Lisa: Was your process for writing your second book, Inspired and Unstoppable, similar to This Time I Dance?
Tama: My writing process was deliciously the same, but with some time-saving, huge brain-saving improvements. Biggest improvement: I stopped doubting my writing process. I relaxed into the sticky, frustrated, yucky places. This time I trusted my talent. I didn’t make every single stiff sentence a symbol, totem or indictment of my failure. No one rough patch meant I couldn’t write or wouldn’t get published. I was way more self-loving and self-affirming. I’d actually learned a lot from spending 12 years writing This Time I Dance! without an agent, contract or publisher. I learned how to trust myself and my way.
Lisa: Were there any other changes to your process? Lessons learned from the first book?
Tama: I didn’t spend time perfecting pieces for the book—before I had the whole book in mind. I didn’t edit individual pieces, polish them, make them brilliant. I left them raw and blotchy. Then when I knew where the whole book was going, I went back and turned each piece into a diamond. With my first book, I’d made the mistake of doing it the other way. I edited the hell out of a piece so it would be perfect. The problem was, since I didn’t have the whole of the book written, I edited the piece just on its own, and not in relation to the whole book. Often times, I didn’t end up using those “perfect” pieces. They just didn’t fit. And they felt too tight to change.
Lisa: Do you create any kind of outline or preliminary structure to work from (even if it’s going to change) or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
Tama: I might have some ideas about what chapters I’ll include. But mostly I free-write vignettes or scenes or thoughts or messages. Then I underline where I think the heat is in these passages or circle parts I like. I keep writing these, blurting them, collecting them. Then I notice what themes have been coming up, or what I’m really trying to say over and over. Or I might ask how these pieces could hang together. Then I usually take those “themes” and make them chapters. I let the pieces themselves dictate what the chapters will be. In Inspired & Unstoppable, I was surprised by some of the chapters that emerged. I ended up with a chapter on timing, called “Timing Will Turn on a Dime.” I had no idea, consciously, that I would write a chapter on timing. I would never have picked it out of a hat, or thought I had much to say. But when I looked at many of the pieces I had and wondered what they had in common, I suddenly saw they were all stories about timing. Then I edited them to speak more clearly about that, and I cut out some of the other points. I actually love this chapter in the book. It was such a creative surprise. It’s one of my favorites—and one of the most healing to me personally.
Lisa: Anything else you do before you sit down to write a book?
Tama: Sometimes, I read a vision statement I’ve written or prayer, to give the process to the Brilliant Love that wants to come through me. I ask to remember that I don’t have to make anything happen. I want to be available for what wants to happen.
Lisa: I love that ability to be spontaneous. Once you have a first draft, can you describe your editing process?
Tama: I read a piece about a billion times. I think I’m reading aloud in my mind. I hear where things don’t sound right or where I lose energy. I read it as though I’m the reader. Where do I tune out? Where do I not believe this person? When I’m reading something over, I’m listening to a tone. I feel like I can hear where it hits a gong and where it doesn’t. I just have this sense that a sentence or phrase is weak. And it’s usually where I don’t have conviction or clarity or where I’m trying to make a point, but it’s not really the point that needs to be made.
Sometimes, I read the parts of the book I already like. That helps me set the gold standard for where I want to go. That helps me know what I can do. That helps me not settle. When I read the really good writing, I want the other writing to match. It’s like cleaning a part of the room and then all of a sudden the other parts look dirty now or less vibrant. By the way, this is really a metaphor, since I’ve never cleaned a room in my life.
Lisa: You offer such a passionate voice for following one’s inner knowing, following one’s heart. In your books you give many examples of how this has worked for you. And I particularly love the story in Inspired and Unstoppable called “You Can’t Plan an Inspired Life” about how your first book got published. When you were trying to figure out how to publish This Time I Dance! the book you had so courageously written, your heart told you to “put it in the river”—to self-publish it, to put it out there on your own. And you did that, even though you admit your linear mind struggled with trusting this. Then, unbeknownst to you, a publishing executive picked up and read your self-published book and sent you an e-mail saying…
Tama: …“I’m your fairy Godmother.”
Lisa: She said she’d get you published and she did.
Tama: …by my wildest dream-publisher—Tarcher/Penguin. And they didn’t change my writing, my title or even my design. And really, the most amazing part of this story for me, was that I’d trusted this inner voice for 12 years to write the book, and this book went straight to the publisher of my dreams and has touched hundreds of thousands of people and has spread through love and word of mouth. It was—and is—such a powerful lesson of learning to trust
my own inner brilliance and to know that we always have guidance, we always have a way, and that our creative instincts are holy, powerful, and more practical than anything else we could ever do.
Lisa: It does seem a fairy tale story. I encourage readers to read that story because it is such a powerful inspiration for following one’s heart. Tama, your writing is rich with metaphor, word play. Does it tend to go right onto the page like that or do the metaphors and luxurious language build when you come back to it later?
Tama: My metaphors come from a state of mind. It’s when I’m in the zone. I think in pictures. And I trust my pictures. It’s my natural way of thinking and being and the more I relax, the more they come. They never come when I’m trying to be spiffy, hip, or wonderful. I actually have the problem of writing too many metaphors. A friend of mine cautions me that it’s like wearing too much perfume. I have this fear that in my earliest writings, I came into a room smelling like one of those lounge lizard guys with open shirts, hairy chests, thick gold chains, and way too much Aqua Velva or Brute.
Lisa: Do you tend to write freehand or on a device?
Tama: I write freehand and then edit it on the computer.
Tama: I love the feeling of notebooks. For me, notebooks feel more intimate, personal, innocent, and sensuous. Computers feel like business, efficiency, utility. Notebooks feel less serious and more like play. I can write more stream of consciousness in notebooks—I don’t know why. I also love seeing grass stains, coffee stains, spaghetti sauce stains, ink blotches, rain blurs on paper. It’s like your memories are there along with your writing.
Lisa: Do you have any particular words of wisdom for aspiring authors looking for advice on how to write a book, in particular, a self-help or how-to book?
Tama: Yes. I say this in This Time I Dance! Never mind marketing. Hit the mark. Write what you need to write. Write what you need to read. Don’t worry about what you think is hot or will sell. You have to write “what wants to be written.” If you do this, you will have a transformation like no other. And you will have heat. Heat sells. Integrity sells. Joy sells. If you write what you really, really, really want to write, you will have the energy and charisma to talk about it, sell it, and sing it from the rooftops. If you write what you think you should write, you will lose energy, stamina, and the love of writing. Inspired & Unstoppable is all about this message. There’s already something within you that needs to come out. It’s not about figuring it out; it’s about letting it out. I want you to write, work, and live from an inspired place. If you’re inspired, you’re unstoppable. Don’t choose your topic because of what you think you should do. Allow it to choose you, heal you, move you, breathe through you , and claim you. You don’t want to miss this ride.
Lisa: It’s my belief that writing a book is one of the most powerful personal transformation tools on the planet. You have to expand to be as big as your vision. From hearing you speak, my sense is you agree. Can you share a bit about how writing your first book stretched you and helped you grow? And how about the second book–were there additional areas of personal growth that came up when you write Inspired and Unstoppable?
Tama: Both my books are about exactly this topic. My writing process and the process of discovering and taking my calling into the world not only grew my business into a super cool, heart-pure national enterprise, but it grew me into the “visionary catalyst” I’ve become—and a special bonus: it’s so much cheaper than going to therapy for all these years. In writing This Time I Dance! I learned to trust and validate my creativity. I left a huge law firm to dare to become a writer, and I had to learn that having fun and being creative wasn’t frivolous; it was imperative and life-saving. In Inspired & Unstoppable, I learned that I could trust this creative, inspired energy to help me get past bumps, challenges, disappointments and lack of belief, and create a livelihood and national presence from love and ease, instead of force and artificiality. I learned to trust that I was meant to do what I loved, and that it was meant to succeed—if I stayed true to the inspired voice within me.
Really, all my writing and teaching comes down to learning how to listen to and trust the inspired brilliance already within you…and bring it into reality because our world so badly needs your gifts. Everything I learn, breathe, teach, share comes down to refining these strategies, nuances, and deeper ways to help us all trust our own brilliant creativity and create our true lives from this power.
Tama Kieves, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, left her law practice with a prestigious corporate law firm to write and help others discover and soar in their life’s work. She is the bestselling author of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love (Tarcher/Penguin) and most recently, Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work! (Tarcher/Penguin) which won the silver National Nautilus Book Award.
Featured on Oprah radio and Martha Stewart Living radio, she is a sought-after speaker and visionary career/success and book coach, who has helped thousands world-wide to discover, launch, and thrive in the life, calling and businesses of their dreams. For creative mojo and visionary career support, follow her on Facebook, Twitter and visit TamaKieves.com to learn more about her events, receive her monthly newsletter, and download your free Inspired Success Launch You Kit which helps you get past your blocks and soar in your life’s work.