How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on Conviction

I have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She described it like a drug or gambling addiction. He responded to the surge notification with a dopamine hit and bolted out the door no matter whether they were in the middle of a family meal or socializing with friends.

As creative people, we have to be super vigilant about becoming reliant on externally generated dopamine hits, like the uber surge notification, to feed our creative process. Applause. Awards. Publishing deals. Facebook likes. Retweets. While it’s important to get feedback and to know that our work is connecting with an audience, I believe this validation must defer to something far more reliable. We cannot outsource self-trust, or what I call, conviction.

I know creative people who make a career out of self-doubt. They are always looking for someone else to tell them they’re good enough, or they have permission or they should give up their day job and go full tilt into their passion. Only if someone (in this case, a publishing house) tells them they can write a book, do they believe it (and not for long – this kind of feedback fetish requires ongoing maintenance – the ego, after all is a hungry ghost).

This distrust of self becomes a creative stutter.

So the first strength I teach aspiring authors who want to write and publish a book is this: self belief. It trumps so called ‘talent.’ It’s the foundation of finding your writing voice. And once you hold it energetically, it becomes a guardian of the creative process. Think of it this way: if you do not fundamentally believe you have something worth saying, it doesn’t matter how much of the craft you learn. You’ll never put anything you’ve written out there. What will people say and think?

What gets in the way of conviction is a complex matrix of self-limiting ideas and beliefs, including perfectionism, jealousy, comparison, people-pleasing, attachment to approval, vagueness and indecisiveness, playing small, taking feedback personally, hesitation, small-mindedness, feeling victimized by your life or circumstances and a fixed (as opposed to growth) mindset.

My signature Author Awakening Adventure shows writers how to self-diagnose if they suffer from a lack of conviction, and then elucidates the steps to take to harness self-assurance, a robust sense of self worth and self-esteem. I teach people to reframe ‘mistakes,’ ‘shames’ and ‘failures’ as rich repositories for their stories and their creative process. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote in his poem ‘Last night as I was sleeping,’ we have to ‘make sweet honey from old failures.’ What else could all our beautiful broken pieces be for?

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

We begin by shifting our consciousness from ruthless self-critique to radical self-compassion. Once when I was spiraling into self pity about some terrible mothering mistake I had made my husband told me to ‘stop beating myself up just because it was my fault.’ Humour is a great reframer. When we can laugh – even giggle out loud – at ourselves, we lighten up. The paradox is that it’s only when we stop taking ourselves so seriously, that we actually begin to take ourselves seriously as a creative person.

The greatest strength we develop in the creative life is self-trust.

You produce something and you feel it: wow, that works. That really works.

It requires us to engage in self celebrating behaviour. To say yes to our writing. To say no to bullshit. To burrow into our intuition and to listen to its song.

I have known traditional success (book deals, #1 Amazon best sellers, international best sellers) and I have known their ugly twins – the ‘failures,’ the ‘we’re-pulping-your-book’ emails, the shitty one star reviews on Amazon. If I were to measure my worth as a writer based on either of these, I’d be flirting with the same devil – both are false positives.

Success cannot be something we let others define for us.

One of my books, Love in the Time of Contempt: consolations for parents of teenagers sold much more poorly than I had hoped, only a few thousand copies. I was bitterly disappointed given how much work I had put into not only the writing, but the launch – I’d run a campaign called A Million Connected Parents, given away free copies of the book to early adopters – it had taken up six months of my life and I invested my entire advance into the campaign.

A year after publication, long after I had gotten over the disappointment, I received an email from a woman in Korea, who wrote:

Dear Joanne,

Hello from Korea.

I have read your book(love in time of contempt)

And I’d like to say thank you so much.

I’m a mother of 32 months’ kids.

My daughter is so far until teenager.

But I was helped you.

Sometimes I left her in another room for punishment

Recently I think It’s not good.

But I don’t know how to do

In your book, I found answer.

After reading your book, I stand beside her.

It’s very good.

Thanks, Fiona

There is no algorithm that guarantees that any book will succeed or sell. So we cannot judge ourselves or our book by how it sells.

What this has taught me is that I can’t allow others to decide what value I place on my book. Not a publisher. Not reviewers. Not even buyers. You, the author, must love your book. It must be your beloved, for whom you would do anything.

When we have conviction, we don’t allow others to define what success means. Royalties are wonderful – we all want them – and godknows, authors bloody deserve them. But a book has more than commercial value in this world if it changes someone’s life.

‘In your book, I found answer…’

If you’d like to take the Author Potential Profile Assessment to see how you score on conviction, you can do so here.

If you’re ready to take your self-belief to new heights and to join the Author Awakening Adventure, you can pre-enrol for our next intake here.

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My whole life changed when, at the age of 27, I was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer.  At a time when my husband and I should have been focusing on our future, we filled our days with managing the side effects of my chemotherapy. Instead of starting a family we had to concentrate on my recovery from surgeries.  I needed a way to cope, clear my mind, and document my journey.

I turned to writing.

At first, I started a blog to keep my family and friends informed of my medical appointments. The more I wrote, the more my writing became a source of support and inspiration for me. As I sat alone in cold clinic rooms for scans and procedures, I would envision the comments left by others on my blog. I could feel the love and positive energy surrounding me like beacons twinkling in the night. I knew whatever happened, we would all be okay, because we had each other.

When I couldn’t sleep, I’d take out my computer and start typing.  At times, tears rolled down my face as my fingers typed faster than my emotions could keep up. I wrote things that I hadn’t yet taken the time to slow down and process. Often I would seek out little, sometimes humorous, moments in my life to write about to relieve the heaviness of the dark days.

Five years after that diagnosis we were blessed with our beautiful daughter through the help of a gestational surrogate.  I thought our story was ending with “happily ever after,” but less than four months later I learned my cancer had metastasized.

My cancer was no longer about pink ribbons.

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About Janell

Janell Meier’s mission in life is to inspire others to be their own advocate, keep humor even in difficult times, and lean on others. She thrives on connecting and learning from others while educating on the importance of metastatic breast cancer research. Janell was the full scholarship recipient of Joanne Fedler’s 2018 Author Awakening Adventure and has used the opportunity to further grow as an emerging author while learning about herself. Writing has been a way to process and cope with her life experiences. Janell’s hope is that her young daughter won’t have to remember her only by her written words.

This time it meant I was fighting for my life.  I would never again hear the words, “You are cancer free.”  I was left wondering how long I would have to see my baby grow up.  At the young age of 33, I had already been to too many funerals for my friends that had passed away from metastatic breast cancer.  This second diagnosis left me facing a new plot that could have an entirely different resolution.

One day, while at the cancer center for treatment, I met a four-year-old girl and her family. She wore a princess shirt and her family of three lit up with excitement as they told me about their recent vacation to Disney World.  Our baby was about to turn one year old so, naturally, I saw in them my own little family. It was then that I decided I wasn’t going to wait for my baby to grow up to make all sorts of memories with her. Months later, I learned that cancer took that mother away from her family forever.  Though my interaction with that young woman was short, she became a shooting star in my life and made more of an impact on me than she was ever able to realize. Being inspired by her example, I’ve been lucky enough to have written about my daughter’s first time taking off in an airplane, and her first time experiencing the power and beauty of the ocean.

My little girl is now three and I continue to document as much of my life as I can.  I jot down ordinary moments that touch my heart.  Whether it be song lyrics, a simple interaction with my daughter, or a memory of my own childhood.  I seek out the tiny daily miracles and interactions in life that can be easily overlooked. I find these moments can be as magical as a blazing comet in the evening sky.

When you take the time to look, you’ll find amongst all the darkness, your life story is sprinkled with many stars. Parts of our life storylines are laid out for us.  All of us face our own struggles.  The thing is that we can strengthen and inspire others by sharing bits about our experiences.  We each have the power to light the way for others who may be in their own dark of night.

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Being part of a writing community has changed so much for me. I have been a writer my entire life, but I have almost always navigated the ocean of words on my own. Only in the last year have I come to realize what it means to my journey to have other oarsmen in the boat with me, fellow travelers reaching as I reach, all of us gaining momentum from the knowledge that we are moving through the same storms en route to our individual ports. Surely the salt on our brows is the same; truly the wind filling our sails blown from islands of inspiration.

Alright. That’s enough of that ship.

It is precisely in avoidance of such a collapse into cliché that I can turn to my writing community. They are there to help me keep my grammar in check, and to encourage me to delve deeper into my characters or setting. They commiserate over growing piles of rejection letters. For all the obvious reasons, I am grateful for those trusted individuals I have finally learned to recognize as an integral part of my writing process, but there is more to it than that. There was a learning curve, as I slowly acquainted myself with what it means to engage with other writers, and its particular sweep revealed a plethora of subtle advantages.

  1. I was able to practice sharing my story, not simply through edited selections of writing, but also through comments and discussion. This process has helped me to become clearer on what I want to share as I write my book, to experiment with exposition versus scene, and to better appreciate what others find engaging and valuable.

2. In those first tentative shares of my writing, I opened myself up to feedback, even if it was initially on the saccharine side (most writers, I find, are blessed with the instinct to gingerly handle such fledgling offers). Practice at dealing with critique is necessary, and learning to do so gradually allowed me to build my way up to a place where I became eager for the feedback, knowing that it will improve my work and make me a more critical thinker.

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About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer. She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications.Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted a board book for her son.

She also tells terrible jokes.

  1. Joining online forums, workshops, and meet-up groups introduced me to a wider array of people who provided me with the opportunity to think beyond the confines of personal perspective, and to make some thoughtful assumptions about what others might read in a particular passage. I can look at my writing with an eye for what others might take from it now, whereas before I could only see it subjectively. One of the best scholastic exercises I ever undertook was having another person read something I had written out loud. I was fortunate in that the person I was paired with was the one in the class furthest from my own experiences. The difference in literal voice – the timbre, the pauses, the emphases – was astounding, and it made me realize how what we hear in our own heads as we write may not be close to how it is interpreted by our readers.
  1. Simply listening proved invaluable. In witnessing the stories of others, I became grounded in the knowledge that while my own tale is unique and needs to be told, that it is also just one amid those of everyday people, living lives of joy, tragedy, confusion, suspicion, and resolution. There is great comfort in knowing how relatable each of our individual threads can be.
  1. I became connected to the hard work that I need to be doing. Occasionally, this happened because I could sense the hallow excuses of others and began to more easily recognize them when they came tumbling out of my own mouth. But mostly, it was because as I listened to the members of my writing community comment on what they were giving up to write, I found myself moved to push through the inspirational droughts.
  1. It gave me cause to celebrate their wins – collaborations, shortlists, awards, personal word count bests, filling in longstanding plot holes – and to know that each step is in itself a victory. It helped me view firsthand the reality that successes are possible.
  1. I realized that when I stay connected to my writing community that I stay connected to my writing.

That last point was probably the most important one for me. I know now that finding my community is one of the biggest things that I changed to move from writing being a hobby to it being what I do every day. Somehow, in all the years that I dabbled in what I claimed as a passion, it never occurred to me that surrounding myself with similarly focused people could help me to make my craft a priority.  Knowing others have some sort of expectation of me as a writer – whether to compose a poem, dig into research or an outline, or deliver a finished chapter for feedback – makes me take myself more seriously. And it manifests as a driving force that keeps my pen moving across the page and my fingers dancing across the keys.

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Nobody walks this earth alone.

TS Eliot wrote, ‘April is the cruellest month,’ but he got that wrong. It is June.

Yeesh, it was a bad month.

My work threw up one hardcore challenge after the other. I barely had a chance to catch my breath before the next one hit. There were moments when I questioned why I’m doing what I’m doing. It was that bad.

And just when my skin was at its thinnest, my darling cat Tanaka died in my arms after a friendship long, loyal and loving. Letting her go has hurt hard.

Joanne and Tanaka

It’s been every shade of sorrow and adversity. Which makes it sound personal. Of course, nothing is ever personal, unless we make it so. The universe offers us a mirror. Whether we want to look into it, is our choice.

Mary Oliver reminds us that ‘all things are inventions of holiness, some more rascally than others.’ I need this tattooed somewhere visible. Maybe my palm.

I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a soul inventory. Managing our grief requires both discipline and surrender. To see past our own blind spots can cause whiplash. We need strong self-love in the first place to undertake a journey of self-improvement and take responsibility for everything that’s showing up in our lives even when it feels like someone else’s fault. It relies on the bedrock of faith that we are strong enough to walk away from something that ‘doesn’t feel right,’ or acknowledge when we’ve been jerks. It rests on the belief that people will forgive and love us even when we make mistakes.

At times like this, we need help. We need others. We need to know that when we call out ‘I’m drowning, throw ropes, send oxygen, make soup,’ that others are listening and will act.

Sometimes, we need to be rescued.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

I was resuscitated by family (daughters who bought flowers and teenage sons who offered ‘Let me cook dinner tonight’); friendships, team members and the community of writers I work with.

We’ve all just witnessed the miraculous rescue of thirteen people from what seemed like inevitable death in flooded caves in Thailand by an international team of expert divers, Navy Seals and doctors. Don’t know about you, but I’m a weepy mess, overcome by this show of solidarity and collective genius. There is literally nothing we cannot achieve as a human race if we pull together.

Caroline Myss in The Anatomy of Your Health, reminds us to stay connected to a life ecosystem: ‘Be part of a group whose collective soul you care about, and with people who notice when you are missing. Nobody walks this earth alone. Find the people you want to grow with – and let them know, “you can count on me.” This is how a human being’s health thrives.’

If you are reading this, I want you to know that you are a huge part of what sustains me.

As a huge thank you, I’m going to be sending a specially designed gift in every monthly newsletter – it will either be a free chapter of a new book; an inspirational infographic; or some other love-attachment to bring you joy.

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I was recently asked by The Excellence Reporter to share my thoughts on what the meaning of life is (you know, that little question). Here’s the short video I recorded in response:

In the coming months, Joanne Fedler Media will be publishing four books – we are SO excited to bring you some brand new authors and share the work of their hearts and lives with you. Soon.

 

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I took a course that lasted six weeks, meeting once a week and run by the warm and empathetic Anne Schuster who made me understand that it was indeed what I needed to do.  I had to embrace that ounce of instinct that I must write. There I sat, sometimes staring out of the heavy, dark-wooded sash windows at the world outside,  a little embarrassed tear escaping down my cheek when I started to write what I was really feeling. It took every nerve in my body to read my first piece to the group after we’d done our assignment, but that was the beginning.

Everything has a beginning.

By the end of the course, I had dispelled – for myself at least – the notion that you needed grey hair and a life of intrigue to tell your story. The women who shared and spoke and revealed some of themselves in their writing helped me to grasp that. The feeling that I am a fraud, an imposter, that no-one cares, that no-one will read what I write is the thing that plagues me the most. It is the fear of offending others, and the acknowledgement that sometimes even memory is fiction, which makes writing such an arduous process. ‘Write as though they were dead’ is the common refrain, but my imagination doesn’t often stretch that far, and I’d rather be grateful that they’re not. But even during my nervous start as a writer, the community of women writers there helped me to feel that my particular story had value.

Since those early days, I have sought out several other writing communities – through online writers’ groups, online writing courses, writing workshops and among like-minded friends who are interested in words and books. Without doubt, these are the pillars that hold me up when the feeling is one of fruitlessness.

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About Dominique

Dominique Malherbe has been writing since she was a young girl, documenting her life in various little journals since she was a teenager, trying to understand the significance of it all. As expected of her from a family of lawyers, she studied law and practiced for some years, specializing in tax and corporate law. Married life and four children threw her slightly off course, and she spent the last decade lecturing law as a way of trying to find the elusive work/life balance. In 2014, she published her first non-fiction narrative, entitled From Courtrooms to Cupcakes, and is in the process of publishing her next book, Somewhere In Between. She lives in beautiful Cape Town with her husband, four children and three boisterous hounds.

I recall being particularly enthralled by the sense of ‘real authors’ at my first writer’s group meetings, by the strong and successful writers like Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol and Joanne Hichens. Like a sponge, I soaked up their stories as ‘beginner’ writers. I felt that perhaps through a process similar to osmosis with plants, if I was just in their company and sitting close to them, I would be infused with the essential characteristics that make up becoming a writer. It mattered not that these mentors of the craft told mostly crime fiction or other fiction stories, and that what I wanted to write was real and about women, for women. I listened intently to how they did it and to what mattered most, and I believed I was learning.

I wanted to learn fast, for I am impatient and a little impossible. That urgency is greater now that I’m aware that the gift of time is no longer on my side (I am already past half way, for heaven’s sake).  I know that there are probably not enough years to read what I need to learn in the writing craft, let alone write the stories that swirl around my head.  But I recently read something profound and beautifully poignant – something that calmed my haste – in Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton:

“You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You only have one.”

Writing communities, whether they are the perceived ‘real authors’ – those who have written extensively and published often – or the equally talented and valuable fledglings – just starting out on their journeys in words – will provide you with your wings to write your one tale.

They have for me.

Like my number of children, my writing community has doubled since my first course nearly two decades ago. And in understanding that my one story has many versions, I will continue to rely on the writing community, because writing – though often a lonely pursuit – is infinitely lonelier without community. And it is infinitely more rewarding with one.

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