It’s a fine feeling to finish writing a book.
There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment, of having succeeded at a daunting task like climbing a mountain. On the body level, one feels an openness of the heart, belly and breath, and if we have dared to tell the truth, there’s a resonance in the bones like soft thunder.
‘Finish’ may be a somewhat subjective word, for there is always more work that could be done on a book, another rise to climb in order to actually gain the summit—and that’s before the long hurry-up-and-wait of the actual publishing process and the book going to print. But last week I completed the first major edit of my most recent work, the preliminary combing through of a manuscript I wrote last spring when I returned from France.
Nearly a hundred thousand words poured from my pen in a mere three weeks, filling two French A4-sized notebooks with jumbled script. Busy at the time with the ongoing work of building an author’s ‘platform’ and promoting The Bones and Breath, I essentially set the freshly penned work aside for six months, typing in bits and pieces at a time, a chapter here and there. I only took it up again in earnest this January, a proverbial chisel and mallet in my hand, and went to work chipping away at the stack of printed pages sitting in my carved wooden writer’s box.
Having been down this road before with Bones, I know that there are more edits needed on the manuscript. I face another round of polishing and smoothing before I offer it to my select early readers, and then after weighing their comments and suggestions, another comb through (at least) before I embark on the quest of finding a publisher and querying agents. [insert heavy sigh here] At the moment, however, I am savoring a feeling of sweetness and accomplishment. The hardest part of the climb is over, and from the ridge top I can see the glimmering sea stretching to the far line of the horizon, and it’s a damn fine view.
It was just before lunch when I reached the last sentence of the final page (and changed it), and I set aside my dear old fountain pen, pushed back the chair from the table by the front windows, and smiled. Then I stood up and walked around the silence of our little coastal cottage, gazing out the windows at the blustery spring day, observing the limbs of the Grandmother Monterey cypress swaying and waving in the wind as if in celebration, while I nearly floated with a lightness of being. A gentle bubbling up in my core, almost like effervescence, added to my smile.
The irony is that I never intended to write this book. I had fully planned that my second published offering would be the follow-up to The Bones and Breath. Essentially the remainder of the original manuscript that I cut in half to make that first book, the work sits in my desk drawer, waiting patiently for the its time in the sun. This new manuscript flashed into being as the result of a million-to-one chance last May when I met Marlena de Blasi, author of the bestselling A Thousand Days in Venice, and A Thousand Days in Tuscany (along with others), at a Left Bank café in Paris. [Read “A Paris Encounter: Meeting de Blasi“]
The overall tale is too long for this post, so suffice it to say that had I not met her, this woman whose gilded memoirs I adored and savored whilst residing in England, I would never have considered writing my own story about living abroad. Beyond the Marlena factor, had my initial book been any sort of commercial success, or had doors opened as I anticipated, I would simply have gone forward with the follow-up in the desk drawer, and this new work would be nothing but colored sparks of memories flashing like meteors though my mind. Funny, that.
Publishers reserve the right to change and choose a book’s title, but currently my newest work is called “Fields, Foxes and Tea: An Unconventional Romance in the English Countryside.” Decidedly something more than a travelogue about two Americans living in soggy old England, it is a story about second chances, being an outsider, finding our true work in the world, the power of nature, and what nourishes the soul. The French-trained cook in me has insisted that there are abundant servings of good food, and all of it seems touched with a bit of Old World magic.
During the writing, I wrestled at moments with how much to bring forward and share, both in regards to details of our personal life, as well as my own beliefs about the nature of things. But the work of words aside, isn’t that really how it is for each of us, every day, deciding how fully we reveal our deepest, most authentic self?
The core of my offering in the world, both with healing arts/coaching clients and writing, centers on authenticity and expansion. Risk it all, I decided at moments of indecision. I already took off all my clothes and walked naked across a Kentish field in the opening of my first book, so what do I really have to lose? (Several readers have enquired whether I really did that or whether it was just some type of metaphor; when I assure them it was nakedly true, they are either incredulous or secretly envious, perhaps a bit of both.)
Sometimes, often in fact, the path at our feet doesn’t lead where we thought it was going, and it might even take us in an entirely different direction than what we had planned for ourselves. Fate moves in mysterious ways. The relevant question to ask, regardless of where it seems to be going, is whether the path has heart and soul. Does it bring an openness in the chest and belly when we consider it, even if we’re not sure or afraid we cannot really accomplish this thing we’re debating, the thread we’re following…?
Trust the ‘bodysoul’ and heart, not the monkey mind or the caller of fears. Trust that your own soul, that deepest and most creatively authentic aspect of you—along with the Mystery—knows where you need to go and guides you through strange fate and curious events. And though much to the ego’s dismay, our job is to let go and follow the soul’s allurement and impulse, even when that means we risk being cracked open or failing. Yes, especially then, for as I said in last week’s post, only when the shell has broken can we emerge to something much larger.
Back in January 2014, I wrote a post called “In the Realm of Falcons,” recounting a New Year’s Day hike in Big Sur that proved much more difficult and led me much higher and further than I anticipated.
Soul projects are often like that rigorous climb. A hundred times during the ascent you might swear to yourself that you’ll never do this again. There are moments when you think you’ve reached the top, only to discover with a sinking heart (and perhaps a tired, delirious laugh) that there’s another rise beyond, and apparently one more after that.
But eventually, you do reach the summit, limbs trembling and exhausted, and look out over the world, tired and elated, the sea shining with diamond light far below you. How very far you’ve come.
Could anything be more important than being deeply, fully authentic to your soul? Not really.
Friend, whether it’s a book dreaming inside you or something else entirely, here’s hoping that you’ll heed the nudge in that direction and embark upon an uncharted journey. May you find the willingness and courage not only to begin and remain true to yourself—to risk it all—but to keep going when the path grows unexpectedly steep and you’re trudging uphill, one foot after the other. And whether it is a falcon or an angel (human or otherwise) that mysteriously appears to inspire you to keep going, or simply your own dogged self-determination and refusal to quit, may you reach the true summit and then look back, deeply glad that you came this way.
Onward to the next book.