Before Beginning the Book
Derek: What was the inspiration behind Leadership Flow? And what was your intention for this leadership book?
Peri: Like many things, the initial inspiration seems to be one thing and then as the process unfolds other layers of inspiration appear. A couple of the early seeds behind writing the book were the fact I found it hard—if not impossible—to find leadership books that talked about leadership from the “inside out” and connected the health of our planet and spirituality with the attributes it takes to be effective.
When I was an associate professor at Regis University it was very hard to find good resources to use in my leadership classes. Another reason was the constant question from clients, “Where can I read more about this?” when I would coach and teach the more internal dynamics of leadership. And lastly, there was a persistent, inner voice that kept saying, “It is time.”
Knowing your Target Audience
Derek: Who did you write the book for and what do you hope readers will get out of reading Leadership Flow?
Peri: The target audience is mid-career and senior professionals who have developed real questions about the level of challenges we are facing and how to truly have an impact without totally sacrificing their own health and sanity in the process. Leaders who are self-aware enough to know that the ways we are doing things no longer work and are seeking new ways of thinking about both leading and living.
Millennial’s are also a target audience because of their direct search for more holistic and integrated lives where work is not the sole purpose and where loyalty is earned by sharing leadership instead of more hierarchical structures. It is because of these audiences that I will most likely do an audiobook and I am creating a 90 second YouTube trailer about the book.
Derek: The format draws inspiration from the seven paths discussed in Leadership Flow. Did you start writing with that in mind? Were there any “aha moments” when it comes to the book’s structure?
Peri: This question makes me laugh!
I am an experiential learner so the first couple of versions of the book didn’t have the Seven Directions in them at all. My first draft was written during Lisa’s 8 week Bring Your Book to Life® class and one of the things she advocated was simply to write. So, I did! And 8 weeks later I had a full manuscript. I gave this to my father and a very close friend to read. They both, in their own ways, said “try again.”
The Seven Directions came a few years later when, in total frustration about a good organizing structure for all the material I had written, I said to my then book coach/agent, “Oh for god’s sake, what I am talking about is the Seven Directions. Everybody knows what these are…” And she, like I guess most people, didn’t know about them. We decided that I ought to use these as the organizing structure and out popped the book in about three weeks! I guess structure does make a difference.
Derek: Your personal stories’ play a meaningful role in your pedagogy; how did you determine the specific stories to tell?
Peri: Stories, I believe, connect the head and the heart. They convey most basic truths in an accessible and heart-opening way. So, using stories, my own and others, was always going to be the heart and soul of the book. I have a good memory for stories told by others. And I made sure to go back to those who have stories in the book to be sure my memory was accurate and to let them make changes or corrections. As far as the specific stories, once I had the structure of the Seven Directions, certain stories seemed a natural fit to illustrate one or another of the directions.
Advice for writing a leadership book Tweet This
Derek: What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are just getting started with writing a leadership book? What should they know before they even begin writing?
Peri: Hmmm, this one is tricky because I suspect every person who decides to write a book will have a different set of challenges based on their own ways of thinking and working. For me, the biggest shifts I had to make were in the “stories” I told myself about how writing was supposed to work. Like, “If I am really in the flow the words will come out perfectly and I will not have to do any editing or revising!” Be prepared for way more rewriting and revising and rereading and being really honest when something is not good even if you really love it.
The two other things are similar to what it takes to get good at any art: practice, practice, practice and give yourself as much of a long-time arc than you think you’ll need to develop your skill. And what I have written here I think applies to writing any book—I am not sure if there is anything I would say about a leadership book in particular. At the moment I can’t think of anything.
Getting in the Zone
Derek: What did a typical writing day or writing session look like for you and how did you get into the writing “zone”?
Peri: My way was to block out two hours every day–9-11–and write. Monday–Friday, I would sit down and write. As time went on, those hours became devoted to revising, rereading, editing, etc. And there were times when I felt stuck, and I would go for a walk during this same block of time and usually the ideas would begin to flow and then when I got home I sat down and wrote what had come on my walks. A specific structure with dedicated time worked well. And my other professional work had to fit around these hours. So, writing became the first priority.
Facing Writing Roadblocks
Derek: When you first started writing were there any unexpected challenges or roadblocks? If so, how did you address them?
Peri: I think I have mostly addressed the answer to this question above about structure. The biggest challenge was in finding a right organizing structure. And the second biggest challenge was letting go of thinking the writing should be perfect first time it hits the page. It seems to takes a lot of humility to become objective about your writing and be willing to acknowledge when you need to simply delete things and start over.
Working with Beta Readers
Derek: Who was your most prominent critic? If so, how did they help you improve the book, what did they say? [or if that’s not relevant–did you work with Beta readers?] What was that process like and what kind of feedback did they give you to improve the book?
Peri: My Beta readers were close friends whom I could trust to be honest and I deliberately chose people of different ages, stages and professions. My biggest gift came from a young man who absolutely loved the book…and brought up the issue of “a white woman writing about a Native American symbol.” At that point, the introduction to the book was quite short and vague about my own background experience. His comments about the very early pages of the book caused me to completely shift the way the book opens, turn it into a prologue and fully claim my reasons for using the Seven Directions. It was a very deep shift inside and once I made it, the words flowed easily onto the page.
I received super valuable feedback from all 4 of my beta readers, virtually all of which I incorporated–and because some of the feedback involved re-interviewing some folks and deepening their stories I had to get over my resistance to doing this extra work. In the end, it made for a much better read.
Finding your Authentic Voice
Derek: How did you find your authentic voice as a writer?
Peri: Great question. Not exactly sure but it somehow relates to the dance between identifying my audience and staying true to the book that was seeking to come through me. Because I chose to write what I would call a “bridge book”–a book seeking to build a bridge between the worlds of nature and spirituality and their direct link to the world of business–it was at times a challenge to hold these two different “voices.” To make the book concrete and practical enough to be useful to business professionals—while not underplaying the critical role of spirituality and nature—really does play in being effective. And to know that in essence the book will be valuable to many people, lots of whom will have no connection to the business world at all.
Feedback is also really important. And it has to come at the right time so that I could think in new ways and not lose the thread of meaning which is specifically my own. Too much feedback or at certain points when I was not quite ready to hear it would cause me to lose my own voice. When I would go back into the revising I could hear places where it had been lost and I had to seek to rewrite those places.
Derek: You share a very intimate scene between your mother and you while on her death bed. What was it like to write about this monumental moment in your life? Did you do anything to prepare for it? What was it like reliving that experience through your writing? Did the act of writing about it add anything to that experience?
Peri: When the manuscript was basically done, my mother was still living but had been on hospice for some time so this story was a different one than is in the final book. Rewriting those pages after she died happened rather spontaneously when I was doing an editing pass and I found it oddly easy and it flowed out very naturally. I did cry when I wrote it and it was very tender to do so. I had a very clear and powerful relationship with my mother during those last years of her life, so in some respects it was a gift from her to be able to share it in the book.
Derek: Did your writing style change throughout your time writing? If so, can you describe that process?
Peri: I think the main way my writing style changed throughout the seven years of getting a book to print was working on the transition spaces and segues between stories and themes. I had to really try to be as clear as possible to link concepts and ideas as opposed to having really big leaps between one idea and the next. And this is still a work in process!
Specific stylistic selections
Derek: While many of the leadership book’s stories are personal, often, you incorporate others, such as David, the Intel, and fab 11 factory manager, who helped highlight the impact of leaning into your aptitudes. What were the challenges when it came to finding these stories? How did you become aware of them in the first place? What was the thought process in choosing the specific stories that you did?
Peri: Stories are the heart and soul of the book. They are a big part of the way I train, coach and consult. Storytelling is a powerful tool for learning and it keeps the head and heart connected. So I have lots of stories which I have gathered throughout my years of working with people. I remember the stories and when I chose to use one I would go back to the person whose story it was and have them read it for accuracy and any editing. There are a few stories in the book that have a name changed or had a slightly different path but the vast majority were taken directly from my years of leading, coaching and consulting.
Choosing where to place them in the manuscript was linked to the directions and which stories seem most illustrative of the ideas I was seeking to convey. In fact, it was often the stories which formed the backbone of a chapter and then the work was linking them in a larger flow.
Including Interactive Features
Derek: Exercises that call your reader to explore, experiment and engage are scattered throughout Leadership Flow. Will you shed light on the creation of these interactive features and how they are especially impactful for a leadership book?
Peri: Including exercises is one way to encourage readers to actually engage with the material directly and concretely. Because the basic message of the book is about a way of life and a lived experience, not an intellectual idea, it seemed important to provide specific starting points to explore. The essence of the book about a different kind of leadership–one that flows inherently from a way of life rather than an outer role or position.
Illustrations for Visual Learners Tweet This
Derek: The seven paths illustration is found in numerous pages, illustrating the particular path in discussion. What role do the illustrations play in helping readers understand and integrate the model?
Peri: I had always intended to have some illustrations in the book because I think many people are visual learners and images help bring the ideas to life. It was one of beta readers suggestions to include the symbol in the corner of all the chapters about the directions so that readers could remind themselves which direction they were exploring as they read. I loved that idea!
Rewards of Writing
Derek: All proceeds from your new book, Leadership Flow, will go to First Nations causes. Can you speak to what prompted that decision?
Peri: The main reason that all proceeds from the book go to First Nations causes is because the basic structure and framework of the book is a First Nations structure. I can’t claim ownership of this and so I also cannot receive money for something that I didn’t create. The book is my own personal interpretation but the Seven Directions are an indigenous symbol. It felt important to have the money be a “give back” to these traditions.
Derek: How has writing Leadership Flow affected your perspective on leadership?
Peri: The main thing writing the book has done is to deepen and clarify my own way of understanding what leadership really looks and feels like when it is authentic.
Derek: How did you apply Leadership Flow‘s teachings to your writing?
Peri: All seven directions are at work when I write–such a fun question again! I pause often; when I get stuck I go for a short walk or sit and simply breath. My body gets stiff if I write for longer than 1-2 hours. My emotions are cues to signal I have a good thread that is worth trying to capture (like with my mother for instance). I have to continually let go of the way I was thinking about something and wait for new inspiration. I listen to the wisdom of the natural world for cues about important ways to frame things. And I stay as close as I can to my own “destiny”–my own way of understanding the world which is what I can offer back.
Derek: What have you heard from your readers? Anything surprising or particularly gratifying?
Peri: It is very early as the book is just coming out. The main thing I am hearing so far is that people are really enjoying it …and I truly loved what you wrote about your own experience of the actual reading of the book let alone the ideas! Your comment about it being “refreshing to read” instead of exhausting makes my heart sing. A big part of the conception of the book was that it would be, as you said, a “meditation,” an experience in the reading of the essence of the books’ ideas. These kinds of comments are truly gratifying to receive.
A Leap of Faith
Derek: One of the tenets of Leadership Flow is taking leaps of faith; in what ways was writing this book a leap of faith?
Peri: That is a lovely connection to make. I suppose anytime a person undertakes writing a book it is, indeed, a real leap of faith. A leap into the unknown of where it will all end up; will it connect with readers; can I put into words the things I feel instinctively; and will it be of lasting value? The one thing that helps me with this leap of faith is the awareness which I bring out in chapter 12 about destiny. “We are known to those we are meant to serve.” I trust that those people who are meant to find it will, and as long as I am sincere in my efforts I can leave the rest up to the universe!
Post Publication and Book PR
Derek: One of my favorite teachings from Leadership Flow is the Pause, but with the new demands on your schedule that promoting a leadership book like this creates, it must be hard to find time and stop. How have you been observing the Pause? How have you balanced that with the new demands of publishing, launching and promoting a leadership book?
Peri: The good news about the Pause is you can do it often and throughout the day. All kinds of simple pauses, like three breaths and a moment when I get into my car before I turn the key. I have taken several specific pauses while writing these answers to you. This practice is such an ingrained one now that I build time into all my days to “stop.” Once you really experience the impact of pausing, it becomes a regular part of the day. I take pauses when I write, when I am on the phone coaching people, when I am standing in a room facilitating…I will simply stop, breathe and wait. And then when I am ready, I continue on.
Derek: Writing a leadership book is one thing, but getting it out there to readers is another. What are you doing to reach your readers and sell books?
Peri: I did hire a publicist to work with me and he has been very helpful in finding avenues to get the word out: interviews, assisting with a couple of bookstore launches, putting it out in many different places for review, etc. I have posted it on my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and have reached out specifically to friends and colleagues. I also am thinking of the arc of getting the word out in terms of a few years rather than a few months. Longer arc thinking really helps me not get too overwhelmed right at the start!
When Considering a Hybrid Publisher…Tweet This
Derek: You worked with She Writes Press, a Hybrid publisher. What went into choosing She Writes Press? What advice would you have for a writer considering a hybrid publisher like them?
Peri: I spent almost a year seeking out traditional publishers and although I had very good feedback on the content of the book, my platform–particularly when it came to social media–was not big enough. When we sought out She Writes Press, they were an immediate yes and I felt a deep sense of relief, actually. With a more traditional publisher I could feel myself edging towards trying to promote myself in ways that really don’t interest me–like going to lots of conferences!
The one piece of advice I would give to authors seeking out a hybrid publisher is be very prepared to double, triple and quadruple-check everything. I hired copy editors and then there were proofreaders and even after paying quite a lot of money I found many, many errors and things in the book layout that were still inaccurate. This was frustrating and I really had to come to terms with the fact that I had to keep combing the manuscript for typos and inaccuracies. Otherwise, I found working with She Writes to be very valuable and they go out of their way to help emerging authors get their books out into the world.
Derek: Will we see another book from you?
I don’t think so! But who knows. If, indeed, the spirit moves again and this is what life would have me do, I know a whole lot more about what I am in for if I go for a second book.
About Peri Chickering
Peri is a coach, consultant, herbalist and leadership educator. She holds a master’s degree in human development and a PhD in human and organizational systems. Situated in the small town of Hancock, New Hampshire, she, her husband, their cat, and two horses steward 55 acres of beautiful woodlands passed down from her grandmother.