My dream for each year is that it’ll feel like this; lying on a lilo (an inflatable mattress or floatie), with the sun shining and a gentle breeze, floating down the river en route to a patch of luscious grass encircled by a grove of ancient trees. In my mind, there’s a picnic all set up with delicious food, a thermos of green tea or a great bottle of chilled wine, fantastic company, a good book and magazines to flick through, as well as cushions and a light blanket to encourage napping after lunch.
Ideally that’s how I want every year of my life to feel.
2018 did not feel like that. It was more like sailing a small, rickety skiff on a tumultuous sea, where at times I was completely focused on staying in the boat and not capsizing, and at others I was competently sailing through rough waters. I was constantly being pulled toward expansion and while I rode the waves without much resistance, there wasn’t a lot of break from the persistent movement of the ocean.
Thematically it was a year of coming to know that I could take on the big waves, rather than one of benefitting from great preparation and therefore, being able to enjoy a pleasant ride down a beautiful river.
Lots of lessons unfolded as a consequence.
Find a way to become visible to yourself
At the beginning of this year I got really clear on the kind of career I wanted to build for myself. I knew how I would grow the School of Visibility and I resolved that I was finally ready to not just write, but to actually publish a book. It’s the kind of thing I’ve talked about for a few years (and dreamt about my whole life) and to which I’ve made more than a few attempts, but invariably things have gotten in the way; having babies, making money, things like that.
So this year I set aside time to go on a week long writer’s retreat to build some momentum with the writing process. In that time I completed about 15,000 words and have subsequently completely another 5,000 in dribs and drabs where I could create the time in my regular schedule. Therefore, I’m about 20,000 words in and three quarters of the way through my book proposal.
I feel really happy with the way I’ve set myself up for 2019 vis-a-vis writing and publishing. In fact, I feel like I’m much closer to having a ‘lilo year’ with regard to realising my writing goals.
From a visibility standpoint, the big challenge was deciding how intimate I wanted to be in my story telling. The issue of how much of my personal life to share, the balance between the political and the personal, between story telling and coaching, and the appropriate form the writing should take – memoir, literary non-fiction, collective memoir, feminist manifesto, or personal development book – have all been matters that required thought, consideration, and experimentation.
Here’s what stopped me from falling into a mind palace of procrastination with all of that; I didn’t put pressure on myself to have all the answers. At the points where the book proposal required some manner of certainty that I didn’t yet have, rather than trying to think it through, I’d just write another chapter so the book could reveal the answer to me.
What enabled me to do that was the firm belief that the book is already in form and is just waiting for me to type it out. My experience is that before the words have found their way onto a page, books call to you. They invite you to enter into a relationship with them. To be their advocate. To agree that you will partner with them and allow yourself to be shown what it is that needs to be expressed.
Given that the book already knows what form it needs to take, the best way for me to see it, is to write it. I think best when I write. Ideas reveal themselves to me through the writing process. Parts of myself are made visible once they’ve been laid out on a page.
So that’s the process I settled upon; writing so that I might see.
As I wrote, more clarity would unfold and then I’d turn back to the book proposal and keep going.
LESSON 1: Writers find their solutions through the act of writing. It’s impossible to pre-think it all. At some point you just have to write something, anything, and work out the rest as you go.
LESSON 2: The process of becoming visible is that of finding a way for aspects of yourself and your ideas to become apparent to you. Once they are made visible, you’re then able to share them with others.
Get yourself a mentor
Taking the approach of being guided by a book and bringing that to form, means that sometimes you find yourself writing about personal things you’d prefer stayed private. There are times when the book needs a particular story to be told so that it can become the best version of itself. In those moments it invites you to bring forth stories you don’t necessarily want to share.
This tussle has unseated me many times this year, by which I mean that I literally couldn’t stay seated on my chair I was so uncomfortable with what was being written on the page. In those moments I was so grateful for all the personal development tools I’ve learned and taught over the years. I used them to steady myself, I sat back down in the chair, and I kept going.
Through it all, my constant inquiry has been this; what am I comfortable with making visible and what am I not?
I’ve had to unpack stories around feeling obligated to share all parts of me; a story that’s seeped into my psyche through the over-sharing culture of social media we’re all immersed in. I also has to unpack stories around what people might or might not say or think about me if I shared deeper parts of myself.
To work through this, I turned to my ‘self-appointed mentor from afar’, Roxanne Gay. One of the things I so admire about Roxanne, apart from her fierce intellect, is the fact that she’s so open on the page. She says things that many don’t have the courage to say. She’s very generous with her readers when it comes sharing deep vulnerabilities. Her sensitivity is clear in her writing. I see how uncomfortable it must feel to her, to have particular parts of her life on display. I also see how committed she is to story telling, to the words that need to be spoken, to the books that are working through her. And I feel her courage to meet them and create the best possible version of the book that she can. So throughout this year, each time I grappled with my own visibility fears, I would ask myself this clarifying question; ‘What would Roxanne do?’
My other ‘mentor from afar’ is Alice Walker. I particularly love her non-fiction work and have for many years. That disarming combination of emotional and intellectual intelligence, of taking a stand on big, political issues like feminism and race, while simultaneously drawing the reader very close so that they might understand the precise meaning of the phrase ‘the personal is political’, is exactly what I aspire to in my own writing. (I love Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’ for the same reason.)
When I’m lost in my own writing, I seek support through the works of Alice Walker and Roxanne Gay. I reflect on their courage – particularly as women of colour – to keep speaking up despite the opposition they’ve faced over the years. I think about what it takes to continue to give voice to ideas and opinions despite the silencing effect of intersecting layers of oppression, and I feel honoured to sit in the presence of such strength and resilience. I find comfort, sisterhood, inspiration, and insight in their words and most of all I’m reminded of what a gift it is you give to the world by choosing to share your thoughts on a page. After all of that, I energetically reconnect with the book itself and with the women who are waiting for me to publish my books and I sit back down and keep writing.
It’s in this way that my mentors from afar help me every single day to work through my visibility blocks as an author, as a woman, as a feminist, as a private person who feels not only drawn, but compelled, to share my ideas and stories in public spaces.
I’m sure in person mentors are incredibly helpful too, but for me, these women are my guiding light.
LESSON 3: Find the women who are already visible in a way that resonates with you and immerse yourself in their company. Perhaps that’s by meeting them regularly in person or perhaps it’s by reading their books, blogs, watching their videos, or listening to their podcast.
Visibility requires patience
In the process of writing my book this year, I’ve learned to be patient with my goals. To respect what it takes to bring them to light.
In the past I’ve judged myself for not taking faster action. For not writing more quickly. For not just producing something immediately.
I now think very differently about all of that. I see the richness of the book I’m able to write as a result of living my life fully and deeply. There’s more wisdom and articulation possible now which wasn’t available before. I certainly could have published other books in the past but for many years I knew I wasn’t ready.
I’m now capable of writing a book that’s worthy of me and that’s what I’ve been working toward all these years.
So I’ve stopped judging the process for taking what I’d formerly deemed as ‘too long’. I’m comfortable with the fact that big goals take commitment. That good books take time to write and that there’s a process that needs honouring in all of that.
In addition to actually writing, I’ve read a lot of background material this year. I’ve shared many thoughts with people on my fb page and I’ve listened to other women’s opinions. I’ve noticed what resonates and what doesn’t. This is all part of the process. I’m choosing to write a book that’s well researched, that speaks with a unique voice, and that does the very thing I admire in my mentors from afar; draws that explicit line between the personal and the political. There’s a skill to doing that well. It takes time to get it right.
So rather than criticising myself for not moving faster, I’m sitting in the awareness that taking the time to get it right is a way of honouring what needs to be said. Respecting it and appreciating its value.
That doesn’t mean sitting on my hands and procrastinating for years. It doesn’t mean falling into perfectionism so the thing is never finished. But it doesn’t mean racing through it either. I’d rather write a book every three or four years which is fantastic, than write one every year that people forget about the minute they finish reading it.
Giving myself time to become both the woman and the writer I was born to be has taken time. The happier I become with the woman I’ve become, the happier I become with sharing words on a page. Although there a millions of books published each year and most of them are published and forgotten soon afterwards, to me a book is a permanent thing. It remains in form for a long time. So I’m conscious of the forms I want to create and leave on the planet. I want to leave words that heal and don’t do harm, that unearth new understandings rather than reinforce old consciousness. Books are part of my sacred offering to the world and I approach them in the same way that people place their pujas on the River Ganga. With a deep reverence and clear intention.
I’ve had to become a certain kind of woman to be able to take this approach. I’ve had to find peace within myself. I’ve had to become happy with the woman I am. Content in my own presence. Because its this woman’s words that I want to hear. It’s the views she’s formed and the wisdom she’s gained through decades of stretch and strain, that I want to learn from.
That’s the kind of visibility that I value in this world. It’s the kind of visibility that matters to me.
LESSON 4: You are in the process of becoming. That doesn’t require push or rush. It requires patience and compassion. These qualities form the path to being visible in a way that truly matters.
NB: stay tuned for Visibility Lessons from 2018, part 2: Australian Women’s Day. To have it delivered directly to your inbox, leave your details below. You’ll gain free training around three simple strategies you can use to confidently speak up in the world in a way that feels natural to you, and you’ll receive notices about the latest School of Visibility articles as they’re published on the blog.