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[Behind the Book] Outside My Comfort Zone
Written by
Tracey Carisch
December 2017
Written by
Tracey Carisch
December 2017

"You should write a book about all this." 

I laughed and pulled a package of chicken claws from the refrigerator. "About our travels?" I rolled my eyes at my friend as I slid a pot onto the stove. "No one would want to read that."

"Of course people would read it," she insisted. "They're reading your blog, aren't they?"

I was living in Granada, Nicaragua with my husband and our three young daughters at the time. Our friends from Tennessee had come to visit us for a couple weeks in this last country of our around-the-world journey. Within a month, our family would return to the United States, after almost a year of half of nomadic travel. The idea of returning to our home country and starting a new life was daunting enough. I couldn't imagine dedicating the time needed to write an entire book. 

"The blog's different, Em. It's informative. People read it because they want to know about Ethiopia or Cambodia or Bolivia or wherever we were at the time. I wouldn't want to write a book that's just a regurgitation of blog posts."

"So don't. Write about you. Write about how you've changed and what you've learned." She paused to watch me drop the claws into the pot, and then shook her head in amusement. "Write about making broth out of chicken claws. And all the other weird stuff you do now."

"Hey, be nice."

She smiled and looked me in the eye. "I'm telling you, Trace, people would read it."

Over the next few weeks, as I contemplated the idea of writing a memoir about our family's nomadic travels, I kept flashing back to one of my clearest childhood memories: the first time I jumped off the diving board at our community pool. I was five years old, and I'd just passed my deep-water swimming test. Immediately, I'd marched over to the ladder and climbed up onto the diving board, ready to confidently take that leap I'd seen the big kids take so many times. But as the platform bounced under my weight and everyone's eyes turned toward me, a tightness gripped my chest. I realized I'd either have to do this terrifying thing, or suffer the embarrassment of backing out.

The idea of writing a memoir felt the same way. If I started this overwhelming, creative task, everyone would know I was doing it. And I wasn't sure I could finish. Or that it would get published. Or even if it did get published, if it would sell any copies. I could wind up pouring time and energy into an endeavor that would end in a big, public failure. After all, who really wants to read a book about a woman having a midlife crisis and launching her family into an around-the-world adventure? The whole thing felt self-indulgent and irrelevant. And scary. 

The memoir rolled around in the back of my mind, but I kept dismissing it. Instead, I put my focus on preparing for our return home and figuring out the details of reestablishing the American life we'd left behind. Then one afternoon, just a couple days before our scheduled departure from Nicaragua, I noticed something on a bookshelf in our house. When we'd moved into this rental a month before, I'd perused this shelf only to see that all the books were in Spanish. Since I definitely wasn't fluent enough to read an entire Spanish novel, I'd never looked at the bookshelf again. But on this day as I walked by it, I happened to see one book in English. It was Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'd read it years before when it first came out, and I remembered loving it. So, I started reading it again. It's a book about a woman in the middle of a crisis who finds her way by out of it by embarking on an epic journey, traveling through countries and her own emotions as she learns about herself and the world.

Rereading Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir sparked the desire to share my own story. I figured, if one person reads it and feels a connection to my experiences, then it will be worth it. And so, as we settled back into life in the United States, I did the same thing I'd done on that summer day in 1981. I jumped off the diving board and out of my comfort zone. This time, I swam into the world of writing. And I quickly learned, I wasn't writing my story for the audience who might one day read it. I was writing it for me. Sitting down at my laptop, I let my experiences from around the planet flood my brain in vivid detail, and then felt them flow through my fingertips and breath to life on the screen. Writing about our travels allowed me to step back into all the funny situations, meaningful conversations, and surreal encounters. I relived our family's surprising successes and our total, utter failures. The moments of enlightened understanding, and then the pain of an unexpected tragedy. I watched it all unfold in hindsight. And in hindsight, everything’s 20/20, right? It all makes more sense. Like watching a movie, after having already seen the ending. The powerful lessons from our travels crystallized in my life as I spent all those months writing about them. 

In many ways, creating this memoir changed me as much as our journey did. Writing gives us a connection to those hidden parts of our souls we keep hidden from the world. It lets us access the thoughts and ideas which get lost in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, so we can bring them back up to the surface. Examine them. Learn from them. Share them. If we dive into it with authenticity and total freedom, writing is cathartic. It helps us put life in perspective and leads us to answers we didn’t know we had in us. I never considered myself a “writer” before creating this memoir, but now the written word is my go-to problem solver. When I put pen to paper or fingers to keys, I can find my way around obstacles. I can see the blessings in every conflict.

Today, I'm neck-deep in the unknown world of publishing. My memoir, Excess Baggage, is set to release in August 2018, and I can honestly say I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm muddling my way through the process of editing and marketing with the help of SheWrites Press, but everything about this phase of the writing experience is new, daunting, and sometimes downright scary. What's more, there are no guarantees in all this. As an unknown, first-time author, the chances of massive success are very slim. Yet, I know now that book sales and Amazon reviews don't matter. What matters is the powerful impact this writing process has had on me. Connecting to my creative side changed me forever. Over the past two years, I've gotten very comfortable with taking big leaps and hoping for the best. As it turns out, I like swimming outside my comfort zone much better than playing it safe. In fact, I think I just might stay in the deep end from now on. 


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