Book Making: What I Learned

If you follow me on Facebook, then you already know that yesterday was a monumental day for me.  One that I have been working towards for months and a significant milestone in my personal biography that won’t soon be forgotten.  I officially turned in Fermented to my publisher!
It was a rather easy process, although lengthy.  The manuscript took about 4 seconds to upload, but the 117 photos took over 5 hours, and even after all that I still had to manually upload a group of them one by one.  When it was all over, it was an enormous relief.  I was sitting on my couch, kitty nearby.  I was alone. All was quiet, it finished uploading, and that was it.  Months and months of hard work was sent through cyberspace into the hands of my publisher.
There are many steps to take between today and when it is available (August 6!), and I still have a lot of work to do, but the hardest part is done.  After it was finished uploading I sat for a moment and just thought about all that it took to get to that point.  I don’t know about others’ experiences, but for me book writing was very difficult.  These past several months have been grueling at times and more than any other experience I’ve had in my adult life, writing Fermented has been the most formative.
So, I’m going to share with you the reasons why.  I honestly don’t think these lessons I’ve learned are exclusive to writing a book.  I fact, I know they aren’t.  We all find ourselves faced with life altering circumstances, good and bad, and we learn from them.  I’m just listing what I’ve learned from all this and hoping that someone can relate.
You can do whatever you put your mind to – From the moment I was offered this book contract until I actually turned it in, I doubted my ability to complete the project.  Sometimes it was only a little sliver of doubt but in the first 3 or 4 months of writing and planning I made myself ill with doubt.  All I could think about was EVERYTHING I had to do before turning it in and I couldn’t figure out where I was going to find the time to do it all.  I doubted my ability to adequately research food fermentation.  I doubted my culinary skills.  I doubted my intelligence and my legitimacy.   Finally, around Thanksgiving, I told myself that I was on this book train, it was happening, people were counting on me to write it, and I had two choices: Write it, or don’t.  Really in my mind I had one choice and that was to suck it up and do it.  I re-purposed my doubt and turned my attitude around.  I was writing a book for heaven’s sake, not going to the electric chair!  From that point on, the words flowed more easily, the work didn’t seem like drudgery, and I started to really enjoy what was happening.  Obviously I finished it and I even turned it in early!  And these last several months of work were so much easier than the first several months because I believed I could do it.
Cut the static and noise out of your life – I had two sources of noise in my life.  The first was literal noise in the form of my next door neighbor’s seemingly always cranky baby and their yappy little dog.  The other was in the form of figurative noise – life drama!  How does that Internet meme go?  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  If I wanted to complete this project, I had to find a way to focus on my job, focus on my goal, and focus on accomplishing something great.
To solve the first problem, I found the best website ever created, SimplyNoise.com.  No joke, I thank them in the acknowledgements of Fermented.  Everyday I’d crank up some pink noise and it was like that child and dog didn’t even exist.  Easy solution!  Highly recommended.
For the second, I had to do something that did not come naturally to me.  I had to put myself first.  It was very difficult to tell people no.  It was hard to say that I didn’t want to be a part of things.  It was awkward to just disappear from life.  It felt unnatural and cruel to tell people that I didn’t have time for their problems.  But if I wanted to accomplish my goal, I had to make my needs a priority above those of the people around me.  Call it selfish, but I call it necessary at times.
Many people understood and were quite supportive of what I had to do.  Others weren’t, but maybe it’s just because they weren’t getting the attention from me they once were.  I had to stop feeding the drama and participating in others’ ordeals to get this book finished.
Now that I’m on the other side of the project, I’ve vowed to return to my previous habits of putting others first; however, not blindly so.  These past several months of living in a drama-free zone have been quite nice and have lowered my tolerance for unnecessary static.  I’m definitely adopting that new attitude for the long haul.
It is very easy to let your healthy habits fall by the wayside – I’m not proud of it, but there were days when I was eyeball deep in writing when my lunch would be a few medjool dates and some coconut butter.  And maybe a chunk of a chocolate bar.  And some chocolate chips.  There were days when, out of necessity, I had to skip workouts and there were days when I had just had my fill of not being lazy so I’d make an excuse (“I worked SO HARD today and wrote a zillion words! I just want to veg on the couch!”) and not go.  It all happened so fast and so easily.  Many times, I’d have a chocolate chip lunch and not workout and I wouldn’t even feel guilty about it.  Just being honest.
I don’t have children to care for and my only full-time job during this whole book endeavor has been writing, so it isn’t even like I had to write it AND hold down a job to pay my bills.  But still, the healthy habits flew out the window with remarkable ease.  Frightening ease!  It made me truly realize how quickly one’s health can get away from you!
I’m not completely out of shape and I haven’t even grown out of my clothes, so the situation isn’t extreme, but I do have some ground to make up if I want to be the fit and ripped 40 year old I say I want to be by the end of this year.
Sleep is your friend – Seriously, if I learned nothing else from book making it is that I need to get more sleep.  I had some weird sleeping rhythms before the book, but throughout the past several months my sleep habits were stressed to the max.  BTB (before the book) I would fall asleep very easily and usually stay asleep until about 5:30 or 6, regardless if I had gone to sleep at 9 pm or 1 am.  I just woke up and would be awake for the rest of the day.  DTB (during the book) I would sometimes fall asleep quickly, but often not, and then I would wake up for 2 or 3 hours at a stretch, and THEN I’d still wake back up at 5:30 or 6.  This went on for months.  Sometimes I’d get up and work/write in the middle of the night, but more often I’d just flop around wishing to fall back to sleep. Sometimes I’d cruise Pinterest in hopes of lulling myself away to slumberland (I know! Electronics in the bedroom mean no sleep!  I was desperate!).  I have developed dark circles and bags under my eyes.  My skin is dull. I’m doughy and I don’t have much energy.  I know this sleeping mess contributed to my poor eating habits, which contributed to my poor sleeping, which contributed to my poor eating habits, which….. You’re seeing my pattern here.  I have a lot of napping and sleeping to do to get back to normal.  I feel so tired and I look so tired.  I’m ready to get back to sleeping!
Lean on the people you love and trust most – No matter what’s going on or how busy I am, I always make dinner.  However DTB there were a few weeks where I was preparing for photo shoots and writing where I didn’t even think about meal planning or cooking dinner.  Finally I told Dude that he was in charge of dinners for a while.  And you know what?  He was great at it.  Just one example of how I had to let go of some of the things that I regularly control and put them in the capable hands of someone trustworthy. I’m not Wonder Woman, and I had no time or interest in trying to “do it all”.  I knew when I had reached my capacity and then asked for help.
In the midst of a crazy period maintain as much normalcy as possible – Although things were often turned around for me and my schedule, I tried very hard to maintain normal working hours.  For the most part, I wrote Fermented on weekdays from 8 to 5.  Now, there were MANY weekends where I worked, and there were the aforementioned middle of the night sessions, but I still maintained my workday no matter what.  I had to keep myself on a schedule in order to maintain some regular life rhythm.  I’m a schedule and routine person and without that I’d be lost.  I couldn’t afford to keep crazy hours and possibly allow the wheels to fly off my momentum train. I needed the regularity.
The same goes for my workouts.  I wasn’t anywhere near perfect with it, but I still managed to start training for my upcoming half marathon, go to yoga, and catch an occasional CrossFit WOD here and there.
Taking a mental health day now and again is really worth it – There were days when the words just wouldn’t come.  There were days when the ideas just weren’t there.  When this happened, I mostly just pushed through it and kept working.  I just kept typing and revising and typing and revising until something materialized.  But there were two or three difficult days when I just didn’t work at all when the going got tough.  I watched TV, I napped, I went on a drive.  And then I started up again with fresh ideas.  I felt guilty at the time, but realized that the break was just what I needed.  For my readers who are runners, I thought of it as the Galloway Method of book writing.
Crying is good – I am really not a crying type of person.  My mom gets emotional very easily, mostly at good things, but I have never been that way.  Sure, I cry now and again like anyone else, but it’s rare.  Funerals, tragedies, immediately after meeting the Farriss brothers, etc.  The usual tear-worthy events.  During the writing of this book, however, I cried a lot.  Sometimes it was hysterical panicked “How am I ever going to do this?!” kind of crying, but most other times it was just a release of pent-up anxieties.  It felt so good to cry a little bit.  I recommend it.
So, there you have it.  Like I said above, these are the lessons I learned throughout my unique opportunity, but they certainly aren’t unique lessons.  We’ve all been tested and we’ve all had stressful experiences that have changed us for the better.  I’m curious to know what you have gone through and what you’ve learned.  For better or for worse!  Please share with me in the comments or on Facebook.
Oh, and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Fermented A Four Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods!  You now have an insight into what it took to make it, and putting it into the hands of eager readers who are interested in food fermentation will make it all worth it!  Thank you!

6 Comments

  1. Liz
    March 13, 2013 11:53 am

    Congrats on accomplishing this huge life goal, Jill! You are a true inspiration and I’m happy it was an empowering experience for you.
    Now, to the fun part… editing!

  2. Kelly Flatley
    March 13, 2013 12:18 pm

    Congrats Jill! So proud of you – seems like just yesterday we were walking in Market Square and you shared your excitement with me about getting the book deal. Now put your feet up and enjoy the day!

  3. Lisa
    March 13, 2013 2:14 pm

    You’re a rock star, Jill! Can’t wait to read it!

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