Over 500 pages written, pored over, worried over, improved, cut in half, re-arranged, loved … and I wanted to just throw it all away.
Don’t get me wrong, writing my forthcoming book, Feminine Genius: The Provocative Path to Waking Up and Turning On the Wisdom of Being a Woman, was mostly euphoric.
I wrote like a woman moves through her day, circling, spiraling, undulating, advancing, retreating, and occasionally breaking out into song.
I wrote like a meditation, a prayer. I wrote as the last snowflakes fell on the cold ground of winter. I wrote as the first unapologetic blossoms of spring burst on the scene. I wrote wearing a thin mini dress, trying to beat the smothering summer heat.
It was all a euphoric honor, a hard but rewarding creative supernova experience … Until … Editing.
My editor was kind and shrewd, discerning and experienced. A consummate expert. She ripped my tender pages and reorganized them so I could no longer tell what the hell I was trying to say.
She cut out my favorite stories – stories that reached out off the page to tongue-kiss you – and urged me to head back to my client files and personal journals to add better ones. She questioned my concepts, scrutinized my theories, and examined my exercises.
With my editor’s chopping and nipping and questioning, I started to doubt.
Is this book any good? Is it trite and tired? Should I follow her advice? What the heck do I know about editing a freakin’ book?
Demons curled out from the sides of the pages and slithered over my keyboard. They shook the windowpanes with their howling and it became so noisy I couldn’t hear my inner knowing – that still, quiet, but sure voice that always knows whether to go left or right, stay or go, cut that section or keep it.
I was miserable, while editing a book about reasonless joy.
My inner voice was mute, while editing a book about finding and listening to your inner voice.
I was stuck behind a computer screen, while editing a book about being in your body.
I stared at the editing task ahead, calculated how many hours it would take me to incorporate all my editor’s suggestions, and ended up with a number close to five billion.
And then I closed my eyes, prayed to the great Feminine Genius in the sky, and visualized in the manner of all great and virtuous visualizers … of throwing it all in the trash.
I mean I’m the one who decided to write the damn thing in the first place, no one said I had to finish it if it was making me miserable.
I had vowed to myself to write the book with the same juju that the book would help women find in themselves – embodied delight, deep inner knowing, rooted confidence.
So if I had to choose between keeping that vow to myself and keeping to an editing deadline, I would choose myself, and myself would choose to throw the damn book in the trash.
But. I didn’t. And here’s why.
I was also writing a book about the spiritual awakening that can happen when you sit there in the naked moment, staring down a demon, looking it in the eye not as an opponent but as something worthy of your respect.
I was also writing a book about the cyclical nature of the “feminine” and how doubt and despair are as much a part of the creative process as are inspiration and triumph.
I was also writing a book about the true nature of a woman’s inner knowing: that no matter the cacophony of the experts, your family, the magazines, or the dominant culture, the work of a Feminine Genius – the daily, good, patient work – is to listen anyways.
(And I was also writing a book for YOU, and it would be hard for you to read it if it was languishing in the rubbish bin).
So, I burned in the fire of my book’s own medicine.*
Because here’s the thing: The word demon, as in the monstrous doubts and compulsions we carry inside of us, comes from the word daemon, which means “the voice of your inner knowing.” (Yeah, read that one again).
Somewhere along the line, as pagan rites were tweaked by the early Christian church, so were many important, sacred words. The word daemon that was known to mean a source of trustable inner guidance got twisted to mean instead the voices of evil inside you, utterly un-trustable.
If you let them, your demons will reveal themselves as daemons, as friends, not foes, and as guides, not saboteurs.
How’s this demon-to-daemon thing landing for you? Come let me know.}
I took my book’s own medicine and let it burn in my belly. I asked my demons, “What if you are wise? What if you are here to let me know something? What if you are here to help me through, and to carve off outworn parts of myself as I go through, so I am a remade version of myself on the other side?”
And they are and they do. Demons-turned-daemons answer you, “That: That is what is precious to you. This: This is what a strong backbone feels like. There: Go that way next.”
They cup your face in their hands and turn you to see the pinhole of light — the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
They remind you that what you need to know today is not what you knew yesterday.
They blow a little wind under your wings as you begin your ascent from the underworld into a bright personal springtime.
For the Feminine Genius, the way through the burning IS the way.
This concept of how to work with inner demons and transform them into daemons, is a major theme in my book – the book that didn’t get thrown in the trash after all, but will be available for pre-order next week.
(Next week? Tail-wagging! Happy dances! Soul swooning!)
But first, let it be known that I adore my editor. (Hi, Joelle!). Joelle Hann is a tough-love rock star with a huge bright heart, and has earned her stripes over years and years of whipping floppy books into shape. And I’m honored to have had her whipping and shaping.
And let it be known that I now thoroughly appreciate the trough of self-doubt I fell into while editing, and the tango I learned to do, respecting Joelle’s expertise while insisting my own body and soul have the final say.
I am not standing here smugly with any pat answer. The way through a trough of self-doubt is always a burning. And part of us would always prefer to put down our challenge, turn back, say nevermind, dump it in the trash, and call it a day.
Really. The next time one of my demons rears up, it’s still going to kick my ass before I catch my breath, catch my demon’s eye and watch it transform into my daemon.
But now I know (again) that I can burn and not die.
In the last few hours before I handed in the final draft, I sat quietly, quite aware that my book just might be trite and tired. Destined to become a dusty paperweight on your nightstand.
But in my own bones, I loved it. I loved every line. It brought me joy and it brought me to tears. I thought it was good. I knew it was true and beautiful and useful.
And so, knowing I might just as easily get an F from the publishing powers that be, I myself gave my book a sparkling A+.
Two friends, also authors, agreed to read an early copy of the book.
One left me a voice message and said, “Here’s the problem. I keep saying I’ll only read a few pages before bed (because the baby is going to wake up at 5am), but I can’t put it down. Too bad for my beauty sleep, but it’s an incredible book, LiYana.”
The other friend, Jena la Flamme (founder of the Pleasurable Living movement who I recently interviewed — I’ll share it with you soon) emailed me several times a day as she read through, “My whole body tingles reading this.” “LOL! Love it. I’m definitely going to do that assignment.” “I loooooove these lines. So simple, so profound.”
One of my sheroes, Mirabai Starr, a (very busy) writer of unparalleled grace and power, and whose work I quote in my book, graciously agreed to write an endorsement and reached out to say,
“As it turns out, I couldn’t NOT read this right away. Girl, you can write! Wow, what a voice. This is important shit. I support you a million percent. Your glorious relationship with language is a rare jewel to behold. Added to that is your uncommon intellectual rigor and fearless dance with life itself. I am in awe.”
Now your turn. Come join the conversation on Facebook to share with us what your demons – and your daemons – sound like to you.
I can’t wait to share this book – your book, our book – with you next week.
To your demons and daemons,
PS: *A paraphrase of my friend Eleanor who once told me she respected me because, “you are willing to burn in the fire of your own medicine.” Thanks, E.
PPS: Photo by the lens-shaped heart of Wendy Yalom Photography