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Getting to 80,000 Words – On becoming an author — Scripting Happiness

Getting to 80,000 Words – On becoming an author

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I read somewhere that the best part of writing a book is the day you sign the contract and the day the book is published. Becoming an author is not glamorous. It’s a lot of time spent locked up in solitary confinement. It’s a lot of battling your inner demons. It’s difficult. Each day, you show up and do work. , you’re happy with the fruits of your labor. Most days, you’re shaking your head at how awful your work is. It’s like psychotherapy on overdrive, except there is no therapist. Just you and the words inside of your mind. Here’s my journey – on becoming an author. 

Be curious, not judgmental. ~Walt Whitman

Through random connection on Twitter and synchronicity, I got a book deal with the American Bar Association to write a book on mindfulness for lawyers. I remember when the editor asked me “so, do you have a book proposal for me?” (I was totally not expecting this question), the words that flew out of my mouth was “yes, I’d like to write a book titled The Anxious Lawyer and show lawyers how to use mindfulness to cultivate a happier, saner law practice.” As the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to grab it and take it back. Part of me screamed “OMG! Don’t you dare say that!!! What are you talking about???” To my utter amazement, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  “Great!” he said. I’ll send you a template for our book proposal.

I was both overwhelmed with joy and frightened. Over the next couple of weeks, Little Miss Perfect AKA inner critic was dominating my every thought that had to do with the book proposal. I had a lot to say about mindfulness. I deeply believed in its power and the potential to help everyone. I desperately wanted to bring this work to the legal community. But I felt unsure about my ability to write an entire book on the subject. I was even less certain that anyone would actually read what I had to say. That familiar voice kept screeching who do YOU think you are?

Few weeks went by where I’d sit down to write the proposal, stare at the blinking cursor, write a few words, read it, decide it’s awful, delete it, write a few more words, delete it. Often, I’d just stare at the blank screen. I’d read the questions on the proposal like “why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?” Those words uniquely and qualified hung in my head like dark smoke. I kept thinking of all the things I have not done which disqualified me from writing the book. I haven’t been meditating for 30 years. I didn’t live in an Ashram in India. I wasn’t a law professor teaching contemplative lawyering. I didn’t have 10,000 hours of experience. I wasn’t a certified MBSR teacher. I wasn’t a certified CCARE instructor. I wasn’t certified in any of it. I didn’t hold a degree that said I can write about it. That I was allowed to teach it.

The word FRAUD occupied my mind – a lot. This thought pattern of not being good enough is such a familiar one to me. I’ve been dancing with it for as long as I can remember. This time though, it was different. I had a new tool in my toolbox. I had mindfulness. I purposefully sat each morning with the intention to look at the inner chatter. I wanted to be able to see the thoughts and simply observe. Not forcing it to change. Not making it go away. Not criticizing it. Just observe and watch it. I also observed how the thoughts felt inside my body. When a thought rises, what impact does that have on my body?

Eventually, I connected with my dear friend, Karen Gifford, a long time meditation practioner and also lawyer. We decided to co-author the book together. (Don’t you love life’s synchronicity?) We put the book proposal and sent it off to the editor. Then we waited for the approval. Few weeks later, we had an executed contract. We negotiated a few terms and on December 31, 2013, we had a final contract! My husband and I went out to dinner, ate oysters, drank beer and celebrated. That was a happy day.

January 2014 rolled around and I was eager to get the book done. I made a schedule for myself. I gave myself deadlines. I figured, I’ll write ~1,000 words per day and get the first rough draft done by May. I wanted to give myself plenty of time for revisions, for feedbacks, for rewrites. I had all the right intentions but Little Miss Perfect had her own ideas. For the first month, I wrote less than 1,000 words. Each day, I’d get up, do my morning meditation and sit at my desk, ready to write. I’d sit with the Word document open, staring at the cursor and no words came. It felt as though the blinking cursor was cursing at me.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I kept a journal from the time I was in elementary school. I’ve always been told I was a good writer so the fact that I seem to have run completely dry of words was – unthinkable. In despair, I stopped writing for a couple of months. I practiced being very gentle with myself. I went through a Compassion Cultivation Training Class at Stanford University. I took a class called Love Yourself for Everyone Else’s Sake with my meditation teacher, also at Stanford. In 2014, I completed three week-long meditation retreats, six mindfulness training courses, taught three mindfulness for lawyers classes, and gave sixteen talks on mindfulness. I also wrote twenty articles, including a few interviews on podcasts.

I fully committed to integrating mindfulness into my life. I had to embrace this topic I was writing about. I had to know it intimately. I also recognized (after many many months of struggling) that my struggle was what was going to make the book valuable to the readers. I needed to live through my insecurities, my inner challenges, work with the inner chatter, of feeling not good enough, not knowing enough, etc.

Towards the end of 2014, I found a renewed sense of dedication for the book (and there was a lot of Oh S***! panic at the looming deadline). I stopped writing on my computer, bought a Composition notebook (like a first grader) and started handwriting the book each morning. I also went through the two volumes of Moleskine notebooks, with collection of notes from all of my training, teaching, and public speaking. Handwriting the book was helpful because I couldn’t easily delete chunks of what I had written. There was a lot less editing, a lot more writing.

Just a few weeks ago in December 2014, I submitted the first draft of The Anxious Lawyer to my editor at the ABA. I felt excited, happy, yet at the same time, hesitation. It felt as though the book had been in gestation for the past 12 months and I didn’t want to let it go. I felt very protective of it. I was afraid of the comments, the criticisms. Again, I turned to my practice to get me through this as well. I found an inner strength, an inner resilience that said you got this.

What I learned on being an author is this: embracing what’s hard – wholeheartedly committing to it – this is the way out. There’s no shortcuts. The only path is through.

I went to a writing workshop by Tara Mohr and she explained my struggle in this way in her new book, Playing Big. (It’s an awesome book. Go read it. Seriously.)

Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer, grappled with “but I’m not an expert” thoughts when it came to her calling. A San Francisco bankruptcy attorney and practitioner of mindfulness meditation, Jeena explains, “Having a meditation practice allows me to build up my resilience so that I can listen to my clients’ issues with compassion, yet not lose myself in their suffering. I also feel more focused so that I can help develop strategies, from the legal perspective, that will solve their problems.” After experiencing these effects of meditation on her own law practice, Jeena felt a calling to bring mindfulness meditation to other lawyers. The idea of spreading meditation throughout the legal world just wouldn’t leave her alone.

And yet, when she was approached by Lawyerist magazine to be interviewed on the subject, her inner critic kept saying, “but you don’t know enough.” Jeena explained, “I was literally poring over a dozen books on mindfulness so I could properly educate myself, despite the fact that I have been meditating since the age of twenty-one and have gone through two eight-week courses on top of numerous retreats.”

Jeena was making two mistakes. She was underestimating the level of expertise she did have. Second, she was assuming she had to be an “expert” in the traditional sense, to make a valuable contribution. Jeena wasn’t a conventional expert on meditation, but she was a practicing lawyer and meditation practitioner. Really, who would be better to teach mindfulness to lawyers – Jeena or a conventional expert?

Jeena was what I call a “survivor” or “insider” when it came to her topic. “Survivors” or “insiders” have lived the experience the experts study. Survivors often have insights that the experts don’t. They frequently bring forward neglected perspective and a reality check on the experts’ take. They have the power to inspire, not just to inform, and they tend to bring a greater sense of passion and compassion to the work at hand. Many women aren’t “experts” in the area of calling, but they are survivors or insiders.

Jeena learned what many women learn as they step into sharing their unique survivor or insider perspective: What they have to share is more than enough. The contribution they make is all the more unique, all the more potent because they have a personal story to share rather than the official experts’ take.

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, Tara Mohr

 

photo credit: justmakeit via photopin cc

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