I remember when people started creating bucket lists. I thought it seemed cheesy—I generally pooh pooh bandwagon movements. But eventually, I jotted down a few lifelong goals. Here are a few of the items on my never-before-shared bucket list from 2004, tucked away in a dusty journal I uncovered recently.
- Drive a spinny truck (cement mixer, but I’ve called them spinny trucks since age five when I fell in love with them)
- Go back to China
- Really fall in love with X (ex-husband)
- Find a really fulfilling job that pays well
- Buy a house
Guess how many of those dreams have been realized and goals have been accomplished 16 years later?
Three. I did return to China. I have found (and subsequently resigned from) multiple great, fulfilling jobs that paid well or at least moderately well. And I have bought a house.
You don’t see “write and publish a book” on that list, do you? That’s because even though I’ve written prolifically since kindergarten, I’ve never felt driven to share my writing with others. In fact, I felt I’d overcome a big mental hurdle simply by starting my first blog in 2009 (JustWheat.blog). I started my second blog, focused solely on the theme of gratitude, in 2011. And I’ve published many articles on business, career, and workforce topics on my business site and other career and talent acquisition platforms, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, JobScan, FlexJobs, and more. I always feel proud when I publish posts and articles, but my ability to publish content doesn’t determine my ability to write well.
If you’re a writer, read that last sentence again.
You should feel proud when you’re published, but whether or not you publish content (articles, blog posts, magazine content, news pieces, or even books) does not determine your ability to write well.
Do you know how much HORRIBLY written content is published every day? Tons of it. I’ve edited much of it, and I’ve come across some of it online and in bookstores. I’m appalled by how much of it floods in the market.
At the same time, self-publishing is a beautiful gift for writers. We no longer have to wait for big name publishers to care about our work or notice us. We simply have to take the bull (Amazon, namely) by the horns, get to work navigating the self-publishing process, and throw ourselves into the writing and publishing process.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit a few months ago, that’s what I did… but I didn’t plan to do this. I just felt bored and started cleaning my office. I came across a tall stack of dusty journals, and I sprawled out in my office floor and perused the contents.
“Wow,” I mused. “There’s some good stuff in here. I should just publish this.”
I moved from that initial notion to voraciously poring through my journals, books scattered across my quilt, coffee in hand, in one fell swoop. A few days in, I began to regret ever considering publishing poetry. The more poetry I came across from my past, the more memories I faced. Uncovering more than two decades’ worth of intimate memories—the highest heights and the most unbearable lows—feels completely overwhelming. Some days, depending on the time period I found myself in, I got three pages in and felt crippled by what I read. I often shut the journals and walked away for days.
The great thing about a pandemic requiring excessive time alone is ample introspection and reflection. Even with my daughter at my heels, asking questions and demanding attention, I replayed memories represented in the poems I selected to include in the collection multiple times. That’s where the revision process began for me—in my memory, in my sensory processes, in my emotions.
I turned feeling to fingertips and began turning the ink in my journals into typed words on my Desktop computer in mid-May. And still, revising felt endless. Very few of the poems remained in their original format—in fact, most of them are unrecognizable now. Most of the poems took on lives of their own. I found that when revising a poem 20 years later, I no longer felt obligated to leave it alone, to let it stand in its original state for the sake of preserving the emotion or something romantic like that. I’m not even the same person I was 20 years ago. I have complete creative license to rip it apart, mold it, break it down, and remake it into whatever I want it to be. I can always read the original version in my private journal if I want to take a trip down Memory Lane. But let me tell you—I did that when I found those old dusty journals a few months ago, and that road is full of potholes. It’s dark, and you shouldn’t be traveled alone.
The thing is this: poetry, for most writers, is gut-level. There is no room for verbal diarrhea, but there’s certainly a purging of the soul involved. Unless you’re reading Shel Silverstein or a similar light-hearted poet, you’re probably glimpsing a deep part of a poet’s mind and spirit when you read a collection of poetry.
For me, each stage of this process meant something. I took no step of it lightly. I understood that the people I wrote about might recognize themselves in my poems and took pains to ensure their anonymity if necessary.
And two final things: pricing and donations. Why $11 for the print edition? I was raped on July 11, 1995. I have hated the number 11 my entire life. I have struggled, as a result of PTSD, to look at the clock when the number 11 appears. I decided to sell my book for $11 as a way to associate something positive with this number instead.
I made the decision to donate $1 of each print copy and $0.50 of each Kindle copy I sell to The Asservo Project. I learned about this nonprofit organization through my friend Tabitha Cavanaugh. The Asservo Project combats global human trafficking and sexual predators, supports the recovery of victims, and aids in the imprisonment of perpetrators. Its team of diverse, dedicated, and experienced professionals utilizes cutting-edge technology to identify, analyze, and eradicate sexual exploitation.
I’m glad to be finished with the publishing process. Today Suzy Taylor Oakley, the small business owner and layout expert I hired, helped me complete the final stages with Amazon. I’m now awaiting the link to my print edition from Amazon.
I learned countless lessons through compiling, writing, revising, and publishing. It’s been a rocky road less traveled and unexpected, and I’d take it again in a heartbeat.