He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.C.S. Lewis
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting the final touches on my next book. The final edit and revision cycle for a book project is one of the more difficult aspects of writing a book as it forces the author to really dial-in on the details of the work. Words and sentences are important for spelling and grammar, but the real challenge is bringing a critical eye to the thinking behind what is being written and then looking at the form of the message so that it makes sense and is meaningful (as much as possible!) to the reader. To edit a manuscript effectively, the author has to get into a different mindset, tuning-in to the original thinking as well as bringing a critical eye to those original thoughts.
But this post isn’t really about the book or the writing process. It’s about a few revelations in this, my third, publishing cycle. More importantly, it’s about you.
How is about you? First of all, you need to understand that the really curious thing about my new book is that it is a book of poetry. Wait! Before you run for the hills, please bear with me for just a few minutes.
My current book is actually a collection of 15 year’s worth of poems and the decision to publish them was really just a desire to pull them together into one place and force myself to clean them up a bit. You might say the project was more about curating than enlightening or even entertaining readers. I know that most people don’t care for poetry but I felt compelled to walk the path on this book. The purpose was truly to make this book for myself.
As is often the case, something happened along the way. Two things emerged as I worked through the manuscript numerous times. First, I realized that the book is autobiographical. It is a sometimes raw look at specific moments in time and they are all mine. Second, I realized that, though the poems are unique to their moment, the story and message actually line up with much of what I write weekly and what is captured in my first two books. This book of poems is really about the faltering journey toward creating and living your best life.
Now, the important part: You. You might ask, “What? I thought you said the book is autobiographical. What does it have to do with me?”
Well, everything. You see, the best poetry, and indeed, much of the best writing, is the kind that draws you in because it is also telling your story. As I’ve read over my soon-to-be published book, I’ve seen my story in it, not because I remember every circumstance and detail, but because I relate to the journey, the struggle, and the discovery the author shows along the way.
In this way, so much of what we read can be classified as “self-help,” “motivational,” “inspirational,” or any number of genres that meet us where we are. Sometimes we read for entertainment and escape. Sometimes we read for self-improvement. Sometimes we read to learn. Sometimes we get all of the above and the best books are the ones that help us see our own life in them and allow us to take something away to the benefit of our current life.
What’s your story? What are the struggles and discoveries you’ve made along the way? What poems might you write about them? When you look back over your life, do you see the faltering steps toward something more or directionless meandering? Have you been bobbing along or is a pattern emerging? What does it all say about you and what is it pointing to in your future?
Most of us don’t stop and consider those moments deeply. If you journal, you might revisit the entries. More likely, you do not. If it was difficult, why relive it? If it was delightful, you will most likely move on and relegate the moment to happy memory. We’re always pressing forward and life’s traumas typically manifest themselves indirectly in our thoughts and choices while, conversely, we struggle to reconnect with the moments for which we should be grateful.
Take one look at how much time we spend on distraction and my point is clear. Entire industries are built around entertaining and distracting us.
After nearly ten years of sharing my thoughts publicly, one thing has become clear: whatever I write, it is the reader who makes it his or her own. No matter where I am or what I observe, once you’ve read the words, they point to, and become part of, your story. My opinion, observation, ignorance, or wisdom isn’t the point. The important part is what you make your own and where it fits, or doesn’t fit, in your story.
The power in what anyone might write is what you choose to do or not do, what you choose to remember or not remember, and what you choose to be or not be by virtue of what you consume. In this way, everything we read, listen to, or watch, meets us where we are. The things that really engage us, either draw us in because of how they entertain, or capture our imagination as we see ourselves within them. The best stories do both.
The next time you read a book, blog, article, or poem, think intentionally about how it relates or doesn’t relate to you and your life. Consider the thoughts it evokes as you’re reading it. Don’t focus on the author’s intention or trying to interpret his/her words but instead focus on the images crossing your own mind. You’ll start to see it as you make the words, or the story, your own.
This is not to say that an author’s point doesn’t matter or that there are not good things to be learned in seeking to understand. There is a time and place for that. However, understanding where it all fits in your story and making those words your own is equally important. Even if you don’t completely get-it it in the moment, the effort to understand is just one more part of the process of becoming more.
As for the merits of reading poetry, I’ll just say that the beauty of its abstractions lies in really allowing you to fill in the gaps. If you chose to read my forthcoming book, Traveler, I hope you’ll hold it up as a mirror to, and lens upon, your own life. In that way, I think you’ll find much of your own story within its pages.