your next book,” Jennifer mumbled through her cheese enchilada.

“What!” I sputtered. Jennifer kept chewing.

“How many people have come to a Writing Down Your Soul workshop?” she asked.

“I dunno,” I said, “maybe a thousand.

“And thousands more have purchased your book? Right? And deep soul writing changes people’s lives? Right?” Jennifer pressed.

“Oh yes,” I smiled, “I get emails every day from people telling me what a difference Writing Down Your Soul is making.”

“So,” Jennifer stopped chewing, “that means there are thousands of great stories out there. Your next book is a collection of those stories.”

I liked that idea. I liked it a lot. I love telling people’s stories when I speak. I love sharing actual quotes of the Voice. “Hmm,” I thought out loud, “I wonder what the title would be?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Jennifer said, “Love Letters from the Voice.”

I dove into my purse for paper. By the time the waiter cleared the table, Jennifer and I had the title, the chapters, the structure of the individual stories, a list of people to ask to contribute, a how-to section to help readers receive their own Love Letters, and a list of product extensions including the matching journal and card set of Love Letters from the Voice. In the time it takes to consume a plate of enchiladas, I had my new book and I was madly, deeply, and totally in love with it.

When the check came, I grabbed it. “You really are a book sherpa! “I gushed. “The very least I can do is pay for this miraculous dinner.”

The next day I had an event at the Story Circle Network in Austin. As 7pm approached, I said a prayer of acceptance. It’s not about the numbers, I prayed. It’s not about the numbers. The door opened. In came a half-dozen women, then a dozen, then a dozen more. Someone got more chairs. By the time we began, there were 52 people in the audience. Things were back to normal for me and Writing Down Your Soul.

The next day, the Voice and I had chats about the low turnout on the 27th. Well, the Voice pointed out, if you’d had your normal house, Jennifer would not have pushed you to move on. Yeah, I agreed. We’d still have gone to Chuy’s, but we’d have celebrated instead of taking a download on my new book. So let’s see, you nicely arranged for a depressing turnout to get Jennifer to push me. Well it worked. I was so unhappy that day. Nothing was coming out the way I expected. But now, I’m grateful. That “bad” result created room for my new book to sprout. And I’m madly in love with Love Letters from the Voice. Thank you.

OK. Your turn. What isn’t working out the way you expected? What looks and feels like a rejection, a refusal, a problem, a wall?

Now, consider the possibility, if just for a moment, that nothing is actually wrong. Look at your “dirt” with different eyes and perhaps, like Elizabeth Gilbert, you’ll discover something good growing in your garden. Not what you expected perhaps, but something good.

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