Heather Dawn: Godfrey.  P.G.C.E., B.Sc. (Joint Hon)

Writing my books: the journey’s beginning

Where do I start? This, I believe, is the biggest question, laden with the colours, shapes and shadows that suddenly burst into the foreground of my imagination. Then, suddenly, it becomes clear to me: in the spirit of paradox, this is also the simplest, easiest question to answer… just do it!

Yet, stripped back in the expression of this raw, uncluttered assertion, another, and probably the most significant question, is laid bare. Suddenly unveiled, free of the cloaking haze created by racing thoughts, confused hesitancy, procrastination, or even ‘good intention’, stark in its uncompromising nakedness, the REAL question is: “Do I absolutely, really, definitely, want to do it? Do I feel passionate and committed?  Do I believe in what I want to do with all my heart, and with a level of conviction sufficient to fuel my tenacity during ‘stormy weather’ as no journey is ever filled with perpetual sunshine?”

Juxtaposed, I stood at a crossroads. The opportunity before me may not ever visit again, putting it off until ‘later’ not an option – “if I don’t do it now, I never will”.  There is never an absolutely ‘perfect moment’ (falsely fuelling procrastination, deceptively easing the choice to delay).  There are always both reasons ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’. My mind and sensibility fused, the answer not purely logical, but passionate too, so it was, balance tipped, I took my leap of faith.

But this was not a blind leap of faith. I carefully evaluated my situation, and reviewed and planned my financial position to ensure I had sufficient funds. I had accumulated years of experiential and academic knowledge.  I grounded my ambition.  (Yet, as I was about to discover, the journey of research and writing the book, itself, revealed a rich, enlightening and deepening learning curve).

To begin with, I reviewed the books of other authors writing about similar topics, investigated their publishers, other publishers, and even considered self-publication (again, the choices seemed overwhelming).  I drew up a list of possible publishers based on their compatibility with my subject genre. But first, before I could knock on their door, I had to have something tangible, a ‘product’ with which to gain their interest beyond a mere idea or imaginative concept. What would my book offer that others did not?

Everything contributes, is significant, to learning and comprehension (good, bad, positive, negative, mistakes, successes). Learning is a perpetual process.  Experience, knowledge and information form a web, each aspect a delicate thread connecting, contributing and shaping an intricate mutualistic network that captures the conceptual within its tangible form.  Each thread is significant in its own right but is equally existent by virtue of attaching points that are subsequently built on and developed from.

My experiential journey, my intellectual understanding, delving and questioning, my encounters with those I have met along my path and the messages they impart (teachers, experts, other authors, the magazine or journal articles read, conversations and deliberation with my peers or a perfect stranger sat next to me in a cafe or on a train who I serendipitously share a conversation with), when spun together, form threads in the web.

Who am I writing for?

My original decision to write was inspired by my clients and students – their enthusiastic, positive response to essential oils, their desire to learn and ‘grow’ their knowledge and understanding – and my own intrigued fascination as I observed the influence essential oils procure.

I work with a range of people in various contexts: as a therapist providing stress-reducing treatments, to facilitating the learning of others (be they lay people, carers, therapists, or healthcare professionals).  Thus, my objective was to create a practical yet sound foundation of knowledge aimed at the interested user of essential oils, student, and professional practitioner, on which they could confidently continue to build and develop their own knowledge and experience.

I formulated a plan, a ‘map’ of the book, embracing the topics and subject area. Then I integrated a time frame into this map, setting targets and goals, to ensure I efficiently maximised my fleeting ‘window of opportunity’.

My first goal was to produce at least two or three chapters that would demonstrate the content, genre, and my writing style and skills. Even though I had already tested my writing ability through publication in related journals (the critique received from editors enlightening, invaluable, and supportive), the idea of producing a book seemed like jumping from a rowing boat onto a ship; my sense of responsibility expanding with the size of vessel.

Every writer has their own style of creative expression, but facts require delivery in universally understood dialogue. So, finding someone who would initially proofread for me was my next goal (a friend who you trust and enjoys reading themselves is a reasonable starting point, although proof-reading does need to be done professionally later on). Objective feedback and critique sheds light on ‘blind spots’; we all have good and not so good writing habits, and perform better on some days and not so well on others.

The process of writing…

I love writing, or, rather, I love words, their ‘colour’, meaning, and the pictures and images they create. But, in spite of my comprehension, imagination and verbal fluidity, writing does not come easily to me. Words and images abound in my imagination, dancing in my minds-eye, but somehow seem to get distorted in translation from thought to page.

I did not realise I was dyslexic until I was in my forties; I had simply assumed until then that I was not ‘very bright’ academically, especially as I spent my early years at school in remedial groups because my spelling and writing were ‘behind’. Consequently, I absorbed a sense of being ‘stupid’ or ‘not very clever’ which affected my self confidence; although I did excel with almost exhausting effort toward the end of my schooling.

Objective feedback and critique sheds light on ‘blind spots’; we all have good and not so good writing habits, and perform better on some days and not so well on others.

Aware I must work alongside my dyslexic trait, I compensate by integrating extra time that allows me space; for example, to work in ‘bursts’ and step away when my brain is saturated. Words pour forth, scatter onto the page and I have to re-read, correct and re-correct their order and flow, my spelling and grammar often erratic; words omitted or repeated twice, letters missed from the beginning, end or middle of a word, and often in the wrong order.

I write fluently by virtue of my ‘word processor’; my handwriting, although quite neat initially, quickly deteriorates into illegible scrawl after a few sentences, that even I cannot decipher. My notes quickly become chaotic, here and there, a messy ink splodge of crossing-outs, insertions and additional notes, aborted attempts and new starts, scribbled in various random note books and on spare pieces of paper, thoughts and ideas desperately captured before they disappear through the gaping net of my short-term memory.  When I read, words can play tricks, disappearing or transforming into something else that my brain quickly reconstructs to compensate for their illusiveness.  The effort required to work through this trait exhausts my brain and I sometimes, quite literally, cannot keep my eyes open and have to sleep, even just for five minutes. In this context, to write a book at all is at one and the same time inspired ambition and a huge challenge.

Being dyslexic, though, does not impede my awareness, imagination or ability to comprehend or communicate, and while ‘voicificying’ and translation of words into coherent written sentences is often problematic, it is not impossible.  I find myself, as a consequence, exploring words more deeply, absorbing the colours and resonance of their meaning.  I love the art of writing.  In order to publicly write, even so, I had to let go of my self-defeating sense of clumsy imperfection, of not being ‘good enough’ – it’s ok for this to walk alongside with me, my shadow companion, but not to fall, like a self-fulling sacrifice, beneath my feet, tripping and arresting my steps.  This is my journey.

Finding a publisher…

Once the first chapters were complete, reviewing my list of potential publishers, I resumed my search.  In view of my dyslexic trait, self-publication did not seem a sensible option. However, scrolling the internet, reviewing my choice of publishing companies, their background details and requirements, I again felt overwhelmed.  They were all very similar in their requisite of prospective authors (the information they required, the non-committed assertion that a response could take several months and then with only a slight possibility of acceptance), but with little information about the author’s position. When I telephoned to enquire “what happens when a manuscript is accepted for publication”, the only answer I received was “it depends”, or “I will put you through to so-and-so who will answer your query”, and I found myself endlessly dangling ‘on hold’, my questions unanswered

I discovered that many renowned companies, although maintaining their ‘front cover’ identity, in fact, have been absorbed, taken over, by a handful of very large corporate organisations whom generally only accept manuscripts forwarded by an agent.

None of the information I gleaned or the responses to my enquiries I received filled me with any confidence. I could not risk sending my precious manuscript to a publisher who potentially would not respond for several months, especially given, by their own admission, the high possibility of rejection. Neither could I risk, for obvious reasons, sending my manuscript to several publishers at the same time to see who would accept my work. The time, effort, sacrifice and cost could not be justified through such an approach.

So, I reviewed the list again, specifically asking myself, ‘who can I trust to nurture and guide my effort, give constructive support and feedback, progress my book from draft to finished book ready for market?’

I decided to begin locally, and discovered a small ‘eco-friendly’ publishing company who appeared to tick all the right boxes.   In deed, their exuberant, slightly over-the-top, sales pitch was persuading.  They eagerly assured me they possessed the necessary ‘techno geek’ (their term) qualifications and professional experience to evolve my manuscript from written word to publication format. They produced examples of books they had already published, and enthusiastically confirmed they would be ‘delighted’ to publish my work.  So, believing I had ticked the next box on my list, I set to and completed my manuscript.

However, the over-enthusiastic introduction, boasts and assurances of professional skills extolled by this company, crumbled to dust amongst the debris of meetings, attended but detail and objectives not followed through (their dynamic enthusiasm apparently withering, assertions and promises forgotten immediately, it seemed, on our departure from each other), or nonchalantly deferred.  The missed deadlines, unanswered emails and phone calls, the long uncomfortable silences, backed up against their door.

Two years from our first meeting, without consultation, contract implied but still not signed, and clearly flouting professional protocol, they published my work ‘over my head’, to my utter horror.  They incorrectly configured my work, deconstructing tables into plain text, making numerous unforgiving errors in the process (their professed expertise, a shattered illusion, shards of broken glass stabbing my ambition). Needless to say, we parted company, my book withdrawn from their possession, publication immediately arrested.  Distressed and deeply dissapointed, I seriously questioned my judgement.

Choosing to believe their zealous rhetoric (this is all it was, in the end), I ignored the warning signs, and, although I would not have predicted their ultimate audaciousness, like it or not, this experience forms part of my story, my journey. Let my lesson also teach you (as it uncomfortably did me) something about self-worth and the subtlety of collusion.

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”  Oprah Winfrey

Karma is a simple concept or principle, an objective process; cause and effect, we simply reap what we sow.  And so it was (and is) for me. Although I do not take responsibility for their behaviour, I do take responsibility for my own.  I did keep my end of the bargain and worked diligently to produce and promote my work to the best of my ability, delivering everything I promised.  However, I learned a valuable lesson about the law of attraction and self worth, about not having the courage to ‘speak out’ sooner, or to stand up for and believe in myself and the value of my effort and ability.  Our interaction should have ended when they glibly confessed to loosing my drawings, after the first (of three) missed publication deadline, or when my gut screamed anxious warnings within me as we parted from meetings.  Yet, I allowed my self-doubt and sense of feeling small to obscure my better judgement.  I, thus, colluded.

Good publishers respect their readers as well as their authors and produce books that people want to ‘own’, add to their collection, read and keep to re-read and lend to friends and family.

Dice shaken and thrown, I landed on the square that sent me back to ‘go’ (and some).  My search for a publisher began again.  After much reflection though, this time I found the courage to seek a publisher ‘I deserve’ and not one ‘good enough for me’.  Oprah is right when she says, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

I signed a contract in the summer of 2017 with Inner Traditions, Bear & Company, a well established professional American ‘eco-friendly’ (determined not to let my previous experience shatter all my belief) publisher with a proven track record for delivering well presented books in my genre, among others (as their publication catalogue testifies).

There is no comparison with my previous experience.   Their ‘eco-friendly’ stance is actually grounded within a sound, proficient, thereby sustainable, business model.  Extremely efficient and proactive, with clearly defined guidelines and boundaries, there is no ambiguity. Promises are kept, deadlines are met, communication is maintained, the author becomes ‘part of the team’, each an expert in their own field, and nothing is progressed without approval.  Simple, yet proficient!  My experience of working with them is, to my relief, extremely positive, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt that it will continue to be so; the adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ echoes, hauntingly rings, within me as I make this statement.

My first book, Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditationwas published Autumn 2018, an award-winning, best selling new release, and was also published in Traditional Chinese in 2019. My second book, Essential Oils for the Whole Body, was published Autumn 2019 and was also a winner of the Janey Loves Platinum Award (2020).  My third book, Healing with Essential Oils, was published by Inner Traditions early summer 2022.   So, you see, actions do speak louder than words, and, in spite of the entropy that pulls at the threads of our faith and self belief, tenacity and hard work does pay off in the end. I may not be a Pulitzer prize-winner (well, I couldn’t be anyway, apart from any other reason, I’m British!) but I have happily reached my own mountain top with a deep sense of gratitude for the support and encouragement I encountered, and also for the lessons I learned along the way!!!!