Giving Yourself Permission to Please Yourself
When you set about to write a book (or some other longer work), is pleasing yourself part of it? Or does that rarely even enter the picture?
And what would be different for you if it did?
As a Book Developer (aka “Book Midwife”), helping clients please themselves in the process of writing a book is a large part of what I do. When a person finds a resonance between something inside and what they are writing, there is a feeling of expansion and of being known.
Interestingly, it is by themselves that they are known (though I play a part in the process by listening to who they are and what’s important to them, and reflecting that back, perhaps making some suggestions). And the relief, ease, profundity, and even joy of this self-knowing is deeper and more beautiful than you might imagine. For our true selves—which are always here but often dismissed, ignored, or veiled—long to be known.
“I was a hidden treasure, and I longed to be known.”
This saying is attributed to the Divine, wanting to be known through us. We feel whole when this happens. And while writing a book from the deeper Self is certainly not the only way in which this intimacy and wholeness can be attained, it is definitely one way.
And yet, to please yourself is not always so easy. First of all, you have to believe that this is permissible. We rarely are taught to even consider such a thing in writing a book (or pretty much anything else). Instead, the emphasis is on pleasing someone else.
LEARNING HOW TO NOT PLEASE OURSELVES
What We May Have Learned in School
When I was in school, it was the teacher whom I was supposed to please. Since I was good with words and interested in ideas, I got good at doing so. But even a string of “A” papers behind me did not give me a sense of who I was. It was an external achievement, not an inner relationship that drew forth a living presence with which to interact, converse, and shape something meaningful, beautiful, and indelible.
By the time I was in college, writing to please the teacher was second-nature; I never questioned it. That was what you “had to do.” And the specter of having someone to please—whether I knew who they were or not—followed me into the many decades of my career, whether writing magazine articles, editing books for publishers, or trying to write my own (secret) writing.
But where did I pick this view up? Where do any of us?
I’ll share a story from my own young and tender years, and perhaps it will resonate with you, bring forth the details and feeling-tone of your own experience, and illuminate your way towards deconstructing what’s in the way of pleasing yourself.
When I was in junior high school, I wrote a poem about racism called “The Moon Was White.” It was my first dawning realization of the issue in a very human way, and writing it was a surprise, a process of telling me something I didn’t know I had known. I was perhaps twelve years old.
I brought it to the teacher who headed the school newspaper—this must have been a class I was taking—with shyness. Because what was expressed in the poem—and the way in which I had used the whiteness of the night-sky moon as a metaphor for a human situation that distressed me—had made its way to me from inside. It was not an artifact made from a mold or a template; it was an expression of something that had come through me, and in the process told me something of who I was. And so offering this poem to the teacher was a vulnerable, though required, act.
She smiled. She looked at me. And she said, “This is not a poem! Does it rhyme? Does it have rhythm?” She shook her head. “No. A poem has rhyme and rhythm,” she instructed me sternly. “This is not a poem.”
My face grew hot. I could think of nothing to say in my defense. It was true, my poem did not rhyme, did not have meter. And I had nothing against such poems—indeed, had memorized many such over the course of my schooling. But that was not what I had set out to do. I had set out to give expression in some feeling way to something that felt gravely out of sorts in the world. And in my own view, I had succeeded.
But not in my teacher’s. And I thought, “So that’s the way it is.” And in that moment, at the age of about twelve, I made a decision. I would get good at giving her what she wanted. I would get good at giving all my teachers what they wanted, now and forever. And to prove something that had a rather embittered undertone for one so young, I wrote a new poem. It had rhyme and rhythm. It also had no depth at all, no wondering, no voyaging into what it meant to be living in this world. It was called “The Fashion Plate,” about a vain and well-dressed girl.
“Now that’s more like it!” my teacher gushed after reading it. “That’s a poem!”
It was, as they say, a Pyrrhic victory. I had “won” the game of giving her what she wanted; but in the process, I had lost the belief that I could be true to myself and also share what came forth from me with people who would receive what I had perhaps struggled to give voice to. And it took me many, many years to reverse this defensive decision; to believe that real writing requires—and gifts us with—the unadulterated presence of our true self.
What the Popular Marketplace Tells Us
On a commercial level, these days most book-marketing experts advise writing to please your reader—to do the market research beforehand, know your target market, and write to that audience from the outset. The rationale is that you’ll sell more books when you know who you are selling to. And for many kinds of books—informational, self-help, and so on—that might turn out to be true. If you wanted middle-aged women interested in delaying aging to read your book on self-care, you would fail to serve your readers when you wrote if you didn’t have some sense of what’s important to that demographic.
But even using the word “demographic,” here, takes the writing out of the realm of your own presence and discovery, and turns it into a marketing tool. And while I am very much in favor of getting a wonderful book out into the world and taking attuned actions to ensure that it reaches readers who will appreciate it—if you weren’t really there for the experience of writing, then when the individual human beings who fit your desired demographic open up your book and give themselves to it, what of you will they be missing?
Why It’s Worth Making Yourself the Reader (and in That Way, Writing for Yourself)
As the person who is writing the book, you may wish to discover more of who you are through the process of writing.
But if you write primarily to please the reader, you may be successful in that way, and yet be nowhere present in the book. It’s like doing a good job of something without actually being there to enjoy it and get something from doing it. The goal has subsumed the intimate experience of learning to be with yourself in the process of giving voice to something that you care about. You can always declare a direction, an outline, a format—but that’s not the same as finding your way into what’s true, what’s resonant, what gives back to you as you give to it; what adds to your life.
For that, you need courage: the courage to listen to yourself and take whatever steps are internally indicated.
YOU CAN BE TRUE TO YOURSELF AND YOUR (REAL) READERS
We have been taught that what we want in our writing is secondary, at best, to what we need to give our readers. And I agree that considering only yourself in writing a book isn’t enough to also interest other people.
But what if we let go of our culturally conditioned “either-or” lenses, and hold the possibility that we can please ourselves and also speak to our readers? Perhaps it’s the very act of pleasing ourselves that makes it possible to really engage others.
When we are fully present on the page, that presence vibrates through our written words, and this is what is transmitted to our readers.
In the next installment of this series of articles, I’ll go more into “Pleasing Yourself,” and what a prominent architect has to say about the centrality of pleasing yourself—and what gets in the way of doing so. I’ll also talk about the role of longing in writing a book—and how we need to honor that.
For now, you may wish to reflect on what this article has brought to your awareness in terms of yourself.
Is “pleasing yourself” a factor when you write, or contemplate writing? What might this mean, in your case? You might relax and let this bubble up to the surface, and see what comes. You might even jot it down. And if you’d like to share what came with me, I invite you to send it to me at email@example.com. I will respond personally to you. And so your inquiry into pleasing yourself will start, and gain momentum.
And if you’d like some help in getting going—
In my book, Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What’s Inside You, I address making yourself the focus when you write, so that you are true to yourself and your writing flows out of that. I will send you a generous excerpt (40 pages) from this book just for joining my email list. The sign-up form is right here on this page.
And if you know someone else who would get value from reading this article, just send them here.
CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE 2 ON “PLEASE YOURSELF.”
Copyright 2017 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.