Writers@Work: From Blog to Book by Barbara Mahany
27 January 2015
Note From Rochelle
What obstacles will you have to overcome this year to finish writing and revising your book? I’m looking for your toughest blocks—so I can address how to overcome them in a very special Write Now! Mastermind class (to be held Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM CT). If you have an obstacle you’d like me to cover, let me know via email. And if you’re not a member of the Write Now! Mastermind class, you can sign up here.
And think about joining me to knock out those obstacles in our Write-A-Thon accountability group starting February 18. You can check out the details here.
Today’s tip was written by Barbara Mahany and talks about how a yearning to write about the homefront blossomed into a blog and then a book! And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, Mahany will be reading and signing books this coming Thursday, January 29 at 7:00 PM at Boswell Book Company.
Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
It all started, honestly, because I bumbled my way through my annual sit-down with my editors in the features department of the Chicago Tribune, a meeting in which we reviewed my work from the previous year and talked, at the very end of the hour, about what I might truly love to do in the years to come.
I tried to explain that there was a sort of writing from the heart — and the soul — that I might love to bring to the newspaper’s pages. Fumbling for words, I managed to say that I thought there was much to be mined in the landscape of the homefront. But I had a hard time articulating just what those stories might be. Or why they belonged in a newspaper.
Riding home that night on the “el,” Chicago’s rapid-transit train, I remember cringing at how I’d stumbled through my once-a-year chance at shooting for the journalistic moon.
But here’s what happened next: That very December night, when he should have been doing his homework, my then-13-year-old son decided to fiddle around with the laptop he’d just handed over to me, because he’d traded up for a refurbished MacBookPro. He was showing me all the tricks I could do on his old Mac. Among the tricks: software that amounted to Blogging for Dummies.
As the clock ticked toward bedtime, the kid built me a website, we gave it a name, then he looked me in the eyes and declared: “Mom, you can do this.”
So, the very next morning, Dec. 12, 2006, I rose before dawn, and began typing the first words of “pull up a chair,” a blog that amounted to a virtual kitchen table. I wrote, every weekday morning for a solid year, whatever most captured my imagination — subjects and stories culled from the heart and soul of the homefront. I was typing the sorts of stories I’d been trying to explain to my editors. And slowly, quietly, readers were “pulling up chairs,” sharing in the conversation, offering wisdom all their own, always in a realm of gentle consideration. No harsh confrontation allowed.
I’ve been sitting down before dawn ever since — although after the first year I cut back to three posts a week, then two, and now, religiously, I write every Friday morning. What happened during those early mornings was akin to working out every day at a gym, and discovering muscles you never knew existed. Even though I’d been writing newspaper feature and news stories for 25 years, I’d never before exercised a deeper-down voice. One that at first was only a whisper. But morning after morning, as I wrote in the dark and the quiet, I found synapses firing more swiftly. I found myself connecting dots, and discovering truths I’d never quite realized when my writing was confined to reporting and writing other people’s stories.
I worked hard on the craft of unspooling the stories I knew best — the ones that unfolded right here inside my old house and my rambunctious garden. I worked to strike those deeply personal chords that resonate through universal connection. It’s the art of the personal essay: To make the words reach far beyond the confines of my own little life, and open veins that connect deeply with readers, even readers whose life looks little like mine.
Over time I found myself weaving the spiritual into those essays — not always, but often enough. Flash forward to the summer of 2012, when my husband and I were moving to Cambridge, MA., to spend a year studying at Harvard University, where my husband would be a Nieman Journalism Fellow, and I was generously invited to partake of what I called The Year of Sumptuous Thinking. When the man who would become our landlord, a professor of poetry and divinity, asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book, I answered yes — the first time I’d said so out loud. When he asked me what that book might be, I said something about a Book of Common Prayer, believing some of the best essays I’d written might be the ones that found the sacred amid the noisy messiness of the everyday homefront. I’d imagined a collection of those essays, somehow woven into a whole.
That book became Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014). Publishers Weekly generously named it one of the Top 10 Religion Books, Fall 2104. And the book I never knew I’d set out to write is, in many ways, the answer to my deepest prayers.
In my own quiet unorthodox way, I’ve always believed in the power of words to heal, to illuminate, to strike the common ground between each one of us. Nothing touches me more deeply than the letters and emails from readers who tell me that Slowing Time has touched a quiet place in their hearts, and something beautiful is blooming.
About the author. Barbara Mahany, the author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014), was a staff writer at the Chicago Tribune for nearly 30 years. Before that she was a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She is married to the Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Blair Kamin, and they have two sons.