Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Are you a female online entrepreneur or coach with the seed of a book burning inside you? Except you haven't found the time and you don't know where to start? Read on to find out why starting with what matters most to you is key to success. And put the kettle on! This is a 10 minute read so you can take some time out and think about your book.
The story begins with an on-screen intake form, and a difficult question: 'What is your ‘why?’ I couldn't answer it. I’d doodled around with it in a previous workshop and come up with something that sounded nice and looked good on paper. ‘I want to help writers fulfill their dreams.’ But that wasn’t it. Not really. So I tried again. ‘I want to help women writers fulfill a lifelong dream,’ as if adjectives would make a difference. They didn’t. Now I had committed to a business programme where I would start and scale my book coaching business online, and the question had appeared again. Thankfully, below in brackets it said, ‘if you don’t know the answer, write ‘I don’t know.’ So I did. Next came the coaching call with Lynn. ‘Anna, you need to know your why. This is your work now.’ She explained it was key to grounding my business before moving forward. My ‘why’ would orientate me like a compass and there was no point starting out otherwise: I’d be running a business in the wrong direction and it wouldn’t grow. It would likely fail. She explained patiently, ‘It’s your purpose. It’s why you want to do this work...’ And it's exactly the same with starting your book. In my first conversation with a writer, I'll ask, 'why do you want to write this book and no other?' Tough question, right? I’d made a serious investment to get Lynn's advice so I decided to wrestle with the question until I‘d found an answer. And I also had a deadline, so I couldn't put it off. I turned it over in my head, and found two more questions: what had brought me to this point? And why was I starting my business online? Well that was obvious, I wanted to grow it! I liked the idea of reaching writers all over the world, and the overheads were attractively low. I'd also lost all my work due to Covid, so what did I have to lose? But this was just the surface. My 'why' was deeper than that. What was the underlying reason I needed to get at? I reflected on all the work I’d ever done, right upto book coaching. I’d always instinctively worked for myself, and I'd only ever wanted to work in the arts. I'd always loved writing, acting for theatre and organising things. I'd produced, performed, written, published and started a festival. I'd strayed into a few office jobs but they'd never resonated with me; the work had never felt meaningful... Was that it? Meaningful work? Could that be my 'why'? It felt too general though, too vague... I noted that my projects usually began when I got this 'great idea’ or someone approached me with their ‘great idea’ and I wanted to collaborate and make it happen....but collaboration couldn’t be the answer because I was very happy doing this gig on my own. My goal had always been to do the thing I loved and get paid for it, and the trouble with working in the arts, I reflected, was I’d never been able to tap into a consistent stream of revenue. Pre-Covid, I’d starting feeling resentful about making huge efforts to make things happen, and I was exhausted from dividing myself across multiple projects... I just wanted a business model that worked. And I wanted someone to show me how to do it instead of trying to figure everything out on my own. But the right business model couldn’t be my 'why', surely? I turned to more recent history, to tease out the events of the last few months. It was nearly Christmas 2020, and apart from Covid two significant things had happened that year. I'd started the afore-mentioned new business and I'd built a house, which I'd moved into during the Summer. I recalled the chaos of moving day and how, in the middle of it all, a small parcel had arrived in the post. It was such a sweet feeling to get a present at my new address, and I was even more delighted because it was a book by a writer called John Killeen who’d done writing courses with my company, Storytellers. His memoir One for Sorrow, Two for Joy was hot off the press. I was surrounded by boxes and builders and I had a To-Do list about five hundred miles long, so I felt I couldn’t justify the luxury of reading for pleasure. I put the book to one side thinking I'd read it when I felt a bit more organised and relaxed. And I realised as I was following this train of thought, that I still hadn't read it. So I just picked it up. And a line popped out at me on page two. ‘My life began in a barber’s shop.’ It stopped me in my tracks. John had articulated his earliest memory using a clear, concrete image which placed me right at the heart of the scene. It was gorgeous. And then I had a moment of insight. I often bring writers back to their early memories to connect with their creativity and to look for clues to their why. Which was followed by a 'Duh!' moment, because why hadn't I thought to do that that for myself already, to find my own why? How obvious and overlooked was THAT? So where did my life begin? What were my early life memories? And then a series of tiny stories cascaded down on me all at the same time. Me riding in a wheelbarrow... Me playing under the upturned kitchen chairs I’d made into a den while my mother rehearsed for an audition by the cooker... Sunday walks in the woods with my Dad and the dogs... In bed at story time, reading the next book or chapter with Dad... The Goodnight Book, Teddy Bear Coleman, Anna’s Day, Beatrix Potter, the Noddy books, The Magic Faraway Tree, the Famous 5, all of which I’ve read to my own children. And I still had those books, and wherever I’d moved, from England to the Netherlands to Ireland, they’d come with me. Which triggered, god I love books, I just DO. And the smell of paper, it reminds me of being in the woods. And I LOVE the woods. And then I realised that when I open a book I always bury my nose into the middle of it and inhale before I start reading. Which triggered the childhood memory of bedtime reading again... I used to feel excited as I ran from the bathroom to my bedroom and hopped into bed and budged up so Dad could sit down beside me. He felt warm and I loved his smell and I felt safe next to him. He mumbled a bit when he read but I didn’t mind. We were working our way through the Famous 5 and I think we were on Five go off in a Caravan. Dad opened the book and looked at me.‘I bet you 10p they eat something before the end of the chapter.’ But my five year old self knew better.‘I bet you they won’t, and I bet you 10p back!’ They always ate a LOT so this was risky, and I hung onto every word in the hope that I was right as Julian and George started discussing and planning their next meal. But they didn’t actually eat anything...which meant I’d won! I loved the way the story felt real and instead of making me sleepy, it enlivened me. I used to play on long after Dad had tucked me in, an extra character in a new chapter where I made the tea and joined the adventure... I played through some other early memories. The story of getting the main part in a school play, and of being in a show with Mum, and just following the thread of one story into another. In my adult life I'd done a lot of different things, so what was the thread weaving it all together? I felt I was getting closer to my 'why', but I still didn't have a clean grasp of it. And then came the final trigger.
I was reading an email by another book coach, who mentioned her love of the creative process... And that was it. Those magic words. The CREATIVE PROCESS. My resume flashed through my mind. Writing, devising and performing in plays and film, producing theatre and events, starting an annual writing festival and writing prizes, running writing courses, publishing a book and starting an online book coaching business, this process of bringing an idea into a tangible form, where I step out into the unknown to go from nothing to - always, hopefully - something new and amazing through a process of creative discovery is where my heart beats strongest. I realised in one tiny second that in ALL my work, all my life, in everything that has felt meaningful and soulful and enriching and true, the golden thread weaving everything together was that: the creative process. I realised that even the not-work stuff I did and loved was about being part of a creative process. Building a house, interior design, upcycling and crafting, singing, gardening, dancing, aerial silks, and of course raising my children. So I was talking about my whole life here. WOW! I couldn’t believe it. I turn 50 next year and it’s taken me this long to consciously connect with this. But what a relief to finally know it! Previously, I’d pulled my hair out and felt upset over projects where I felt I’d failed, and this happens a lot in the arts. When a play doesn't pull in a big enough audience, or a TV pilot doesn't get picked up or a course doesn't make enough money. None of that seemed negative anymore, now I knew my ‘why’. What became clear was that these were all outcomes at a moment in time and they were not the stalwart meaning and reason for doing the work that I love. So it turns out that ‘what is your why?’ is an excellent question... And it's the one I want to turn over to you this week. Because it's as relevant to starting a book, as it is to starting a business. And once you’ve answered it, it will make the world of difference to your journey. When you’re clear on knowing why you want to write this book and no other, you have intent. You have focus. You can stay motivated. It keeps you on point and acts as the through line - your golden thread - to bring you all the way to the finish. When you know your ‘why’ you know you’re heading off in the right direction and you can confidently step out into your adventure. Your answer will orientate you and show you the way. When you know your 'why' you have a barometer for understanding when something isn’t right or doesn't fit in your book and isn't worth including or pursuing. This is particularly helpful if you can't decide which book to write, or you think you have to include this, and add that, and throw in every single thing you can think of. Actually, you don't. If that book or piece of content isn't part of your ‘why’, you can put it down and not worry about how, where or if you should include it. A lot gets clear very quickly and this is both a relief and a thrill, because now you know your purpose. So have a think. Take your time and ponder the question, what is my ‘why’? Discovering it can bring you through a series of thoughts and stories as it did for me. None of it is right or wrong. You just have to follow the thread. Trace back to the story where the idea first formed and took shape. It might not have been one single thing. It might have been a series of tiny situations; something someone said, that someone else talked about later. Just look for a thread and pick it up. Don't judge the stories that come up, just see where they lead you and keep going until it feels like you've reached the kernel of the idea. Remember, good writing necessitates good thinking so this is your work now. And the more you relax into it and enjoy it, the better the process will be. I’ll be back with the next step, next week. See you then. Anna
PS. Prefer to get Parts 1, 2 & 3 in one easy-to-read e-book? You can download your FREE copy right here.