This article is about the process of writing my first book, I hope it will be useful if you are contemplating writing a book, or if you are not, then I hope it is at least interesting! It is quite long… but then so is writing a book 😉 ! If it is longer than you have time to read, why not skip to the end and see the perks of engaging in a project like this.
In autumn of 2015 I was lucky enough to be featured in the Times in an amazing 2-page article by Peta Bee. Unlike a lot of more general pieces written on health and fitness this went beyond describing the session and saying it made her feel better, this was a very well-researched, detailed and informative piece on resistance stretching mainly featuring myself and also a trainer from NYC.
I had just got back from a month-long trip to Mongolia, and it was quite a contrast going from sipping yak tea with nomads, riding horses and reindeer and driving off-road in jeeps through vast expanses of beautiful land, to commuting on crowded tubes in London to my clinic to see clients all day (I was very lucky to have become fully-booked with clients after the article, with a 3-week waiting list, which had never happened before in over a decade of practicing).
To my enormous excitement I was contacted by Lotus Publishing soon after the Times piece and offered a book deal. That was the second time I have jumped up and down on my bed for joy after good news – a new personal measure of success 😀 ! After a chat over a cup of Darjeeling in my favourite London café, my publisher Jon and I agreed that I would write a book aimed towards the general public, rather than a very academic book, with a lot of illustrations. I thank the heavens I did not know how much work was ahead of me when I started! In the beginning the writing process was serene, accompanied by tea in nice cafes and scribbled notes on the tube.
I wasn’t writing quite enough though, as I kept getting caught up in doing admin for my business and I was doing a lot of private sessions, so I decided to escape to Bali for 3 weeks for a writers retreat of 1. I spent everyday, almost all day researching and writing. The research was pretty hard work because in a lot of the more academic books the language is very technical and although I am academic up to a point, in the end I am more of a “do-er”.
The great thing about researching was that I could float in the pool whilst reading textbooks, whereas all of the writing had to be done somewhere I couldn’t fry my laptop. I would become so focused on interpreting and integrating information I would forget how to speak to people and put my shoes on the wrong feet, but I did get to go out a couple of times with some lovely, interesting expats, which saved me from going completely stir-crazy!
It was a bit mad though, being surrounded by surfers who were having an amazing time in the ocean every day, and being glued to my laptop – maybe I’ll go somewhere slightly less beautiful next time!
When I got back from Bali there were some pretty logistically-challenging photo shoots with 8 models and hundreds of poses to shoot, constant running between model and camera to arrange people’s poses, tops, hair etc, etc. I had bumped into Lucy Arrowsmith years before at a party and become instant friends with her, and she turned out to be, aside from an amazing DJ and personal trainer (amongst other things!), a world-class photographer. I can’t imagine anyone else I would have rather had take all of the photos (apart from the cover), as her attention to detail and hard work was an amazing support to me in my first photoshoot.
I decided that the models for the book should be “real people” (not that there’s another kind) and we ended up with a great range of people; kiwis, Spanish, British, Russian, athletes, allotment gardeners, yogis and a guitarist; people from all walks of life with different bodies and needs from their stretching. They were amazing because they took their assigned routine and did it every day for 30 days so we could take “after” photos and show how it affected them and some of the results were truly amazing. I was also so lucky to have been able to get the outfits for free, after liasing with two amazing brands; Sweaty Betty and 2XU, both of which I wear and know are amazing products.
I also had had this slightly mad idea in my mind for the cover, but I had no idea how to achieve it or who could be the model. I looked through my facebook contacts, looking for the one person who really expressed what the stretching is trying to achieve – a degree of optimism, openness and energy. Not necessarily young, slim, beautiful – just the right person. Then I remembered Natalia who I had had a chance encounter with a couple of years before, and it just worked out that she happened to be beautiful and athletic looking as well, and also absolutely perfect for the front cover. And lovely and very easy to work with!
I had come across Karen Yeoman’s work because she has shot loads of therapists and yoga teachers at Triyoga, where I also work, and her images capture the spark of the subject so beautifully and dynamically that I knew she’d be perfect for taking a wonderful cover photo. I bought a ton of lycra and chopped it up at the dining room table and then just had time to buy Natalia an outfit on the way to the shoot. It took about 4 hours to get that one perfect shot, and Karen was not going to stop till she got it!!
Having completed the shoots, the time-absorbing process of selecting and editing the photos began and I started putting my head down even more seriously in order to meet my deadline. I was putting in 8-10 hour days of writing. No cafes this time, no nice distractions! Just repeatedly forcing my mind to focus in a way it does not have to normally, as most daily tasks are broken down into sections maybe requiring attention only for 5-10 minutes, so I figured out what discipline is – just forcing myself and my mind to do what is required for many hours, days on end, even when I felt like doing anything but. This was the hardest part. I have told friends that beginning a book is really light and fun – finishing it is a bit like keeping chewing a tough steak, even though you don’t want it anymore and running backwards in high heels at the same time. It’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s dull and it requires constant effort.
I also had to interview experts and I was very lucky that Jon could put me in touch with Julian Baker and Tom Myers for skype interviews. I was very, very nervous – looking back I probably should have prepared more! It was great fun though; Julian had me standing up in the café I was in with my hands above my head whilst on the phone to him, and Tom was very friendly and gave me great advice for the book. I wish I had given myself more time to interview more experts – for the next edition maybe!
Aside from the text, there were illustrations that needed to be sourced and permission asked for and granted. Some people were so happy to help, others did not reply and yet others were quite firmly in the not-wanting-their-images-to-be-used camp. The whole process of writing a book was amazing as a reason to get in touch with very interesting people, many of whom are really lovely. I was so happily surprised at how many people were happy to help someone they had never met.
Then when it was coming up to be published the whole book had to be edited, then re-edited and checked by me, a process that I did in total 3 times. I have no idea how many hours I have put into this project to date, but in case I have put you off the idea of writing a book at all, let me name some of the benefits that I derived from the whole process:
Took me out of my comfort zone – even though seeing clients one-on-one and in classes is very rewarding, after a decade of private practice, working in a whole new way was the perfect challenge and pushed me to learn how to meet different challenges.
Improved my organizational skills – arranging the photo shoots for the cover and inside of the book, organizing models and photo studios, scheduling interviews and liaising with other people who helped with my book, all pushed me to improve my organizational skills.
Allowed me to see a vision come to life – a book has so many creative aspects; from the concept for the cover, the stretches and routines, to the layout and text for the book, it is rare for me to see a concept become a fully-realized reality.
An opportunity to meet amazing people – through my publisher I was able to meet and talk to experts in my field, giving me information that greatly enriched my book. Also through my own research I contacted a lot of interesting people and I was amazed at how generous they were with their time even though they had never met me.
I learned discipline – So much is easy nowadays; we are often not expected to pay attention for more than a few seconds or minutes to emails, social media and even conversations. However, there is no way around this when you’re writing a book and I found that I learned to control my mind, develop mental focus and that I could sustain that concentration for a whole day. I also learned there is no “secret” to this – you just have to force yourself to do it.
I learned to rely on experts – having been self-employed for ages, and almost completely reliant upon myself, I would rarely need to rely others’ expertise. But as this project was completely new to me, I found myself relying on my photographers’ experience, opinions and vision, my publisher for his knowledge of the book-writing and publishing process, and other countless people who I asked for judgement and guidance.
Consolidated what I knew – although I have a lot of experience, articulating what I knew proved the perfect way to find out what I did know and what gaps there were in my knowledge. It forced me to learn what I needed to and better express what I already know.
Stretching myself –although I wrote this book very much as myself, I needed to develop new professional and personal skills to become an author. It is very different being in the treatment room, working with one client as a time, to teaching many people I will never meet, who will all have different needs and making presentations in public.