So, there I was on that Tuesday morning at 07:30am. And there it was when I opened my email, the message that stopped me in my tracks and hit me like a freight train…
I had been a busy bee for the last three months, writing my first book. I had taken time away from my family to stay in a wonderful little ‘writer’s house’ in the east of Holland, so I could dedicate some time and energy to my writing. The nature and the silence were great and my writing flowed! At the outset of my writing journey in January, I had also joined a great programme with a group of twelve entrepreneurs; ‘Kickstart your book in 3 months’ with Daisy Goddijn at Expertboek.
I had a working title for my book, which people seemed to like; ‘From Surviving to Thriving’.
I had made a clear and structured ‘blueprint’ book plan with traffic light colours in an excel spreadsheet, twelve chapters and an overview of all the elements to be included in the book. And best of all, I had made a three-month writing plan and I had stuck to it! I am not a great ‘completer finisher’, so this was quite an achievement! 😊
My manuscript was pretty much finished and on track to go to my preview readers for a first round of feedback on Friday April 2nd. And then it came; the e-mail… on the Tuesday of that week at 07:30am. My eyes fell on the words that had been so thoughtfully and clearly written to me by one of the most important mentors and teachers in my life.
I had asked my mentor to write the forward to my book and although I had planned to send him my manuscript on April 2nd, something made me ‘drip feed’ him individual chapters of my book starting a couple of weeks beforehand. I had received valuable, constructive and thought-provoking questions and comments on my first two chapters. His words invited me forward and deeper into my own awareness and way of thinking. I sent him chapters 3 and 4, and then it went a little quiet. Until that e-mail…
There I sat, reading and breathing and reading… tears filling my eyes. It was a beautifully constructed e-mail and his words – yes, I know I’ve said it before – hit me like a freight train. In the chest. Right in my heart. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Painful. And why? Because the words rang so true. And it was the truth that deep, deep down, I had known all along. The truth hurts. It’s a cliché, and it’s true!!!
In essence what he said to me was this; there is nothing wrong with what you have written, however it feels to me like a collection of somewhat interesting words. Where are you? Where is Jo? I do not feel you in your words and so they are not compelling to me.
This was a breaking open. Allow me take you back, on a little journey into the process that unfolded within me on receiving this feedback.
First through my tears, came the anger: “Who does he think he is? What does he know? It’s my book!” I was cleaning my teeth at this moment. Compassionately and quickly, I was able to observe this immediate angry reaction. Going to anger and focussing outside of myself was easier than going to the pain I felt underneath. Anger and indignation are great distractions. “No Jo, we are not going there. Be with the pain” I gently and firmly said to myself. I finished cleaning my teeth and the anger, at first a little disgruntled, softened and dissolved away.
I looked down at my hands as I washed them. Inside, I was feeling pain like a graze when you fall over and hurt your knee as a child. It was a surface pain. It was a “Daddy doesn’t like my book”, yearning for approval kind of pain. “I’m human”, I thought to myself. “It’s normal to feel this kind of disappointment and pain.” I had worked hard for three months to write my manuscript. Compassionately, consciously and gently, I put this surface pain down to one side. It was still there. I still felt it. It was OK to feel it, and yet there was a deeper pain and a deeper wound that the feedback had opened up. This I knew intuitively. It was deep inside my chest, deep in my heart. And there was a huge invitation to go there and listen.
I had blocked the whole day to work on the last details of my manuscript, so luckily, I had no client sessions! And there would be no writing that day. Only listening. It was a cold and blustery yet sunny day. I grabbed my coat, put on my walking shoes and stepped outside. I walked from my house out into the polder. And I walked and I cried and I walked and I cried and I walked and I cried some more. And I felt the pain. Felt all of the feels that there were to feel! I didn’t analyse it or try and figure out why I felt it. I just felt it. Leaned into it and was with it. Open. Curious. Non-judgemental. I created a loving and patient space for me and the pain in my heart to walk and cry together.
And there it was. Without needing to figure anything out at all, the awareness arose that this was ‘old pain’ I was feeling. The pain from years back, of believing as a child that what I thought, felt or had to say was of no value and did not matter. The pain of being told that I was an idiot, that I did not know what I was talking about and that I should just shut up and listen. Let me be clear here, this was my experience and the belief I developed as a child. It may not be a reflection of what was actually said to me. And I know that it was certainly never the intention to make me believe this or feel this way.
Like a flash it became crystal clear to me; whilst the adult Jo is not at all afraid of speaking out and showing her colours, the little girl inside of me was absolutely terrified of speaking out. She had been holding me back in the writing of my manuscript, keeping it safe. Making sure it was just a collection of somewhat interesting words. All without my realising it. What a relief to become aware of this! What a deep gratitude I felt towards my mentor. How much I appreciated the courage he had to speak out and hold up a beautiful, honest and clear mirror to me – so that I could do the inner work I needed to do to liberate myself from what was holding me back.
As I walked, the little girl inside of me said “How can you write about acknowledging and acceptance, when you do not acknowledge me?” My first chapter had this theme. “And how can you write about partnering with fear, when you do not see me in my fear?” It was time to see her. I started to walk back towards home again.
The next day, Wednesday morning, I opened my laptop and wrote a (to me) beautiful healing piece for the little girl inside. It was entitled ‘I see you’. By Wednesday evening I had made the decision about my book; I will start anew, writing from a different place, telling my own story in service of others, letting my voice be truly heard. It will not be safe. I will write on my edge. It will be an adventure and I cannot wait.
The first manuscript never went to my previewers. It lays the foundation for the book I am meant to write. It needed to be written so that I could take that next step in my own growth and be here now. This week I pick up my writer’s pen again, ready to fill a blank page. No blueprint, no coloured excel spreadsheet, just a gentle yet clear intention to finish this second manuscript before summer ends.
I now understand the voice inside my head that had been whispering since I started writing in mid-January; “this is the book that you need to write before you can write the book you are meant to write”. I now understand why I drip-fed my mentor with a few chapters before sending the whole manuscript out to the previewers. I now understand why I had asked my husband after he read a chapter “Do you recognise me and my voice in what I have written?” He hesitated to answer and then said “No, not really. Not in the way that I know you, anyway”. Somewhat irritated, I waved his comment away at the time… but what had made me ask the question in the first place? A deeper knowing. From the place of my own truth. I just wasn’t quite ready to hear the answer back then!
Armed with this new knowing and holding the hand of the little girl inside of me who is now willing to go with me, I set out on the next leg of my book journey. I look forward to writing through the Spring and into the early Summer months. I am grateful for this process and the discoveries I have made. As I write this, it calls to mind the words from another wonderful teacher in my life, my creative writing coach Victoria Erickson:
“I can tell you some things I know about Spring. That it's about bursting. It's about renewal. It's about relearning. And it's about becoming. And you know what? It's also about discomfort. It burns to become. But you can't avoid it. Step into it. Own it. You can't escape from what your heart actually aches for no matter how hard you might try.
The brain hardly ever wins. The core does.”
Leaving you with these words, I step out on my own continuing book journey, hand in hand with myself, waving a pen and a smile!
With huge gratitude for the continued support and inspiration of my teacher and mentor Alan Seale.