Writing a Book for the First Time
“Tell it to my heart. Tell me I’m the only one. Is this really love or just a…”
SCCCREEEEACHHH – BAM – SLLLLLLLIDE
Yup, I was full-voicin’ me some Taylor Dayne when my 1977 Nova slammed into a telephone pole and spun out into the beautifully manicured lawn of some wealthy Connecticut family.
Now in today’s message, I’m going to tell you exactly how to write a book for the first time. But first, we have to talk about my first car accident.
If you have never written a book before, by definition, you don’t know how to write a book. From the outside looking in, it can seem pretty complicated, but the truth is, it’s quite simple. To explain I need to take you back to the fall of 1990 – the start of my senior year of high school.
I’d had my driver’s license for 3.5 months. That Nova I was driving had been my grandmother’s. She left it to me when she passed in 1986 and I’d waited 5 long years to get to drive it. Now in the blink of an eye, I’d totaled it and destroyed someone’s lawn in the process.
I sat in my car shaking and on the verge of throwing up, Taylor Dayne still wailing away without a care in the world:
“Body to body
Soul to soul
Always feel your near”
Pre-cell phone era meant there was only one thing to do next: Turn off the car and gather the courage to knock on the foreboding door ahead of me. The name on the mailbox read “Boyea.”
My car hovering in the background right in the middle of their lawn.
“Mrs. Boyea?” I said when a woman came to the door.
“Yes,” she replied not noticing the car yet.
I burst into uncontrollable sobs. Snot ran down my face. That stupid song was caught in my head like an ear worm.
“I’m so sorry about your lawn. I’ll pay for it,” I tried to spit out between convulsive gasps. She clearly had no idea what I was talking about.
I knew that lawn was going to be expensive to fix. I was so embarrassed.
She invited me inside. We sat at her kitchen table and she poured me a glass of milk and slid a box of tissues across.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Just tell me what happened. We’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t know what happened. I was just driving and then I hit the telephone pole and then my car just flipped in a circle and I’m so so sorry about your lawn.”
She looked out the window and then grabbed the mustard yellow phone from the kitchen wall, dragging the long curly cord to me at the table. She put the receiver in my hand and asked “What’s your phone number?”
“269-2327,” I replied and within seconds the dial tone had turned to a ring.
“Mom?” I said evenly, gathering my fortitude. “I’m so sorry.” The tears came again making my words impossible to understand.
Mrs. Boyea took the receiver.
“Your daughter is safe, but she has had an accident. We are over on Miller St. I’m afraid it looks like it will need a tow.”
She didn’t even mention the lawn.
She placed 3 Girl Scout cookies on a napkin for me next to the half-drunk glass of milk. As we waited for my mom to arrive, Mrs. Boyea helped me rehearse my speech.
Now, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a class on how to talk to a 17-year-old girl who just crashed her Nonni’s car onto your lawn, but Mrs. Boyea knew what to say. She wasn’t too touchy. We just met. And she didn’t tell me not to worry about the lawn, because I would be paying for that with my money from my job at Kinney Shoes. But she said this:
“We all make mistakes when we are learning how to drive. Your parents will be relieved you are okay. Cars can be replaced, kids can’t.”
It was a love letter straight to my hurt little soul. And while I was still crying when my parents pulled up in my dad’s work truck set to tow the car, I had stopped shaking and was at least understandable.
And that, was the precise moment I learned how to write a book.
“Welcome to the Asshole Club!” my dad said with a cheesy grin and he patted me on the head. When it comes to big disasters, my dad is a master of making me laugh. (Just don’t ask me what happened when I’d leave a bag of potato chips open, he was not nearly as good with the small stuff!)
What does joining the Asshole Club have to do with writing a book for the first time? Well, everything really. Because the KEY to writing a book for the first time, is finding your voice.
Mrs. Boyea and my dad had 2 very different approaches. Mrs. Boyea was calm and reassuring and methodical and thoughtful. My dad was funny and light hearted and got to work towing my car. They were both being authentically who they are. And that is what your reader requires from you.
To write a book that makes a difference, you must connect to your reader in your voice. This is step 2 in the Difference Process™ – You can’t learn it from a book or a coach. You can’t hire it out to a ghostwriter. YOU have to be YOU. (And why try being anyone else since everyone else is taken anyway!)
And you don’t JUST have to be YOU but you have to be YOU in relation to ONE SINGLE IDEAL READER.
If you asked Mrs. Boyea to describe how to handle a car accident on her front lawn it might sound formal or legal, but in the moment, she just loved me and did what came naturally. Same with my dad. It was a crisis, he knew I was upset, and he lightened the mood. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way of course, but what worked about both of their responses was that it came from a servant’s heart.
Ego says: Let’s figure this out and do it the right way.
The Servant’s Heart says: I am here to serve. I can’t do this wrong.
When people come to me to write a book, they are often worried they are doing it wrong and they slip into this voice some English teacher taught them to use in order to get a good grade on their papers in school. This is NOT the way to write a book. I take away their pen and paper.
A good book comes from the heart. It’s a love letter. One human being speaking straight to the heart of another human being. Like I’m doing right now to you.
Your first car. Your senior year of high school. Your first book.
I’m imagining you were sitting right here with me, sharing a cup of tea and swapping “first car accident stories.” And while we are at it, I’m telling you how that moment with Taylor Dayne on Labor Day weekend way back in 1990 was one of the touchstones in my life that lead me to help 518 people get their books written in 9 weeks or less.
Because the truth is… you don’t need another class. You don’t need a certification. You don’t need to figure it out. You need to be like Mrs. Boyea and open your door to someone in pain and help them with what you know.
If Mrs. Boyea stood on her front lawn, preaching self-love, self-care, and anxiety management to any driver that came around the corner, she really would not have made a difference. Most people would never notice her and those who did would probably think she was a little off. But that’s not what she did, she waited for someone in pain to come to her and then she served from the bottom of her heart. She didn’t worry about her landscaping challenges that needed to be solved before snow started to fall and the ground started to freeze. She didn’t worry about how the tow truck would get the car off the lawn. She didn’t worry about the way I ruined her day or the fact she might have to make a run to the store for milk for her coffee. She showed up. 100%. And that’s what it takes to write your book.
It won’t be convenient. There will be calls, and bills, and emergencies, and a million reasons not to show up and serve – just like Mrs. Boyea had that day. But when there is a sweet, hurt, human soul at your kitchen table, you get the milk and cookies out and love them for as long as they are there, because THAT is how we heal the planet. Not by standing on our front stoop shouting at the cars going by.
A lot of people are waiting to work with me until they have another certification, or their website done, or more confidence or clarity; but the truth is, people with a servant’s heart are ready to serve NOW. There is a scared, shakey, 17-year-old Nova driver at the door and they aren’t going to wait one second to invite her into their home.
Now I don’t know if that’s you. Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “where’s the damn writing advice I was promised.” And if so, please head on over to Amazon and by my book The Difference, or better yet, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is the best book in the history of the world on writing. But if you are someone who is sick to death of screaming from your doorstep, wondering why no one is listening to your message, you might want to read this post again, or better yet, tell us about you and your beautiful servant’s heart over on our application page so we can invite you in for some virtual milk and cookies while we chat.
Oh, and my Nonni’s car? My dad put it back together, while my mom put my confidence back together. My Nonni and her Madonna prayer card in the visor, I’m pretty sure they were my guardian angles that day so I could bring this story back to you, heart-in-hand.