Virginia Bell had a successful career in filmmaking and later as a restauranteur before becoming a full-time writer and astrologer. Inspired by the way astrology can be used to navigate our lives, Virginia writes columns for magazines including US Weekly and TV Guide, teaching others how to honor their individual journey. In her new book, Midlife Is Not a Crisis, Virginia uses this ancient art to empower people to live more fully in the second half of life.
Getting Started: The First Steps to Writing a Book Tweet This
Charlotte: What was the inspiration to write, Midlife Is Not a Crisis?
Virginia: It combined three subjects that I absolutely love: astrology, inspiration and the wisdom of aging.
Charlotte: And was the book clear at first or can you tell us a bit about the process you went through in clarifying the book concept and discovering what the book wanted to be?
Virginia: It was clear in the sense that I knew I wanted to tell the story of the generational cycles but the book evolved over time to include more about how to grow and thrive during each cycle. As I write in the introduction, there was something changing in me, but also in the world. I was in my sixties and I began to feel more content and at peace. As I began to study aging I discovered this was not unusual, provided we are willing to do the inner work. Plus, thanks to the 76 million baby boomers, the whole concept of aging and the second half of life were shifting. In addition, astrology was having a renaissance. Over time I began seeing and experiencing, both in me and the world, that this project could be timely.
Charlotte: Who did you have in mind when you wrote Midlife Is Not a Crisis? It seems like a fairly specific idea—applying astrology to understand and best move through the phases in people’s lives, including midlife. Yet, the astrology is written in a way that’s accessible for a beginner. Did you envision mostly people who are new to astrology or have a bit of an understanding, or do you also see the book as being for people with a longer term interest or expertise, even?
Virginia: I was mainly writing for the general public, although I hoped those with knowledge of astrology would be interested as well. Thanks to the internet and the thousands of astrology websites and columns, the general public today is fairly knowledgeable. These days all you have to do is google “free astrology chart” and there are sites that produce a copy of your chart with an explanation of the planets and signs. Who doesn’t know about Mercury retrograde? You even hear about it on the news! Words like retrograde, rising sign, and new planets such as Eris and Sedna are familiar to people. In 2006 when Pluto was “demoted” to a minor planet it was all over the news.
The Process: Writing Midlife Is Not a Crisis Tweet This
Charlotte: Midlife Is Not a Crisis has an interesting organization, following the cycles of the planets and ages, with smaller sections within those. Did you have a clear picture of this organization and outline before you started writing or how did the structure develop?
Virginia: It unfolded naturally. The cycles themselves provided the perfect outline; each chapter is devoted to a different cycle and a different decade. That part came first and was the basis for the book. I added the chapter on the seventies at the end because it felt strange to leave out that decade and because I liked the idea of the number seven. I also added my personal story during each cycle later. Originally I had stories and anecdotes about well know people but I added ones about people I knew later on, towards the end. I also added the profiles about Carl Jung and Georgia O’Keeffe at the end. All during the writing I kept discovering new information (about death cafes, retirement, meditation techniques, new books, quotes, etc.) and I was constantly adding to the chapters – which was exciting but sometimes a bit overwhelming!
Charlotte: Did writing this book involve any additional research or were you able to write it from your own knowledge? If it did require research, what did that process look like?
Virginia: Absolutely, there was a lot of research involved. Originally I had written the chapters based on the cycles. Once I had a publisher I needed to expand each chapter, deepen the information and add examples. This was especially true in the chapter on the second Saturn Return and the sixties where I was writing about aging and ageism, issues about facing death, grieving. There are no major cycles in the seventies so I decided to write about health and wellness. Although I shared what has worked for me I needed information to back that up; studies, references, quotes. I’ve learned so much as I was constantly reading books on aging, health, meditation, etc. I still am!
Charlotte: As I mentioned, Midlife Is Not a Crisis is very accessible. How did you translate the more technical aspects of your subject into writing that is easy to understand and engages your readers? Any tips for our readers?
Virginia: Writing sun sign columns and newsletters (as well as working with clients) has helped me translate the language of astrology and make it more accessible. Also, I’m not that smart – I have to break it down for myself. I’m always looking for great adjectives, metaphors and stories to bring the planets, signs, houses or aspects alive.
If you want to learn more about astrology I would suggest getting your chart done. You can have it done by an astrologer but you can also get a chart free online. Learn about the planets, signs, and houses and what each aspect means. Just google your question and you’ll get a ton of free information. It’s a fascinating way to get to know yourself – or friends and family.
Charlotte: Did you find yourself applying astrology while writing Midlife Is Not a Crisis? If so, how did you use it?
Virginia: Being an astrologer I’m always aware of where the planets are and what major aspects are taking place, both in the sky and also how they impact my own chart. I wrote in the chapter on the sixties that I was having as aspect that involved “change at all cost” Uranus. I knew I had to take a big risk so as a result I sold my house on Long Island which allowed me to write full time. Because of another aspect that is currently happening now I knew that this was the time for me to bring something out in the world. I trusted this even when things weren’t moving forward or when I was stuck. That’s one of the many things astrology can provide – the timing of things.
Charlotte: Has writing Midlife Is Not a Crisis given you particular insights or affected the way you practice astrology? If so, in what ways?
Virginia: I’ve learned so much about these cycles and how to navigate them. I use them as a kind of framework. If a client is going through a cycle (or one is approaching) I tend to begin with that. It sets the stage, creates a theme for the reading. It’s not the only thing that’s going on (in the chart) but it puts things in perspective.
Make the Book Come Alive: Decision-making in Writing Tweet This
Charlotte: If you wrote the book for beginners and people with more expertise, how did you find the balance in your writing to engage and inform both possible audiences? What are some decisions you made in your writing to balance that range of experience?
Virginia: I don’t know if there’s a clear answer; it evolved naturally. I decided early on to create an Overview of Astrology to introduce people to the planets, signs and houses. I felt that would give them an introduction to the basics. Other than that I tried to write clearly and simply and jazz the material up with stories and lots of quotes – I love quotations!
The best analogy I can give is that for 20 years I owned a gourmet natural foods restaurant in New York City – one of the first. Back then (in the 1970’s) there were only macrobiotic restaurants which I found boring. My concept was to be very middle of the road and have something for everyone; steamed vegetables and brown rice as well as lush cheesecake, warm gingerbread, and rich lasagna – all made with healthy ingredients of course! I wanted to appeal to the serious vegetarians but I really wanted to seduce the people who didn’t know about healthy eating. It worked and the restaurant was a success. My approach to the book is similar (although I didn’t realize it until now).
I hoped to appeal to those who already knew about astrology but I really wanted to bring astrology alive for those who didn’t know anything. I wanted to share this beautiful world of myth, magic, of gods and goddesses and the wisdom of the planets that I have discovered. Making it “middle of the road” (so to speak) came naturally to me.
Charlotte: Midlife Is Not a Crisis focuses on using astrology to navigate the second half of life. Why did you choose to focus on these years of life? Do you think astrology is particularly useful during these years? Can it be as useful during one’s earlier years?
Virginia: I wanted the focus of the book to be about the generation cycles and that begins with the Saturn Return at age 29 when we officially become an adult; that is the foundation for everything else. I included all of the cycles through the Uranus Return at 84. Astrology is definitely useful during those years as they are the major passages we experience. But astrology begins the moment we are born so it’s valuable throughout our lives. Having a chart done for a child can be extremely beneficial in learning how to nurture that child, understanding how they learn and process information, and how they can thrive. That is true beyond the age 84 as well. But that’s a different subject; a different book.
Focusing on the generational cycles gave the book a framework plus readers don’t necessarily need to have any knowledge of astrology. Focusing on the individual transits before 29 and after 84 would be a whole other book and wouldn’t be as accessible.
Charlotte: You have quite a few outlets you write columns for, including Huffington Post, TV Guide and Us Weekly. What are some differences you experienced between writing for those publications and writing this book? Was anything different with your writing process, tone, language, etc?
Virginia: It’s a very different experience writing an astrology column. I write one column that is 60 words per sign and in that space I have to create a little story around a TV show and connect that story with the current astrology. It’s like solving a puzzle and I enjoy it. I’ve also done columns with 45 words per sign – it forces you to be pithy and relevant in a small amount of space. The book allowed me to spread out, so to speak. It was luxurious, in that sense. A whole chapter gave me space to delve deeper and explore things.
About Astrology: The Subject Behind the Book
Charlotte: As you were writing, how did you want people to use this book? Did you see people using astrology – and this book – as a motivator and guide to make their own decisions, or more as a means to predict and prepare for what will come? Now that it is published, do you know whether readers are using it the way you thought they would?
Virginia: I hope the book will inspire readers to learn more about astrology, these cycles and themselves. I don’t believe in making predictions. Astrology is a tool that can help guide and prepare us but ultimately we are the ones who are responsible for our decisions and our life. I believe we have free will and our attitude and beliefs are a big part of that.
The book has only been out a month so I don’t have a ton of feedback. Some friends and clients have shared that the book has helped them to understand the period (cycle) they are currently in.
Charlotte: Can you tell us a little bit about astrology – how you use it in your daily life, how it informs decisions you may make, etc? How do you think others can incorporate it into their lives?
Virginia: Astrology is a tool, a valuable one and can help us understand ourselves. A natal or birth chart is a picture of the sky at the moment of birth; it’s frozen in time and never changes. That chart is a rich reservoir of information; your strengths, gifts, and life path as well as your weaknesses and wounds but also how to heal them. The birth chart shows your character. Where the planets are at a particular time and how they impact your chart describes what you’re currently experiencing. That’s a transit and progression reading (what’s currently happening in your life and how to address it).
That’s where astrology can be particularly helpful. Many people come for a reading when they are going through a major crisis (or cycle). It’s useful to know that this crisis is supposed to happen (for your own personal growth) and there is light (or a new life) at the end of the tunnel even though you may not see it or feel it. Astrology can be a wonderful tool in terms of timing.
Charlotte: You use quite a few modern references throughout the book, such as celebrities and movies, to exemplify the signs. It’s interesting to see pop culture used to exemplify such an ancient practice! Why did you choose to include these references? What effect do you think that has on the reader and their understanding of astrology?
Virginia: I added celebrities and famous people to give readers reference points and hopefully to bring the planets or the cycles alive. I love knowing people’s stories. I personally find it encouraging knowing that Frank McCourt didn’t even begin writing Angela Ashes until he was in his early sixties or that Gloria Steinem didn’t go into therapy until she was 50. Or that Oliver Sacks was in his seventies when he first fell in love. I didn’t think that I was combining an ancient practice with pop culture but now that you mention it I realize that I love combining things that don’t necessarily seem to go together. Astrology is an ancient practice and also practical; something people use in their daily lives.
Charlotte: You also include some personal stories and experiences from your own life. Why did you choose to include personal stories? What effect do you think they have on the reader? Did you have any hesitations about discussing your own life in the book or did you want to include it from the beginning?
Virginia: As I mentioned, I love learning about an author. Who are they; what was their journey like; how did they transform? I felt that writing about my own experience during each cycle made it more personal. I was a bit concerned at first about sharing so much but it seemed natural and I had already shared a great deal about my past in blogs and posts. Plus I felt it gave the book a kind of thread, a sense of continuity.
The Last Steps: Proposals and Publishing Tweet This
Charlotte: What are some of the steps you took to get Midlife Is Not a Crisis published? How did you choose your publisher? What do you think worked well with this your chosen publishing path as opposed to other methods, such as self-publishing? Any lessons learned or advice for our readers?
Virginia: Oy vey! It was a long process. I started putting together a proposal for the book back in 2005 or 2006; I may have been playing around with the idea earlier. At one point my agent introduced me to this terrific editor at a big publishing house. She loved my idea and the proposal and wanted to do the book but someone above her rejected it (I didn’t have a big enough brand). The agent wasn’t necessarily helping after that so I then sent it to various other publishing houses and although many liked the idea they weren’t open to astrology.
Meanwhile I kept writing more chapters and adding to the book. I figured I would have to self-publish. I like the idea of self- publishing but I wasn’t looking forward to the whole business of doing it and all that it involved; it felt daunting. Then in 2015 synchronicity (or the stars) took over. Friends of mine were at a book fair and met someone from Weiser / Redwheel. They were actually looking for astrology books. How refreshing! These friends called me and encouraged me to reach out to this person which I did. After that everything unfolded quickly and easily. It’s all about the timing!
Astrology has taught me many things but perhaps the most important thing is that we all have our own individual timing. A rose is no less than a daffodil because it blooms later in the season. It’s so important to be patient and trust your own process. You hang in. You don’t give up. You do the work and you keep moving in the direction of your dreams. In the end, even crawling will get you there.
Virginia: My website is: virginiabellastrology.com
Or on Facebook at Virginia Bell Astrology.