(This is the sixth article in a series by Stories To Tell editor/designer Sarah Hoggatt recounting her experiences in publishing her poetry and nonfiction.)
For this book thus far, I’ve been writing whatever comes to mind, whatever message has to get out at the time. I know the book is about love and there are a lot of water references in it (a theme my editors pointed out to me) but it was all mixed together with no conclusion. The words weren’t going anywhere. Something was still missing.
It was at this point I met with my spiritual director, not about the book but to just talk about life and God – not that the two can, in truth, be separated. Near the end of our session together, she told me this: “If you’re upset, lower your expectations.” At first I laughed because it sounds so funny and also because I had recently reread a favorite book of mine, The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, who says the same exact thing, albeit in different words. The idea is to know there is unconditional love within yourself – all the love you need – and thus you don’t have requirements on the love of others. You then learn to love yourself and others unconditionally without expectations. It’s a beautiful and freeing way to live. And I’m still working on it. So when my spiritual director shared this wisdom with me, it was a shock to my system to realize I had the focus for my book all along: learning to love unconditionally. That was the answer, that’s the conclusion.
Nearly two weeks later, I found out Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., an author in his own right who is carrying on the Toltec wisdom writings his father began, was giving a workshop that very weekend an hour away from where I live. It was as if a huge sign was in front of my face proclaiming in blinking lights, “This is where you need to be.” I have found when God wants you to go somewhere, it’s really hard to ignore. But in this case, I didn’t need to be told twice. These books have made a huge difference in my life and I was enthusiastic to learn more. The truths he spoke of were also ones I’ve really needed to hear lately and he spoke to precisely where I’ve been at. It was like water to my parched throat after months in the desert. I came away from that time with a lot of truths to think about and soak in along with new tools to use in living my life. I also came away with a much better handle on what my book is all about and where I want to take it at the end.
Every book needs a focus. Every book should be able to be summed up in a sentence or two. Find it, shape the book around it, and your writing will be far better for having a point. Unconditional love is my point.