Nonfiction author and poet Nancy Oelklaus talks about her creative process and the writing of her book, Journey from the Heart, a work that took her almost a decade to write.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
At first the book came in snippets that I wrote in my journal; many of these snippets were poetry. When these snippets started clustering into whole concepts, I consulted a literary agent and laid out the four different directions I was thinking of taking with a book. She said, “Only one of those ideas is marketable.” Of course, I went with that one and worked on the manuscript for about a year when I became utterly convinced there was a second book. So I started that one. Then I had two manuscripts. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning when I awoke to the realization that these two books were merging. I spent most of the day at my computer, cutting and pasting. Words, sentences, whole chapters were flying past me; my memory of that day is a blur. I’ll never know how the two manuscripts came together or how I made the choices I made. But when the day was done, I had a book!
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
As a child, I was an avid reader of poetry. I loved to sit in my room with my mother’s high school literature book in my lap, reading the poetry out loud. I loved the sound of poetry. Still do. I remember a time in the sixth grade when the teacher read “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes to us. It was one of my favorites, and I knew it by heart. I guess I was moving my lips to the sound of it as the teacher read aloud because she stopped, looked at me, and in astonishment asked, “Do you know this poem by memory?” I did.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
This book took ten years for the total process—about eight years to write, one and a half to edit and find a publisher, and another six to eight months in working with the publisher to bring it to the market.
Have you ever suffered from writer's block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
For decades I repressed my creativity. As I look back at journals, I see a wasteland with flashes of inspiration. During most of this time I was also repressing my feelings, just trying to do and not feel. Then there came a day, after I had begun to get in touch with my feelings, when poetry started rushing out of me. At one time so many poems were coming that I carried a notebook in the car and wrote at stoplights or in parking lots. It just kept coming. Today I write in my journal every morning. I write an article at least once a month, and I’m almost ready to start writing my second book. But I don’t force my writing. I don’t put myself in positions where I have deadlines. For example, a local magazine publishes one of my pieces every other month. So I gave the editor about thirty pieces from which she can select as she sees fit. The short answer is that releasing emotion releases creativity for me, and I have less of a problem with “writer’s block” than I do with “writer’s gush.” I respect divine right timing. And I have conversation with my inspiration, asking it to make me responsive to what needs to be written—but please don’t wake me up in the middle of the night. Let it be written during daylight hours when I’m at my best, especially in the early morning.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?
After the birth of my first child, I looked out the window one rainy morning and thought to myself, “Someday I will be an author and work from my home.” That was about 40 years ago. In the meantime, I had a great career in education, which I left in 2000 to become an executive coach, working with people to improve their leadership. Since 2000 I have refined my coaching model and now work with leaders to be more authentic and learn how to manage the energy of power. I do coaching in my home office, for the most part, occasionally traveling for speaking engagements or group facilitations.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
I was fortunate to work with an agent for the first year of my search for a publisher. She was taking my proposal to major publishers, who were not interested in first-time authors. After a year had passed I had the great good fortune to meet Irene Watson, owner of Reader Views, who had connections to small publishing houses. Moreover, she had services for authors that included editing. When I smugly told her that my manuscript wouldn’t need editing–I had worked with a literary consultant for a year and, after all, my master’s degree was in English!–she just smiled and said, “Your manuscript needs editing.” So I put my ego in check and hired the editor she recommended. Ultimately, after my publisher read the manuscript, his first words to me were “Your manuscript is excellently edited. And I like the content, too.” But notice what he named first. Do anything you can to make life easier for your publisher. Be willing to follow his advice.
In a nutshell, for novice authors I say hire Irene Watson to help you.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Journey From Head To Heart: Living And Working Authentically is featured on my Web site. Here you can see a preview, read reviews, and hear excerpts. If you want to know more about my coaching, go to The Success Accelerator.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
So far the most effective book promotion is through speaking engagements with the opportunity for the audience to buy the book on site. My book is so new that actually this is the only venue for which we have data. Shortly, however, we will optimize the web site, in an effort to boost internet sales. It will take about six more months to have enough data to determine the effectiveness of this strategy.