Last November I began my pilgrimage by co-authoring a book called Lasting Impressions. The volume is an anthology with nine chapters on various topics, each authored by a member of a literary group I belong to called The Writer’s Journey. The volume is the product of our association as aspiring writers who gather twice a month to encourage each other’s literary ambitions.
I’ve been a member of The Writer’s Journey for three years. Lori Anzini and Joan Silva co-founded the group. They shared with Judith O’Conner from Pittsburg’s nonprofit Railroad Book Depot their intention to start a literary group and she offered the Book Depot’s facilities to serve as their home base and joined the group herself. That was a decade ago, and we are meeting there still.
The Writer’s Journey differs from a typical meet-up type group. We are invitation only. To be considered for membership, a current member must serve as advocate-sponsor who will testify to the candidate’s love for writing. We aren’t seeking candidates and will never grow beyond a dozen members.
Lasting Impressions is a Writer’s Journey triumph. On November 5 we rolled out the book in a Book Depot event that began with an informal presentation to a standing room only audience followed by a successful book signing. The event was joyful and inspiring. Even the children who attended seemed to engage in the activities with as much enthusiasm as their parents.
Writer’s Journey is designed to encourage the members to motivate and support each other. At our bimonthly meetings, we seek to channel our minds and thoughts onto each page with the maximum amount of creativity and originality but the least amount of tension and stress. As we share our literary efforts with each other, our purpose is not to correct, critique, or criticize but simply to encourage each other’s creative flows in whatever ways we can.
One of us is assigned at each meeting to share an inspiring quote. Another is assigned to select a topic that will serve as the focus of a shared creativity exercise. The chosen topic might be as simple as a pen placed in the center of the table. We write for 15 minutes, or so, and then share with each other in a conversation during which we might explore concepts ranging from what makes a pen a pen to technologies that enhance and expedite the creative muse.
Even though the member assigned to bring the quote and the one who chooses the topic never confer with each other before the meeting, a principle of synchronicity sometimes seems to come into play because the quote and topic will complement each other as though planned. A similar phenomenon took place in our book. We never attempted to channel the individual chapters each of us supplied into a coherent theme but, nevertheless, a number of readers have found an underlying commonality and shared spiritual vision that runs through the chapters. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is so, because at our meetings we feel drawn towards each other by bonds of spirituality and creativity. Each of us writes from a totally different perspective but we continually find themes and insights that point to an underlying system of meta-beliefs that we hold in common. For example, members of the group have varying religious beliefs but all of us hold in common our belief in core values such as joy, peace, and kindness, creating connections in our otherwise disconnected writings.
We meet from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays. Members come from Vallejo, Antioch, Pleasant Hill, Brentwood, and Pittsburg.
Each January Writer’s Journey members plan goals and activities for the coming year. We learned about another writing group that had collaborated in writing a book and decided last January that a shared book writing project would be a challenging and instructive activity for us. One of our members Jolen Philbrook, who is a published author, became project manager. Jolen created a flow chart listing the dates and deliverables for the required goals and tasks. She was effective in keeping us on track, gently guiding us towards each deadline as it approached. The Railroad Book Depot generously gave us a grant to cover production costs.
We began the project by each of us choosing a topic for our particular chapter. We specified length — each chapter would be about ten pages and would begin with a quote and a short biography. We set for ourselves the goal of submitting our first draft in April.
Writing was the easiest part. The preproduction tasks involved in actually getting the book published proved to be much more difficult. It took two attempts to secure a capable content editor. We incorporated the editorial changes in a second draft that the editor went through for a final time. A professional photographer, Muhammad Saadiq, did some pictures for the book. Joe Lombardo submitted the graphic for the cover, which is a picture of the Pittsburg Marina. We selected the typeface, font size, and other page design elements. My husband Bob’s cousin Carrie Sprout designed the cover. Two of our members performed a thorough copy edit on the pages, checking for such things as typos, misspellings, flow, congruency, and page numbers. The pages were then submitted to Create Space that generated the ISBN and Library of Congress numbers, published the book, and put it on Amazon. It can be purchased on Amazon or at The Railroad Book Depot.
One of Writer’s Journey’s goals is to encourage people who feel they have a book in them to just go ahead and write. Writing with excellence is tough, but we were hoping to help other people see that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Through persistence you can actually write a book. Find a writing group to join or start one yourself. Anyone can go to Meetup.com and have his/her own group up and running in ten minutes.
Three of us were people that our write-your-own-book goal was addressing. The process of contributing to Lasting Impressions made me confident enough to plan to write my own book.
A dark circumstance ended up pushing me into my own book project. On July 4, just before I was to send my final draft to the editor, I was walking down a sidewalk at a Lake Tahoe resort when one of my flip-flops caught on the curb. I broke my left hip, which required surgery followed by eight weeks of confinement to my bed. I read six books and a stack of magazines, watched daytime TV until it became boring, and put together a genealogy of my family. I then had to confront the question, “What do I do now?” I quit writing poetry a few years ago because I felt that I had more to say than would fit into a poem. I finally realized that the time had come for me to begin writing my own book.
One night pain and discomfort prevented me from sleeping, so I got out of bed and opened a new Word file on my computer. I spent the next four hours writing my book. Any writing project necessarily begins with the important issue of determining what you actually want to write about and a number of topics were floating in my head. But I realized that I’ve got a message that people — women in particular — need to hear. I began writing under the working title, “From a Place of Broken” that would cover my experiences beginning as a young and vulnerable girl who became codependent and bullied by other girls. I felt that I was unworthy of having my own needs met and could grasp tattered shreds of self-respect only by putting myself into service for others and doing things for them whether or not they would ever have bothered doing them for themselves.
I eventually entered counseling, took a course on codependency, and freed myself from the burden imposed by my poor self-image. I began sharing the pathway to my newfound freedom with other women through avenues of ministry that opened up in my church. We move together past the sense that we are alone and enter a space where we know that we’re supposed to be and begin doing those things that we feel we are supposed to be doing. For women of faith like myself, we begin doing those things that we feel God put us on earth to do. We move from feeling that we are not important enough or good enough to a healthy indomitable ego state that my husband characterizes by “Watch out! Don’t get in her way!”
Even though I no longer depend upon serving others to prop up my sense of self-worth, I still am involved in a healthy way in helping make the world a better place to the extent I can. I owe my sense of community service to my parents who modeled a giving back attitude. My dad was always ready to help others whenever a need would arise. When I was ten years old, Mom handed me her March of Dimes collection materials and told me that it was time for me to learn what community service is like. I’m a networker. I’m the incoming president of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and longstanding member of a local BNI networking group.
The Writer’s Journey has given me real value beyond encouraging me to embrace my writing muse. I’ve had some marvelous experiences as part of the group and have formed some lifelong friendships. I’m looking forward to what group activities will evolve from this point; I can’t wait to see what happens next.