The Saving Grace of Writing
The Saving Grace of Writing- by Joan Grant Lohe
Writing has always been a form of expression for me; I took to putting my thoughts into words and found it to be so cathartic. For years I would articulate my feelings, whether it be in a form of a letter (of complaint or praise); in a manuscript (telling the tragic story of the birth of my still born child); in a poem written for my husband; and most recently, a memoir, written at a time of despair and grief. Just unloading my feelings, even though the manuscript was returned or rejected for publication, and the letter sometimes never mailed, made all the difference, bringing on a state of release by having had my say, even if no one else cared.
Such was the case when I began the journey of my memoir. It began as a purely selfish step into my past, hoping it would help me to escape the torment of the present. Having lost the love of my life after 54 years of marriage I was wallowing in sorrow and knew I had to find a way back to the living and as had happened so many times before, I turned to writing. I researched all the why’s and wherefore’s of memoir writing. I came across a most profound statement of encouragement that simply stated “if you are ever thinking about writing a memoir, do it, you will never regret it and always regret not doing it”. Once I read that, my decision was made.
What started out as a distraction soon evolved into something I would never have anticipated. Every day brought on new enthusiasm, and an appreciation of a life and love I always knew I had; suddenly, reliving it made me laugh and cry and be thankful. I did my homework about formatting my material, learned all about front, core and back matter (terms I never even knew existed), learned how to get my effort to look like a book, and rejoiced at every step of the way. The significance of catching your readers at the very beginning, so they want to continue to read, was importantly stressed along with an explanation of the terms foreword, prologue and introduction. I learned there is a difference. Margins, (mirror, gutter, top, bottom) so important for esthetic correctness; numbering, on which pages they should and should not appear; copyright laws and how not to infringe on them. I researched them all. Isn’t a computer a wonderful tool, a never-ending source of information? I spent many hours seeking knowledge that would result in a finished piece of work. As my story progressed I realized maybe my children would like to have a look into my life and that of their father, before, during and after we raised them. Now I wasn’t writing just for me: I was going to share. Months before completion, I informed them all that I was writing a book, revealing no further information as to content or title. They rallied behind me, and were happy that I had a new purpose and a new goal.
Much thought was put into a title that would give a hint into what could be found within its pages. I choose a phrase of the 50’s so familiar to my generation and me. Again, I was blown away by my ability to come up a name so simple but appropriate. Chapter headings were a key indication of the importance of music to my husband and me, so much a part of our life. I was so grateful to YouTube: what a variable gold mine of music. I listened, added and changed the chapter titles many times; every song, familiar and special, just another personal touch and so necessary. I pondered, over the course of many weeks, about the next step after the writing was completed. From the beginning I was intent on not investing any money in this undertaking: I was writing for purely therapeutic reasons. But now I reached a crossroad: how was I going to present it as a book? Punching holes in the completed work and tying it with a ribbon seemed very slipshod, certainly not a worthy presentation for my hard work. I looked into self book binding, a tedious task that required much skill and patience, and gave up on that idea almost immediately.
As I had done so many times before, I consulted my ever-present computer and searched for my options and was blown away by what I found. There are scores of companies willing to print on demand and publish! My dilemma was solved. Not knowing anything about the world of POD companies put me at a disadvantage, but trusting my gut, I went with a company that had an impressive website and a learned founder. I was not disappointed. The Book Patch was there to answer my every query…and I had many. They replied promptly to my emails and walked me through my options. I could use their software (free of charge) for my writing and formatting, but since I had Microsoft Word, they suggested that was the better way to go. All I had to do was save to a PDF and upload to them. My confidence was rising for a outcome that I would be proud of.
When my physician asked how I was coping with my traumatic life change, I enthusiastically replied that I was writing a book. She gave me words of encouragement and remarked about another of her patients who also had turned to writing, and proceeded to inquire if I had an editor.
“Not up to that phase” I replied.
Her response was that her other patient didn’t recognize their own words once an editor was finished with the work. That put me off paying for that service: I wanted the words to be all mine, good, bad or otherwise, just as I wrote them. So rather than paying for the editing service that The Book Patch offered I opted to self-edit, a very daunting task. However, with the proper Word tools, it is a little less intimidating, but time consuming and intense. I must have read the pages of my memoir a hundred times and editing mishaps still reared their heads.
The Book Patch’s info department walked me through the importance of the copyright page, how to word it and set it up and how to apply and get an ISBN number. The details were falling into place. Reading the PDF form of my book takes some formatting know-how, completely foreign to me at first, but quickly learned with some essential reminders. The importance of beginning each and every chapter in the proper place and on the proper page was highly emphasized; so after each upload I again scoured for correctness. In my situation The Book Patch would print exactly as shown on my PDF; they would not edit, so having it right was key. They recommended having a single copy of the book printed so as to make any corrections or additions needed. That was the glory of The Book Patch: I could print one book or five hundred, only pay the cost of printing.
Designing the cover was another obstacle to be met with. The Book Patch provided a cover designer for a fee or I could self-design with the template they provided, which would allow me to depict my own creation. Once again, I opted to go it on my own. On the spine and front and back covers, space was provided for essential information such as title, author, etc. on the front, and pricing, bar code and ISBN number on the back, with step by step instructions. Not wanting to have the expense of a designer was the deciding factor in my decision. I scoured the internet for free photographs that could be downloaded, picking many that would depict theme and content. Again, my inexperience was something I had to deal with in a hit or miss situation: once my selection was uploaded to the cover template, if the design didn’t work, I could delete it with the click of the mouse and start again. So easily corrected and ready to try anew. Finally after many attempts – success – and even I was pleased.
There is no way to describe my emotional state as I clicked the order button for the first copy; it had been a labor of love and soon an anxious me would be profoundly rewarded. Upon its arrival, I nervously opened the package, simultaneously gasping and crying at what lay before me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned what my eyes feasted on. It was way beyond my expectations, never having imagined my own capabilities. Keep in mind that I, alone, reveled in this joy. I shared my work with no one, but decided to reveal just a small part of my success to two of my daughters, with the promise by them not to divulge what they witnessed. As we sat in the confines of my car, before beginning a Saturday afternoon jaunt, I placed the book in their hands with the stipulation that they can only view the cover, front and back, but no more, and they couldn’t open it or view its contents. To say they were amazed was putting it mildly. They were aghast, and echoed the comment I would hear many times again:
“I can’t believe you did this!”
My one daughter, a school librarian, was doubly enthralled. Her reaction was coupled with the statement “I am a book person. I know what an ISBN number is and what it implies. This is a real book. How did you do this?”
After careful scrutiny and editing, I ordered another single copy, wanting to confirm my changes before placing a larger order. Once satisfied, I proceeded to have enough copies printed to distribute to my entire family. It was very important to me that my children and grandchildren be the first ones to share in my achievement. So it was they who took it upon themselves to plan a very special book launch, private and intimate, they being the only attendees. Carefully worded invitations were printed, which would not only highlight the importance of the event but would also serve as a keepsake for years to come. Champagne, balloons and an air of anticipation and joy filled the rooms of my daughter’s home along with the twenty six of us, (we are a large family) all gathered to celebrate my accomplishment. As the tears flowed among all of us, I lovingly signed and presented each one of them with their copy and watched as they eagerly leafed through some random pages trying to get a glimpse of my narrative.
Amidst the chatter, a sudden hush came over the room. We all stopped, listened and paused at an incident that no-one could believe was occurring. At once we let out a gasp. We all agreed it was my husband, their father and grandfather who came to join in the party. It was a moment no one could explain but all witnessed. The reaction of my children and grandchildren were ones of surprise, joy, and love, and while my children might have had to wrap their heads around the fact that their parents were a couple who enjoyed all facets of their life together (like all children they think of their parents only as parents, not going beyond that into other aspects of their relationship) I know my writings confirmed what they already knew: they were raised in a loving, solid home. MY grandchildren were as proud as punch that their grandmother was an author,
During the following weeks my extended family and friends were all gifted with their copy. They rejoiced in my success and marveled at my ability to recount so many years of my life, of which some of them were very much a part. It has been months now since this adventure began. I haven’t pursued other outlets for my book, (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) nor have I tried to transform it into an E-book for book reading devices. Perhaps I might sometime in the future, but I never really started this journey with the intention of profiting from it monetarily. But the peace it brought to me and the self-satisfaction is priceless.
©Joan Grant Lohe
You can purchase Joan’s book, MADE IN THE SHADE, at this link at THE BOOK PATCH.