[SWP: Behind the Book] When the Universe Said Yes!
Contributor

Have you ever been skipping down life’s path, happy and contented, and had the nagging feeling there was something you were neglecting? That’s what happened when my daughter started high school and our business calmed down enough that I had mornings to myself after years of being busy. 

That something I was neglecting was writing my book. I always knew I’d write my story, even when I was young and writing on scratch paper and stolen napkins. I knew I’d tell the whole adventure one day, the way it was meant to be told.

I took some writing courses at UC San Diego while my kids were little but my life was so hectic I had a hard time getting to class.

All the time I was the stay-at-home mother and business partner to my husband, I thought about writing and wondered when I would have time to write. I wrote on my own for a time, sequestering myself in our RV, parked on the side of the house. My writing was horrible! I look back on that writing now and am thankful I started somewhere (although I never want anybody to read it). It was my “shitty first draft”—all telling and no showing, no dialogue, no scenes, and no story arc. My writing tool box was empty. 

I complained to my husband about not having the skill to write the most amazing adventure story in the world! He’d heard all my stories and, like everybody else who had heard them, said I should write a book one day. How do you write a book when you don’t know how to?

I sent an e-mail to my old UCSD writing teacher, whose newsletter I received once a month, asking if she knew of a ghost writer for me. I wondered how much ghost writers charged. I spoke to my husband while I waited for the teacher to respond—maybe we could afford to pay somebody else to write my story? Days went by. Weeks went by. No response.

I’d graduated from UCLA with a degree in English Literature; I could write a critical paper on Richard III, but had no idea how to write a memoir. I went to Barnes & Noble and looked at all the writing books. I bought a few and tried to read them, but found myself drawn to sit down, remember, and write. I kept trying.

Then, months later, I received an e-mail from that UCSD writing teacher, whose name was Judy Reeves, describing a newly formed weekly read and critique group she would facilitate. Would I like to join with seven other handpicked people? Did I have a project to focus on? Was I willing to commit?

I screamed, and ran downstairs to tell my husband that the door to writing universe had just opened up to me. My heart pounded. I needed to tell this story, and the universe had heard me.

Though I had doubts—was she sure she wanted me? Was I smart enough to do this?—I said yes to Judy. It felt like the energies of the world were gathering around me, pushing me along, and that as long as I was willing to work hard and learn whatever Judy and the group had to teach me, I could write this book.

What I wrote at the beginning was horrible, but the group critiqued the pages and I tried to employ the suggestions in my next five pages. Not only did I learn to write in the group, I learned to critique, which is an art form all itself. Judy taught, led, and encouraged us, and pretty soon we were all blooming with stories. 

After three years, I had 275 pages, beginning with the first memory of my childhood. Judy forwarded me an e-mail from Brooke Warner about an online writing group called Write Your Memoir in Six Months. Judy told me that Brooke was also a publisher (She Writes Press) who had published a friend’s book.

I sent Brooke my 275 pages and she accepted me into the group. Judy said, “This is the next step, and you’re ready!” Really? I was ready for the next step? Though way out of my comfort zone, I did manage to show up online each week with my pages written, and I finished the class with Brooke and Linda Joy Myers. Now I had a 437-page manuscript—just like a real writer! Now what?

Editing! My pages needed to be sculpted and shaped into a beginning, middle, and end. Memoir, by its nature, is focused—not about a whole life, just a slice. Judy Reeves recommended three editors to me. I picked Jennifer Silva Redmond, and then found out she lived on a sailboat. She was a perfect fit, since my story largely takes place on sailboats.

Jennifer and I worked for three months, cutting most of my early childhood story in favor of the adventure of sailing to the South Pacific. The book would focus on two and a half years of my life with one early flashback chapter to pick up crucial details from my childhood. Jennifer really understood my project. My vision showed up in her head and she acted on it. Having a good editor is crucial. Jennifer is my writing sister-editor from now on! 

Publishing my memoir with Brooke and She Writes Press seemed logical. It’s woman-owned and woman-focused; how could it be better? The doors were still opening for me and the door to publication was through She Writes Press. It was what the universe wanted, I was sure.

Fourteen will be published in October—not long now!—and I’ve given it my all, worked hard, and watched for signs along the way. I hired Booksparks with Crystal Patriarche and Megan Conner as my publicists and no matter how my book is received, I won’t have regrets. Life is a journey and it’s only my first book. I have visions of another memoir to finish my family’s story, then a novel. I’ve learned to trust the process and the universe. I’ll just keep writing.  

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Comments
  • Yay! Congratulations! So wonderful to soon be able to read your book!

  • Laura Brennan

    Congratulations!  The universe may have opened doors, but it was you who said "YES!" and did all the hard work after the door creaked open.  Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Jill G. Hall

    It's great to read about the writing path to your memoir.  I'm so glad you decided to write it yourself because your stories I've seen so far are deep, poignant and funny. No ghost writer would be able to do that for you. Can't wait for your book to come out!

  • Judy Reeves

    This is such an inspiring story, Leslie. It reflects how much you wanted it and how hard you worked for it. You are a natural born storyteller and have so many stories to share and now, with your fully equipped writer's toolbox, you have the way to get them out to the world, which is where they need (and want to be). Thank you for writing this story and for posting it. (& was it really months went by after your first email to me about a ghost writer? Well, you didn't need a ghost writer, you just needed to find your writing voice. Which you have done. Beautifully!)

  • Congratulations and thank you!  Best of luck with your future memoirs. 

  • Patricia Robertson

    Congratulations on this important step! Keep writing.