Facing challenges with writing books when you have bipolar

That’s what’s on my sleepy mind this rainy morning – how authors with brain challenges have the ability to complete an entire book.  I wish there was a magic potion I could drink that would get me to sit down and finish the piece I’ve been working on (and mostly off) the past several years.  I’ve been thinking books-books-books all stormy weekend long.  I selected some of my longtime “friends” (I know it sounds schmaltzy, but I consider books to be friends) for my blog hit lists that I wrote over the weekend.

If you search Amazon listings you’ll find that a brand-new bipolar memoir is being published almost every day.  Many of these books are self-published, and they usually run the price of a small double mocha instead of twenty-five dollars.  As much as I’d love the author to make more of a profit, I love that affordability.

It’s getting easier and easier to get your work out into the world, which is wonderful.  I’ve noticed that more authors are using self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace and Author House.  While it’s a blessing that these organizations give writers the opportunity to share their stories with a worldwide audience, it’s also easier for mediocre or downright awful books to emerge.

Even if a new book is lousy, I still have so much admiration for the author; I’m also envious because I want to complete a project too.  Anyone who can focus enough to finish  a two-hundred page manuscript has made a remarkable achievement.  I’ve been wondering why I want to finish my book so badly.  The reasons are simple: I want all my suffering to help other moms with bipolar feel less alone, I want to feel productive, and I want to be able to tell people (and myself) that I’m a bona fide author.  It’s true am a writer – the fact that I’ve made a couple thousand dollars off my articles tells me that, but it’s different to have a book published.  A book is (usually) a true labor of love.  Writing a book was a labor of love for my husband Craig Harwood, who took seven years to write his book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West in his free time.

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(shameless plug!)

Yesterday I was working out on my NordicTrack elliptical.  While I’ve had phases where I’ve been an exercise purist eschewing magazines, lately I’ve been reading my Kindle on the machine.  The workout time flies by while I surf Facebook and read books on my Kindle and I still break a decent sweat.  I also blast the Pandora Disco channel.  There’s nothing like hearing the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman” or Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” while on an elliptical.

A couple days ago I was working out and Kindle surfing.  I spotted a book announced on Amazon that very day: Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me for just $2.99.  What caught my eye was the book cover – it was hard to miss, even with sweat dripping into my eyes:

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(There’s nothing quite like an eye-catching cover.)

The author describes her book simply on Amazon: “This book talks about my journey with Bipolar Disorder and has information for both those suffering and those who have loved ones who suffer with bipolar.”  Her self-publishing company is BookRix.  I had never heard of them, and their recent press release sounds too good to be true .  They “will no longer charge for their eBook-distribution-services, allowing authors to publish eBooks for free via BookRix and distribute them to all major eBook stores such as Amazon.”  When I observe books being published so frequently by these types of companies, I am reminded that I can just go for it.  I’ve seen books that are only fifteen or twenty pages long for sale on Amazon – to me that’s more of a chunky brochure, but I admire the writer’s resolve in getting her work out into the world.

Many people with bipolar have attention challenges and/or struggle with sedation due to medication side effects.  I have both of those issues, but I won’t let them stop me.  If others can do it, I can too.  I also realized that I won’t become a career blogger or a fly-by-night sensation who gains thousands of followers.  It’s a hard to give up the idea of hitting it big via a blog, but I can’t blog regularly and work on a book – at least not now.  I have two little girls who are my priority, and at this point I am not able to do everything I want to do.

However, I can still set out to accomplish my dream to complete a book project.  One of my favorite authors Madeleine L’Engle had her infamous A Wrinkle In Time manuscript rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different”, and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil.”   She also went through an entire decade of getting rejection slips, which is hard for me to believe.  She describes that tortuous decade in her own writing in the book Two Part Invention – the Story of A Marriage. (It’s one of my favorite books.)

I’ll boast about this until the day I die, but none other than Madeleine L’Engle liked my writing, even though it was just a measly fourteen line sonnet I wrote with sweaty palms about dolphins.  L’Engle had me recite it at her writing workshop.  Take my word for it, she was not the type to lie about liking anyone’s writing.  She made that astoundingly clear at the two workshops I was lucky enough to attend.

There’s the famous saying that to be truly excellent at anything, one must practice for 10,000 hours.  I’ve been using this blog to get into the daily practice of writing, and I’m hoping it won’t take me another 9,995 hours to get where I want to be.  At least I have the aforesaid hope, and if I have hope, I can write a book – I really think I can.  I’m going to finish reading this:

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and hop to it!

I’ve selected March 1st as my start date to return to writing/editing my Birth of a New Brain manuscript.  (I have one hundred pages so far.)  I will devote at least a half an hour each day to writing.  My husband told me he spent twenty minutes every morning to write his book Quest for Flight.   He woke up before the rest of us each day to do it, which I can’t realistically do yet.  The three medications I take (lithium, Seroquel and the MAOI Parnate) make it so that I need to sleep as long as I can in the morning.  Then my girls get up, and we all scramble to get ready for the bumper-to-bumper schlep to school.

I’ll stick to blogging for the next couple weeks and try to shorten my posts.  I never thought I’d write overly long blog posts, but I figure you can skim it or maybe you’re hopefully a fast (and tolerant) reader!  Thanks for reading this from the bottom of my sleepy heart!

Meeting a Fave Author: SARK, The Inspiration Line & “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper”

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Throughout this blog I have written about two authors who have influenced me the most during my life.  The writers are Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle In Time”, and L.M. Montgomery, best known for “Anne of Green Gables”.  There is a third author whose numerous works have also brightened up my life immeasurably, and she is the artist known as SARK.  (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)

While my mother bought my first copies of L’Engle and Montgomery books, I discovered and bought SARK’s book all on my own, which is symbolic unto itself.  I had come up to Santa Cruz to attend college and I majored in English and American literature.  One day in 2004 I was shopping in one of the artsy stores on Pacific Garden Mall.  I spotted the colorful, hand-drawn cover of “A Creative Companion – How to Free Your Creative Spirit” with the author’s intriguing name of SARK on front.  I recognized SARK’s unique art style from a poster she had created called “How To Be An Artist”, pictured above.  This poster was SARK’s first bestselling item and she handmade a whopping 11,000 of them in her “Magic Cottage” in San Francisco.  There are now over one million of them in print.  Since that time, SARK has become famous for her fifteen other books, posters and various products.

I was lucky to meet SARK before she hit the big-time and I knew she’d become famous in her own right, or write. (hee hee!) I think I’d be a great talent scout, come to think of it, because I have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing star power.  Case in point: long ago I saw a little movie called “Mystic Pizza”.  I told my movie buddy at the time, “Someday that girl with the big teeth will be famous.”  You could say I was right about spotting Julia Roberts’ potential.  I spotted major talent in other actors and writers I encountered in their early careers as well.

SARK and I first “met” through the air.  I read in one of her books that she offered The Inspiration Line.  The Inspiration Line was a voicemail system she used to record a different message every few months, whenever she felt like doing so.  You could leave your own message for her to listen to (she claimed she listened to every message) or just hang up.  SARK has loved this 24-hour line so much that she still maintains it: 415-546-3742 (EPIC).   She used it to discuss her general observations about life and sometimes narrated sections of poems that moved her by poets such  as Rumi and Susan Posin.  I have never been a huge poetry lover, but SARK picked poems that were truly incredible and they never ceased to inspire me.

One day I listened to The Inspiration Line and left SARK a message telling her how much her work meant to me.  On a last-minute impulse I gave her my work number, never imagining that she would actually call me back.  I thought nothing of it after I hung up until one day at work the phone rang.  I picked it up and I heard someone giggling.  “Good afternoon, Santa Cruz Productions,” I said in my most professional, twenty-four-year-old office manager voice. “Hello, is Dyane Leshin there?”  inquired the giggler.  “Yes…” I said, wondering who this jolly-sounding person was.  “This is SARK!”  she exclaimed with glee.  I was totally in shock to have one of my favorite authors call me!  I wish I hadn’t been at work because I shared that one room with three other employees and we could all hear one another’s conversations.  I felt pretty inhibited, but SARK and I both spoke enthusiastically about our mutual love for Madeleine L’Engle’s writing.  Our talk was brief, but it’s a very happy memory for me.  I still call The Inspiration Line and I leave a message for SARK every few years.  I always leave my phone number just in case, but SARK hasn’t called me back except for work-related purposes.

I met SARK in person for the first time back in the mid-90’s before she became so well known.  Her longtime love for Big Sur and admiration for one of her favorite authors/Big Sur residents Henry Miller sparked her to host an art workshop at the Henry Miller Library.  Only twenty people attended the event.  We spent the sunny afternoon painting giant pieces of paper with bright colors and sitting in a circle discussing our creativity and dreams.  SARK was down-to-earth and very approachable.  It’s always such a disappointment when those we look up to are prima donnas or derriere-holes, and thank God SARK didn’t fit into either of those categories.  I had a blast!

A few years later I encountered SARK again in her adopted hometown of San Francisco at her special event.  It was an extraordinary weekend for me as I had literally just fallen in love with my husband-to-be.  It was so difficult to tear myself away from him, but I had a very good reason.  SARK was throwing a Pajama Party at a downtown hotel, and I had registered to attend it with my Mom.  In a gratifying role reversal, I had introduced SARK’s books to my mother and she became a fan, so she flew up from Los Angeles to accompany me. We chatted with SARK briefly, as she had many more fans by this time.  We were treated to a concert by an Aussie duo called “The Velvet Janes” and we all wore soft SARK commemorative pajamas. I forget which hotel it was, but the concierge service loaned us a bubble fish to keep us company in our room during our stay!

Years after that memorable weekend, I wrote articles for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines.   I was a loyal reader of our local weekly “Good Times”.  I never missed an issue as it had the best astrological column I had ever read by Risa D’Angeles.  I queried the editor about interviewing SARK about her latest book, and I was thrilled to be told to go for it.  I reached SARK’s business staff and they set up a telephone interview time for us.  Although I had previous interactions with SARK, I was nervous as hell this time around; my hands were icy cold.  I was grateful that I was not face-to-face with her – I’d probably faint or drool or do both.   I had prepared my list of questions and I made sure my little tape recorder worked and had fresh batteries.  I had my speaker phone at the ready.  Our talk went well and there was lots of laughter, to my relief.  I wrote a decent piece, which enabled me to do it all over again when SARK’s following book was released.

I am re-visting my SARK memories because I began re-reading her motivating book “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” last night, which focuses on…wait for it…writing!  SARK’s books are easy-to-read and they possess an almost-childlike format.  For me reading this book is like reading it for the very first time.  I don’t remember its content at all – whether that’s due to my poor memory I’ve had all my life, or because of the ECT I do not know ; it’s definitely not because her advice is poor!  I actually like the fact that the material is all fresh to me.  Between SARK’s book and my other unique, fun writing book by Elizabeth Sims (“You’ve Got A Book In You!”) I need to read them and “move the tool!” as SARK asserts.  I also need to stop browsing for other writing books and move that damn  tool…well, maybe I could buy just one more!

I encourage you to watch SARK’s awesome Ted Talk:

Her website (or websight as she likes to call it!) is:

http://www.planetsark.com