Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable in Writing a Professional Book
They can say they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care I don’t care if they call us crazy
We can live in a world that we design”A Million Dreams”, The Greatest Showman
If you were standing at the edge of a high dive, a ten meter tower, would you jump? Some of us would get to the top and climb back down overwhelmed by our fears. Some of us would spend time weighing the options going back and forth about what to do. Some of us would take a deep breath, trust what’s to come, and jump.
Much like jumping off a high dive, the act of writing is a vulnerable process from start to finish whether you are a Kindergartener or aspiring professional writer. The moment your pencil touches the paper or your fingers grace the keyboard, excitement can easily become squelched by fear and doubt. What if my ideas sound crazy? What if the words I string together sound trite? What if others don’t value what I write? Here I share my experience with writing professional books and what I think it takes to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Step One: Having the Courage to Start
The courage to climb the stairs of the high dive starts with the first step. The courage to write a professional book starts with the first word. When I start a new book project, I like to remind myself of Vashti’s teacher from Peter Reynolds’ The Dot. Her now famous lines, “Make a mark and see where it takes you” can give us the courage to start, however imperfectly. The etymology of the word courage is the Latin “cor” meaning heart. The courage to climb the stairs or to write that first word will take your whole heart. It helps to have at least one other person rooting you on. Who is your version of Vashti’s teacher? Who can you talk with about your ideas over lunch or coffee? Who can you share your first chapter with to get feedback early on? It takes courage to make your mark and see where it takes you.
Step Two: Asking What Should I Do
On the edge of the diving platform, it’s natural to ask: What should I do? Is it worth it? Do I have the courage to go on? Throughout the writing process, I often wonder the same questions. My writing process includes fits and starts and lots of sticky notes spread across my dining room table. From there I make a Table of Contents and strive for a repetitive framework that will be easy for readers to follow and that will make my writing process sustainable. With a structure in place, I’m able to start telling stories and offering strategies to readers. From there, I’m able to find relevant research that directly connects to the book I want to write. If making your mark takes courage, continuing with the process requires vulnerability. You may question your purpose or why you even started. It’s helpful, again, to turn to a trusted colleague or friend to talk through your ongoing questions about what to do. Be open to listening and be willing to let go of some things you originally planned to make your book more relevant and useful to readers.
Step Three: Saying Yes to the Unknown
In order to jump from the ten meter, you have to say yes to the unknown. If starting a project requires courage and continuing down the writing road requires vulnerability, delivering your manuscript draft to a professional publishing house means getting comfortable with humility. Once your manuscript is received, it will typically go to at least two blind reviewers. You will likely never learn the identity of those reviewers but they will learn a lot about you. Once you receive the reviewers’ feedback, you have an opportunity to revise and respond. Some feedback will be eye opening. Some may be difficult to swallow. Some you may simply reject. It’s helpful to think about what you can say yes to from the reviewers’ feedback from a place of humility. Yes, I need more relevant research. Yes, I need more classroom stories. Yes, I need to restructure the chapters. Whatever you decide, it will make your book stronger and your ideas will resonate more with readers.
Step Four: Celebrating the Process
Coming up for air after jumping from the platform requires celebration and a whole lot of whoops and shouts. Finishing the draft of a professional book is no different. Give yourself moments to celebrate along the way. Celebrate when you finish your Table of Contents. When you finish the first chapter. When you finish the References. Many people will have ideas for books, but few will see the process through to the end. You deserve to whoop and shout in celebration. When we take the time to celebrate, it helps us enjoy the process along the way.
Writing a book for fellow professionals can be a joyful process, but it requires getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Know your ideas are worthy of sharing with the world. Step up to the edge of the platform and jump.
Katie Egan Cunningham is the author of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness and Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools: 10 Keys to Successful Professional Development and The Classroom Bookshelf blog. Also, she is an Associate Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. Katie lives in the woods in Connecticut with her husband, two high-diving boys, and a Mini Golden Doodle named Sandy. You can find Katie on Twitter, @kegancunningham, or by visiting her website.
This giveaway is for a copy of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness. Many thanks to Stenhouse for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tueday, May 26th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. NOTE: There may be a shipping delay due to shipping-related issues caused by the novel coronavirus. If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – CUNNINGHAM. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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