Many memoirists start out writing in a journal and end up writing a memoir. That was the case for Linda Carvelli, interviewed here by Stuart Horwitz, author of Finish Your Book in Three Drafts.
Stuart: When we first met, Linda, you weren’t sure whether you could identify yourself as a “writer”—or perhaps we should capitalize that: Writer. I think a lot of writers have that problem and it can slow their initial growth. Was this how it was for you?
Linda: Whether for school, work, or personal, I’ve always liked to write. But I noticed one thing—I only wrote in my journal when life was hard…when I felt sad, mad, or confused. Fortunately or unfortunately, for over ten years after turning 30, my life was really hard….which meant I had a lot of journals!
Stuart: So what was your next step with these journals, did you try to find a trusted reader to help you analyze what you had or take some classes locally?
Linda: I had never attended formal writing classes outside of high school and college until I was forty years old, right after my sister died of breast cancer. My writing instructor and fellow classmates gave me the courage I never knew I had and they taught me the art of storytelling. Being surrounded by writers reminded me of a long forgotten goal I had to write a book.
Stuart: One of the things I notice with memoir writers is their reticence to share the first draft…even to write the first draft. It just contains so many scary and unpleasant and maybe not-so-nice things that could get them sued. I usually recommend for writers to write it all out at least once and then worry about what they can and can’t use. But you pivoted with this material pretty easily, though, right?
Linda: I never imagined that my life would be the topic, but as I reviewed my journals and continued to generate material in my classes, I realized I had a story to share that may help others dealing with difficult life situations.
I clearly remember following your advice and writing EVERYTHING…getting it all out… for the first draft. And then, with each revision, I reminded myself why I was writing the book…to help others face life’s many challenges by seeking new ways…positive ways of perceiving the bad situation.
So, I practiced what I preached and I became a little more aware of my own thoughts, actions, and behavior. The end result is a memoir focused on resilience: not being a victim, blaming others or getting revenge.
It’s powerful to experience this shift in mindset and it happened because I allowed myself to release the raw emotion (in the first draft), step back, and see the situation through a different lens.
Stuart: You had a day job—that kind of slowed you down, right?
Linda: Well, I had dedicated more than twenty years of my life to corporate America becoming a senior vice president and expert project manager in technology. But then I became a statistic in one of the semi-annual downsizing efforts…so I didn’t have to worry about the j-o-b anymore!
In all seriousness, that was coupled with an intense medical scare (I’m a fourteen year breast cancer survivor), which made me wonder if I was meant to be doing something else with my life.
It was the internal voice nagging at me and my fiancé’s sincere encouragement that helped me decide it was time to write a book.
Stuart: Oh, so then you wrote the book?
Linda: Hardly! I had no idea where to start or what that process looked like…until I met book coach Lisa Tener.
With Lisa’s experience and guidance, I gained clarity, inspiration, and confidence using her “Meet Your Muse” visualization technique.
Like I said earlier, I gained insight when I allowed myself to sit back and reflect on an experience.
Lisa’s patience, compassion, and insight provides the space to do this.
Both one-on-one and in her workshop, I felt surrounded by like-minded writers and free to be me, if that makes sense. Lisa’s creativity still continues to inspire me!
Given the nature of my project and my long term goals, Lisa introduced me to a writing coach with extensive memoir experience. One of the best life decisions I have ever made is hiring Stuart Horwitz.
Stuart: Oh, goodie! I hoped we were going to talk about me. But actually, we did work together extremely well—where do you think that chemistry came from?
Linda: I had built my first career on two of my most prominent personality traits (and sometimes curses)…planning and process. You coached me using your process, the Book Architecture Method (BAM…and that’s louder and more powerful than when Emeril says it). And we were able to treat my book like any other project I had managed…with a set of tasks and deadlines.
Stuart: We worked very well through a three draft process.
Sometimes writers are more pantsers—they write from the seat of their pants Tweet This—and anything that looks or feels like outlining or analysis feels bloodless to them. But knowing what draft you are in, and the spirit with which to undertake each separate draft can make all the difference.
Linda: I’m the writer who does both…I’m a planner, remember, so I need to have some inkling of where I’m going and then I’ll allow myself to just write (from the seat of my pants or diarrhea of the fingertips) knowing that I can revise later.
You assigned me a (pretty aggressive) weekly word count quota so this freedom to just write worked for me to hit my numbers. You helped advance my writing skill with your thoughtful feedback, taught me the difference between drafts one, two, and three, uncovered my book’s theme, validated the book’s structure and quality, and, most important, kept me sane and always laughing.
Stuart: As I recall, we didn’t really hit writer’s block?
Linda: I didn’t get a lot of writer’s block because I wasn’t making up a story…I mean, I knew the characters and what happened next. I needed feedback on character development, inconsistent storylines, timing, and overall writing quality, when to slow down and go deeper so the readers could really feel the life I lived or when to hurry up so the readers wouldn’t fall asleep with mundane details. But I wasn’t at a loss for the details.
In fact, writing a memoir was like watching my life as a movie. I discovered a personal transformation I never knew had happened and actually introduced myself to the newest version of me!
My book is now the prominent marketing tool for my life coaching business where I work with clients to discover new ways of looking at life’s many challenges, create more options to achieve goals, and move forward with confidence and courage.
Stuart: That is so cool! I didn’t know you were doing that. What other unexpected joys has the release of Perfectly Negative brought you? How has the book been received in your eyes?
Linda: The book was released on April 29th and I’ve been pleasantly surprised (or maybe relieved) by the personal feedback and five-star reviews.
When I set out to write the book, my goal was always to inspire people to push through life’s lemons and spread a message of hope and healing.
It wasn’t until my theme emerged that I truly found meaning behind ten years of pure heartache (and hell). Hearing and seeing how my story is helping others validates, for me, that I didn’t go through all that pain for nothing.
It reminds me of my life purpose…to exemplify resilience…and gives me the passion to get out of bed every day so I can encourage even one person who is struggling that day…one person who needs to believe that “everything happens for a reason, we just don’t get the reason with the thing.”
Stuart: I remember the day you hit on that! It has been marvelous watching this whole journey with you — thanks for taking the time today to talk to us and the very best of success with Perfectly Negative…and its sequel?
Linda: Thanks Stuart! I get asked that question a lot now. And it’s flattering, but it reminds of when, at my first wedding, everyone asked when I was going to have a baby. And then, if I had had a child, I imagine them asking me when I would have my second one, and so on….
In the case of the book question though, I do want to write another one and although I do smell something fermenting within and around me, it hasn’t reached its maximum boil yet. Maybe I’ll start writing my sad, mad, and confused thoughts in my journal more often…that seemed to work the last time.
Linda Carvelli is a certified life coach helping clients adapt to and transition through their ever-changing lives. She works with them to discover a new perspective, create a personal solution, design a plan, and move forward with confidence and courage while they live a purpose-filled life. She published her debut memoir, Perfectly Negative: How I Learned to Embrace Life’s Lemons Lessons, in April of this year.