(This is the eighth article in a series by Stories To Tell editor/designer Sarah Hoggatt recounting her experiences in publishing her poetry and nonfiction.)
There are times in our lives when we need to shed our skin. There are times when the life we have been writing about has become too heavy and needs to be let go of for a while or released completely. Maybe you’ve had a lot going on, maybe the growth has outpaced the roots, or maybe it’s just time to retreat to somewhere else far away.
This is where I have found myself: ground into the dirt, weary and worn, with a heart that’s been stretched and pained, a spirit parched for God, and a body crying out for rest—time away from everything and everyone involved in my regular life. In short, I needed to leave and go somewhere nourishing to my soul.
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been so tired you just needed to put down your life, as much as you love it, pack your bags, and get on a plane? Sometimes that’s what we have to do, especially as writers. Sometimes we need to take a step back from both our lives and what we’ve been writing about. We need to get ourselves and our book manuscripts out of our normal environments and to somewhere else where we can “dry out” for a while and find out what’s left of our souls and our words.
For this retreat of soul, I chose to spend the time with a friend who lives in a small town on the other side of the continent from where I live for an entire week. I’m lucky, I can work from anywhere, so I just packed my laptop, some clothes, good books, and the manuscript for what will, hopefully, be a great book. In addition to having time to rest and visit with people I love, I also wanted to use this time to look with fresh eyes at my manuscript. Away from the places and people who inspired me to write this book, with the exception of the friend I’m visiting, I wanted to see what my words were really made of away from all that. I wanted to take the manuscript apart, undress it, and see the bones underneath. Would it translate? Would it still work, still stand by itself, away from the people who support it? Would I?
On the Saturday morning of my retreat, I took my manuscript and spread it out on the floor of my friend’s living room to edit. Being a believer in positive energy infusing itself from one thing into another, I loved the fact my manuscript was being stripped to its bones in the loving shelter of a house built in 1864, one that has been filled with love, laughter, and togetherness for so long, a house that feels good the moment you walk into it. This is the kind of rooted energy I want in my book and the energy I want to guide me as I put it together. It’s the energy I have been searching for but not finding. I found it here.
Poetry books are nearly always very personal to the author who writes them no matter what way they are later read and this is certainly true of Finding Love’s Way. Taking a deeper look at the words is very much taking a deeper look at myself at the same time. This is also why so much of my heart is in this blog series. My poetry comes from the deepest places in me and I can’t write about it and not talk about my heart at the same time. So sitting there on the floor, I started seeing themes, how the pieces connected, and what I’ve been learning that I was only half aware of at the time. Away from the usual hustle and bustle, for the first time I saw what this book was becoming and what I was becoming along with it.
I sense I needed to find this out in a place where I had the space to reflect, time to dig down new roots and rearrange myself. In the dining room of this house where I’m writing, Abraham Lincoln must have been discussed when he was still alive, a house just northeast of where he grew up. This good man spoke of mercy, integrity, and love. He is one of my heroes and as I work on organizing and editing my own words with the same message in this same land, I think of what he said, “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all.” Maybe what I have to say has been told thousands of times. Maybe what I want to write about from my heart has been written by countless authors before me but I have a deep conviction the world still needs to hear it. They still need to hear love. And perhaps I needed to come to this land of rooted history so when I stripped myself and my book down to our bones, we could both dig down into the ground of love and wisdom in order to find the rest and grace we needed to remember where those bones first came from and why we walk the earth today.