Because I’ve done both, I feel somewhat comfortable suggesting that writing a book can be compared to having a baby. There’s a lot of pain and joy, lots of uncertainty and surprise, lots of work you think you don’t think you have the strength to finish.
But talk to any mama who’s given birth and you will hear an infinite variety of stories — vast in their arcs, characters, and dialogue. For example, seconds before Hadley was born, Jesse and our doctor had a lively discussion on the merits of Zappos. You can imagine how thrilled I was.
When I was ready for them, I hunted for these mothering stories. I read them in the waiting room of my ob/gyn’s office, in Starbucks after a morning of teaching, on our living room floor of the condo we’d just purchased (not one box unpacked save for these stories that felt like compasses).
I never assumed they would be my story, but I read them because I needed to know someone else had been there. Someone else had been through it, and soon, I would make my way through it too.
I think now that when people ask me about writing, they’re looking for a story of how. They’re interested because they’re ready to figure out their own how-to story.
My how changes from season to season, but it always involves reading, notebooks, several different colored pens, music, candles, and my kitchen timer. Lately, on my longer writing days, I’ve added a short walk to my local library.
For my first book, I felt close to Juliet, and so I put on her persona and considered her for most of 2017. For my second, I grappled with many sides of myself and used characters in books and clothes to find stories that would make me feel at home with who I am. For this next one, I’m constantly asking myself, “What would Bilbo Baggins do?” And since I’ve realized I’m the female version of him, I don’t have a hard time answering this question. (It doesn’t mean I like the answer, though. I’m not super happy when my Took side wins.)
What is constant through each journey of bringing forth a book is the ritual: a favorite coffee mug, a pen, a nice-smelling candle, a good soundtrack, poetry, and a book to offer a way in.
The components of my ritual are what help keep me feeling safe and secure because although every story of how is different, at the core is risk and desire. So these stories of bringing something forth are like life preservers tossed to us at sea. It’s important to hold on to them and even use them to point ourselves in a direction . But they cannot bring us home. It’s up to us swim to shore.
I think it’s a good sign when you’re ready for a how-to story. I think it means you’re ready to find your ritual.
You’re ready to begin.
Poetry — What poetry can be found in your writing ritual? Consider what you hold (figuratively and literally), what you let go of, what you lay down on the page. Write a poem about the ritual of writing.
Journalling — As 2019 comes to a close, what writing rituals did you enjoy? Which rituals would you like to let go of? What routines, habits, and rituals would you like to pursue for 2020?
How-To Story — Do you have a how-to story for a book you’ve written, or another piece of art you’ve created? Perhaps you’ve run a marathon or completed another daunting task. What’s the story behind the finished product?
Collage — Consider making a collage of your ritual dreams for 2020. Hang it above where you work and use it to inspire and guide you as you wander and take risks
Browse more poetry prompts
A Writer’s Dream Book
“Callie Feyen has such a knack for telling personal stories that transcend her own life. In my years in publishing, I’ve seen how hard that is—but she makes it seem effortless, and her book is such a pleasure. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s enlightening. Callie writes about two of the most important things in life—books and clothes—in utterly delightful and truly moving ways. I’m impressed by how non-gimmicky and fresh her writing is. I love this book.”
—Sarah Smith, Executive Editor Prevention magazine; former Executive Editor Redbook magazine