Categories
BACCA Writers

Time for the Heavy Lifting

A coaching client of mine emailed the other day to ask why I hadn’t yet begun the “heavy lifting editing” on their book manuscript in progress. Turns out that previous experience with an editor had taught my client to expect cutting and pasting — or slashing and burning — from the start. My behavior wasn’t measuring up to the client’s expectations.

I got to thinking. I saw that, especially with this project, there are multiple kinds of heavy lifting involved in the collaboration between writer and coach, and they each have their own timing.

I reflected on where we were with the project and what had happened so far. They’d sent me 80 or so pages, and asked for an edit of the first portion of those. I did a line edit on those pages, with marginal comments and questions about structure and context. We met a couple of times to discuss these things, and to plan a working outline for the book. After those coaching sessions, the client requested time to think through some new ideas we’d brainstormed about the architecture of this book-length project, and the basic design of each section and chapter within it.

It wasn’t yet time for me to get into any heavy lifting. We were still defining what we were building. With several hundred more pages to write, the client was doing plenty of heavy lifting already.

Along those lines, my client also said: “I think after we get through this first chapter we will have a better idea of how to proceed in the future.”

With that thoughtful sentence, the client was exploring our working process. Makes sense, since they’ve never done this before. And we’ve never done this together before. They’re right about the “heavy lifting,” too — and there’s more than one kind involved for this project. It’s a good metaphor.

After reflecting on these things, I wrote back to the client: Yes, you’re right. I wait to move blocks of text around until I feel we both have a strong sense of the way we’re going to structure the book. For me, that kind of editing makes sense only when the overall architecture — the plan for the book — is clear. Once we have that in place, I’ll be glad to dig in and sling paragraphs around.

Another kind of heavy lifting

The paragraph-slinging I’ll be undertaking is one kind of heavy lifting. There’s another important aspect to this project. It’s the client’s first full-length book — a complex braid of memoir, the science of trauma, and wisdom — and it contains sensitive subject matter. So not only do they need to find the words and make the sentences, and organize them into chapters and sections with an overall arc, flow, and momentum — they also need to find the inner resources to develop and sustain an arms-length stance to the entire enterprise.

Writing about difficult topics from their own life, particularly those that are likely to trigger some members of the intended reading audience, this author has the extra challenge of distancing enough from their own past trauma and growth to be a clear communicator with a consistent perspective. Doing that involves building some strong muscles, and allowing for plenty of recovery time.

The inner work my client has already done — to be capable of this kind of writing — is impressive. That preparation has made it possible now to immerse in deep and painful memories, then surface enough to express in language things that have become possible to articulate, and then climb all the way out, shake it off, go to work, feed the cats, have supper with the spouse, etc. It’s a kind of heavy lifting that takes all the time it requires. From the pages I’ve seen, it’s already apparent that the client’s voice is clear. Their purpose is well defined. People will benefit from this work.

And another kind

Also, it’s the first time they’ve worked with a writing coach. As with any relationship, trust builds over time. We first met a few years ago, when they came to me for a quick creative boost. They had a short deadline for a presentation that needed some finishing touches. So initial trust was there, but now we’re developing a deeper working relationship. Things are going well, and we’re already making real progress defining the book and its architecture.

But last time I contributed the equivalent of a car wash and detailing for a vehicle that the client had already built and road tested. Compared to our prior work together, our process this time is more like designing and assembling an airplane. It makes sense for us to do this work on the ground, not mid-flight.

In short, a project like this requires several kinds of heavy lifting. The author has to bear the most weight, and for the longest time. You might say they’ve been carrying a lot of it their entire life. In fact, this writing project has the potential to lighten their load, if we proceed deliberately and with care. I’m really looking forward to doing my part.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Through Anne Carley Creative she provides creative coaching and full-service editing to writers and other creative people. Decks of her 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase from Central Virginia booksellers, at Bookshop.org, and on Amazon. A new handbook, The Becoming Unstuck Journal, is forthcoming.

Categories
BACCA Writers

The Snow on the Roof

Creativity Coaching

I’m in the midst of training as a creativity coach. Eric Maisel offers these trainings to people across the world. Our cohort includes students from most continents, representing many art disciplines, backgrounds, ages, and careers. Every week, we get a new set of questions to ponder and then respond to. Everyone sees what everyone writes. It’s routinely astounding to see what comes back each week — the interesting and, to me, unpredictable, ideas, observations, anecdotes, and heartfelt interpretations that our various class members bring to the group.

blue tile roof with bands of snow
The snow on the roof. Image courtesy Visualhunt

While Maisel’s course is enriching my working life in many ways, it’s also feeding my inner creative life. One of its several big lessons is this potent reminder of the value of shared creative time with a group. I always enjoy seeing it in a new setting.

Songwriting

I got an early introduction to the phenomenon many years ago, at a summer music retreat in the Pacific Northwest where I had the pleasure of taking a songwriting class led by Charlie Murphy. One day, he distributed little scraps of paper, on which he’d written short phrases. We discovered that several of us had received the identical phrase — in my case, “the snow on the roof.”

red barn with snow and ice hanging off of roof
The snow on the roof. Image courtesy Pixabay.

Our little group of five or six people went off into the woods with two directives: first, to spend a few minutes in silence, jotting down our own ideas for a song inspired by those few words. Then we were to meet and together co-write a set of lyrics that combined all our ideas. I came up with some ideas about the cycle of water in nature — from rain to snow, from river to ocean — that sort of thing. To my amazement, when we compared notes, I discovered that no one else had gone there. At all. In fact, each of us had produced, in just a few minutes, a completely different approach to those words, “the snow on the roof.” One person imagined a woman adventurer in the 19th century homesteading in the American West. Another focused on a contemporary family’s mundane life. And so on. It was such a gift, for each of us to see what five other creative minds had invented, in the space of such a short time.

Writer Group

That lyric-writing experience has stayed with me. It helped prepare me for the BACCA writer group, which has been meeting regularly for over eight years. Our monthly critique meetings offer that same quality of surprise and delight. Each of us contributes such a different take on the works in progress that our writers share with one another.

stucco house in the woods covered in thick snow
The snow on the roof. Image courtesy Pixabay.

I always benefit from the responses the BACCA writers bring to my work, and trust that it’s reciprocal. BACCA gives me regular reminders that we cannot predict how someone else will interpret our words. Just as “the snow on the roof” prompted unique trains of thought in the minds of our little band of songwriters all those years ago. And just as my fellow creativity coaches interpret Eric Maisel’s lessons and comments.

The world is so much bigger and richer than we can imagine. And any one of us is capable of imagining entire worlds. So do the math. The more that we are willing to engage with the imaginations of the people around us, the more we expand our own creative life. Everybody wins.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. Anne’s recording of her song, The Snow on the Roof, based on her ideas from the Charlie Murphy class, is available here.

Blue roof image photo credit: theilr on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Red barn image by Tuomas Laatikainen from Pixabay.

Pink house image by pasja1000 from Pixabay.