Dreaming of Writing a Book for Women of Color
Claire: Kelsey, I loved reading Decolonizing the Body; it has such a powerful, healing message for women of color. You have taught women of color about the power of somatics and embracing their bodies through your workshops and coaching for years. When did you first decide to start writing this book?
Kelsey: Hi Claire, thank you so much. I have long wanted to write a book. I was looking back at some of my old journals, and I was both surprised (and not surprised) that this dream stretches back to my adolescence. The thing is, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I have a magazine journalist background and always thought I would write something in the creative non-fiction genre. In fact, I started my coaching practice to have more time to write. I was tickled when an editor familiar with my work as a coach approached me to write a book about the program I launched called Decolonizing the Body. I was like, yes! That was in early 2020 and things unfolded from there.
The Writing Process
Claire: Can you share a little about your writing process? Do you prefer writing a little a day or writing big chunks at a time? Do you edit as you go or revise once you’re finished?
Kelsey: I balanced writing and working with clients. I had roughly two weeks per month to write. During writing weeks, I used the Pomodoro app for long writing jogs. My goal on these days was 6 hours of writing per day. Some days I hit that and some days I didn’t. I worked with my editor to edit sections of the book at a time. I submitted early drafts of the manuscript in 3 batches. They would send their feedback and then I would incorporate it. This was for more developmental big-picture edits. Once the manuscript was completed, I worked with another editor to fine-tune the tone.
Book Cover Design
Claire: Decolonizing the Body has a beautiful cover that reflects the book’s message. What was your experience working with a cover designer to create this image? Did you get to have any creative input?
Kelsey: I love the cover as well! Amy Shoup, who designed it, did such a good job capturing the feel of the book. It ties in seamlessly with my overall brand colors and design. A part of me wonders if the design team checked out my website and branding beforehand, but we didn’t have any conversations about the cover before they sent over options. Luckily, I loved all three. I sent them to friends and family for feedback, and the cover we went with was the clear winner. I think I got lucky on this front.
Choosing a Foreword Writer
Claire: Christena Cleveland, author of God is a Black Woman wrote the foreword for Decolonizing the Body. Can you share more about the process of asking someone to write the foreword and how much direction you gave them about content if any?
Kelsey: I was excited about the prospect of a foreword writer and initially not sure whom to ask. Reaching out to Christena came to me in a dream. Many of the book’s contents floated to me in that nether region between being asleep and awake. One thing I’m taking away from the creative process is how fertile that space is for me.
Christena had participated in a somatics class I taught in Oakland years ago. She was also in a cohort of the Decolonizing the Body virtual program I lead. Because she is familiar with my work, she didn’t need direction. I asked, and she gave me an enthusiastic “Yes.” Receiving that response was so affirming and exciting. I sent her an early manuscript of the book and she wrote a gorgeous foreword. I’m so delighted that this powerful image of Harriet Tubman is what will first greet readers when they open the book. Working with her was truly a highlight. I feel incredibly grateful and blessed.
Poetic Writing for Bodily Awareness
Claire: You derived some ideas and practices in Decolonizing the Body from the lessons and courses you initially taught in person. What are the challenges of conveying physical awareness through a static medium such as writing?
Kelsey: Great question. It’s hard. Embodied practices put us more into our right brain, while reading is typically a more left-brain activity. I knew this would be a challenge, so I peppered guided audio practices that readers can access through a link throughout the book. I hope they help folks slow down while reading the book and transform their learning into their own embodiment. I also tried, where I could, to include more poetic writing. I’ve found poetry can help convey what is happening in our bodies. So it points toward the ineffable.
Get Your Writing Done Program Experience
Claire: Can you share a bit about your process of writing and publishing the book? I know you were in Lisa Tener’s Get Your Writing Done program in the early stages of writing an article that went viral and led to the book. How was that program helpful? Did it influence your writing practices at all?
Kelsey: Yes! I mentioned that I used the Pomodoro app in the writing process. I don’t think that would have occurred without Lisa’s program. In Get Your Writing Done, I saw how important it is to write for a period and then move the body or take a break for a period. That sensibility also aligns with my values around the importance of including our bodies and making more space for their needs in our day-to-day lives.
Claire: Lisa mentioned that the original article went viral and led to the book deal. Can you share the story with our readers?
Kelsey: Yes, I wrote a viral article that helped build my audience. At the same time, I was creating the Decolonizing the Body course to give folks an easy entry to this work. The course caught the eye of my publisher [New Harbinger Publications], who then reached out to me to see if I was interested in writing a book. So it’s amazing how each step was so important to get to this point, though I didn’t necessarily recognize that at the time.
Publishing an Audiobook
Claire: The flow and tone of your writing have a soothing, poetic, almost meditative quality. I know the book offers links to guided audio versions of some of the somatic exercises in the book, but are you considering publishing Decolonizing the Body as an audiobook as well?
Kelsey: Thank you. Yes, I would love to! That depends on the publisher, though.
Preparing to Write for Women of Color
Claire: In the “Resources” section of your book, you share numerous resources that have helped shape your views on topics such as colonialism, racial and cultural identity, body positivity, spiritual practices and more. What books, podcasts, or articles have helped prepare you for writing and publishing a book?
Kelsey: I didn’t explore any resources on this front. Other than Lisa’s class, I just sat down and did my best.
Building an Author Platform
Claire: Besides writing for publications like The Arrow, you also have a blog on your website. What are some other ways you create community and build your author platform?
Kelsey: I lead a free class for women of color on the second Thursday of the month, which has been a great way to introduce folks to how I work. I think sending out a regular newsletter also helps. I also say yes to pretty much all podcast requests.
Claire: Throughout the book you have several journaling prompts. Do you journal often? How does journaling spark your creative process as a writer?
Kelsey: Journaling and I go way back. I’ve kept a journal since I was 14. I don’t necessarily journal for creative ideas, though. It feels more like a space for reflection, synthesizing, and deepening. In the book, I hoped to offer this space as a place to explore the themes arising in readers’ personal lives around the book’s contents. The liminal space between awake and asleep is much more fruitful for my creativity.
Breaking Down Imposter Syndrome
Claire: You have a really insightful passage on the pervasive nature of imposter syndrome amongst accomplished, educated women of color. What advice would you give professional women considering writing a book in their field of expertise but struggling with imposter syndrome?
Kelsey: First, you are not alone. Doubting your abilities or believing you need more training or qualifications is, in many ways, the norm for marginalized bodies longing to take up space, be seen, recognized, or be more fully expressed. We might want to wait until we feel ready, but that day never comes. There’s always just one more thing.
I would ask, what would your ancestors want for you right now? What are you willing to risk for a more liberated future? Maybe not for yourself but for those who will come after you?
This larger perspective can help us understand the historical context of what’s stymying us and inspire us to make a brave choice. Rather than following the voice that says you’re not enough, what would it look like to follow the voice whispering another possibility: that you are enough and you are ready? That voice of doubt may never go away, but as we stop trusting and following it, it loses some of its hold over us.
About the Author
Kelsey Blackwell, MS, is a cultural somatics practitioner and author dedicated to supporting women of color to trust and follow the guidance of the body so we may powerfully radiate our worth, dignity and wisdom in a world that sorely needs this brilliance. As a facilitator, coach and speaker, she has brought abolitionist embodied practices to such diverse groups as riders on Bay Area Rapid Transit trains to students at Stanford University to the offices of LinkedIn. She works 1:1 with clients and leads the 8-week group program, Decolonizing the Body. In addition to being impactful, Kelsey believes working towards personal and collective liberation must also bring joy. She lives in San Francisco, CA.