Do you ever feel like you’re getting in your own way when trying to get ahead in life, perhaps even in your efforts in writing a book and getting published? Do you find your own negative behaviors sabotaging your efforts – even if you don’t mean to?
Here, Alice McDowell, Ph.D., discusses her book Hidden Treasure, and how you can break out of these patterns and discover the true you. And if you’re writing a book, this could be the information that helps you understand “writing blocks” in a new way, so you can finally break through, complete your book and publish.
Getting Started: The First Steps of Writing a Book Tweet This
Charlotte: What inspired you to write your book, Hidden Treasure? Had you been planning on writing a book or did it come in a moment of inspiration?
Alice: My father died when I was eleven, and ever since then I have wanted to discover the truth about life. I attended graduate school in religious studies and taught courses in this area at Ithaca College for eighteen years. In preparation for a new course in Spirituality and Health, I participated in a four-year program on energetic healing. The most salient part of the program was working with the five personality patterns described in my book. This changed my life and the lives of my fellow classmates. I decided to develop a three-year program called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which is now in its nineteenth year.
Students from all ages and walks of life have experienced life-altering transformation and growth from learning about these personality patterns and doing the exercises to heal or soften them. Witnessing this transformation, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea spurred me to write Hidden Treasure.
Charlotte: What were some of the first steps you took to start writing Hidden Treasure? What did your process of writing a book look like? Can you describe what this looked like both in your everyday process and your long-term writing process?
Alice: It was easy for me to begin writing the book because I had so much material in place, especially from the three-year Hidden Treasure program. Five of the weekends focus on the five patterns described in the book, and every year, the students have written papers on how these patterns have affected their lives. So, the core of the table of contents consists of chapters for each of these patterns. The fun part was thinking of chapter titles that would entice readers to want to know more.
My process involved setting aside several hours each morning to write. I love writing in the morning because it gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment and I try not to let anything interfere with this sacred time. I let what I’ve written simmer while I go about the rest of my day. This prepares me to begin writing the next day.
Behind the Book: Research and Guidance Tweet This
Charlotte: Did writing this book require any additional research or did it come from your personal experience. If it did require research, what did that process look like?
Alice: Even with all the material I had already amassed, I still did some research into background for the personality patterns and how others approached this subject matter.
The lion’s share of additional work involved making the book come alive by incorporating some of the stories from papers written by my students. Lisa Tener, my book writing coach, thought the stories needed to be more vivid and engaging than what they had originally written in their papers. She suggested another writing coach, Kelly Malone, for this task. Oh, no, I anguished, do I have to go back and redo them all? The answer was yes.
This led to a further quandary. How could I add color if I didn’t want anything made up, anything that didn’t come from the students themselves? To solve this problem, Kelly and I devised a plan in which she would read the stories and then ask questions specific to that story.
I took each set of questions back to the students. Some wrote out their answers and others preferred that I record my interview with them. With this method, I was able to enliven the stories without compromising my desire for the truth. I now love the stories—some are funny, some are heartbreaking, and others reveal deep truths.
Charlotte: In your writing process, did you find yourself reaching for outside sources, for advice, influence, support, etc. Or did you find it a more personal self-guided experience?
Alice: I benefitted tremendously from outside sources, especially my coaches, Lisa and Kelly. I was accustomed to academic writing and needed to relax into a more personal style. For instance, Lisa suggested I use the pronoun “you” rather than “we” or “one” to engage the reader more directly. I learned from their editing and believe I’m a better writer as a result.
I reached out to experts in Bioenergetics to make sure the theoretical parts of the book were accurate.
Members of my Sangha were very helpful in working out the wording of the questionnaire. In a lively exchange, we went back and forth, arriving at better, more nuanced wording to make the questions hit home—all the while laughing in the process. The result was a more accurate questionnaire, which I have since tested on other HT classes. Several proofreaders helped to catch any errors before I sent my manuscript to She Writes Press.
Know Your Subject; Know Your Reader! Tweet This
Charlotte: Who did you envision as the audience for Hidden Treasure? Did you envision readers having previous experience with psychology and spirituality? Did you make any specific decisions in your writing to engage that audience—such as a certain tone, language, style, etc.
Alice: The book is perfect for anyone who is interested in personal and spiritual growth. Both the style and content are geared towards readers without any previous experience in spirituality or psychology. Although men and women have benefitted from the Hidden Treasure program, I thought the book might attract more women readers than men since women buy more self-help books. The abundant personal life stories in each chapter were written by men and women from many walks of life, so hopefully they will reach a wide audience.
Charlotte: How do you imagine readers can use Hidden Treasure and the idea of five personality patterns in their daily life? What lessons or insight did you want readers to take away from this book?
Alice: I would like readers to realize that “who they thought they were” is not who they really are. My students are surprised to learn that their behaviors do not come from their true self, but rather from a predictable pattern stemming from some childhood wound. I also hope they’ll realize that these behaviors are often annoying to others and can change. There’s a way out! After realizing who they are not, the book points the way for readers to discover who they really are—the hidden treasure.
Charlotte: Hidden Treasure can feel like a wellness or self-help book, but also includes some academic psychology, as well as some personal anecdotes and examples. What genre would you classify Hidden Treasure?
Alice: I like the BISAC category, Body, Mind & Soul. The book shows how each personality pattern can affect a person’s body and gives exercises that are specifically aimed to heal the body. It engages the mind in learning about these patterns. Some of the ways to heal include spiritual exercises, and the term “hidden treasure” is the Sufi name for the divine within.
The Hook: Engaging and Connecting with Your Readers Tweet This
Charlotte: You include several exercises and practices throughout the book. How did you decide to include these exercises? What effect do you think they have on the reader while they’re reading?
Alice: I have discovered that learning about this subject matter intellectually rarely changes behavior. When concepts largely stay in the head, they don’t reach those deep-seated beliefs buried in the unconscious. Many of the exercises in the book came from the healing school I attended as well as spiritual practices I learned over the years. On occasion, I’ve added other relevant practices to this.
I hope the practices give readers assurance that there is a way to heal and change limiting behaviors. I think doing these exercises with a group is the best way to free yourself of these patterns.
Charlotte: You include something with your book that I’ve never seen before—guidelines for forming a book group to discuss Hidden Treasure. Why did you decide to include this? What do you think is the importance of a book group? How do you think reading and discussing in a group will change the way readers engage with the book?
Alice: Upon knowing that there were exercises for groups at the end of each chapter, Lisa suggested I write a final chapter on next steps. It would include instructions on how to form a group as a way to discover more. I’ve seen participants in the three-year Hidden Treasure program heal as a result of the group experience, especially the love and deep sharing in the group.
Humans long to deeply connect with others, and they’re tired of chit-chat or surface niceties. At one time, families often served this need for connection, but families are so scattered now that this need often goes unmet.
Some of the exercises in the book require a group. This added to my desire to offer readers a way to delve more deeply into the material.
Charlotte: Another detail I’ve never seen included with a book before is the audio book companions you have online, meditations and visualization to accompany the exercises in the different chapters. How did you come up with the idea and develop this audio aspect? Do you think these change the way the reader engages with the hard copy of the book? Do you want readers to use and interact with these recordings in a certain way as they read?
Alice: When I wrote about certain exercises that required guided imagery, I realized that the reader would have to record what I had written to get the full benefit of the exercise. It’s difficult to be glancing at the text and at the same time be sinking deeply into the exercise. For groups, I first suggested one member read the relevant text for the others but knew this person would miss out on the exercise.
I determined that I could solve both these problems by recording the exercises myself. When readers are ready to do one of these exercises, I envision them finding a quiet place to listen to the relevant recording.
After Writing a Book: Responses from Readers Tweet This
Charlotte: What are some of the positive results or responses you’re receiving since writing and promoting Hidden Treasure?
Alice: I have received many enthusiastic responses from those who have read the book. I was especially pleased when Anne Hoye, Dean of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, and Lisa Loustaunau, Director of Education of the Institute of Core Energetics wrote glowing reviews, because these institutions are two of the few who teach these personality patterns. Anne is planning to put my book on the school’s reading list and wants me to speak to the students.
Charlotte: How exciting! Congratulations. How can our readers reach you?
Alice: My website is the best place to start.
Alice McDowell, Ph.D. is a workshop leader, spiritual counselor, and retreat guide. She dedicates herself to helping others to awaken to their true selves, and discover divinity within. She has trained with healers, humanist and transpersonal psychologists, Sufi and Buddhist teachers, and Christian contemplatives.
Readers, do you have any questions or comments about writing? Share them here! If you enjoyed this interview, you may enjoy this author interview on Healing, Faith and Writing with Bob Sawvelle or Lisa Tener’s article on how to start writing your own book.