“This book was for me and anyone else who reads it. If only one person benefits from this, it was worth it. This was me putting my art and my truth, out into the world. Regardless of what happens with it, I’m so glad I wrote it. I’ve been able to document the hardest year of my life--the pain, process, God, and connecting with others.”
The above poem comes from Kathleen’s compilation of her poetry, I Can’t Lose My Mind, Because I Have to Feed My Dog.
Many people want to write a book, but few people actually do it. Earnest Hemingway, among others, reportedly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Though we don’t use typewriters anymore, there is no doubt what the great author meant. Writing requires that you give something of yourself, and that giving something of yourself to others may cost you.
Kathleen has shown an understanding of this through her book. Her book is a guide through a year spent healing from past trauma. These poems take the reader from the beginning of that healing to a point to where she has been able to arrive at now.
For the Benefit of Self and Others
This author has used her writing as a way to express her deepest thoughts, ones that it had not previously occurred to her to share with others. She began to share her writing while participating in an 11-month missions experience, the World Race. “The Race was a big turning point for me. I’ve always been a writer, but I began to share my writing on the Race. People encouraged me to share my work with others because they felt it might benefit others to read it. I had many people say that what I had written was exactly how they had felt but never knew how to verbalize or express.”
When Kathleen returned from the Race, she moved to Georgia and entered the graduate program in Clinical Social Work (Counseling) at the University of Georgia.
She explains, “I had a great first year of grad school. It was amazing, but I knew I needed to address certain things from my past if I was going to move forward and thrive as a person and a therapist. I began seeing a counselor to process those things. These poems were at first, a means for me to process what I was engaging and contending with in counseling, and then began to share them publicly because I knew I was not the only one who felt these things.”
Putting Her Work into Print
So many people had encouraged Kathleen to share her work in the belief that what she expressed would truly help others, she started the process of becoming a published author via Instagram, @k.cleary.f. “I had never done this before. I love to read and have many favorite poets that I read that inspired me and showed me poetry does not have to look any certain way. It’s poignant and honest, so that is what I tried to be. I found that many of them began by posting their poems on Instagram.”
Once she began to post her work, she began to receive feedback from readers. “People responded very positively to it,” she says. “Having a shared experience unifies people and allows them to feel, even if only in the smallest way, that they are not alone. Once I shared, I had other people who I didn’t know reach out and say that what I was posting helped them.”
Actually putting the poems into a book was a daunting task. As any writer will tell you, there is a particular type of vulnerability that comes from sharing your work, especially work that reveals the depths of your being. In spite of this and, perhaps, because of it, Kathleen moved forward with publishing. “I want to keep doing hard things. I believed in it a lot and I actually think it’s pretty good. That’s a very vulnerable thing for me to say because I’ve always been very critical of my writing.”
Once the decision was made to publish, she began tackling the necessities of actually getting a book out there, beginning with how she would identify herself as the author. As a therapist and for easing into sharing very vulnerable poetry, Kathleen decided that using a pseudonym would be best. The pseudonym would offer a little bit of privacy in her professional life as well as her personal life. She doesn’t at all want to hide that it is her work, she just wanted to create one more degree of separation.
Next, she moved on to the title and cover. “A good title is really important; it catches people’s eye and intrigues possible readers. I was struggling fairly hard with some depression and there were many days that my dog was the primary thing motivating me to get out of bed or go for a walk. I fed her and walked her, and she kept me going.” A title was born quite literally from the confusion and heaviness of Kathleen’s space while she did some of her writing.
Finding someone to design the cover was an important part of the process. “I put feelers out via social media about the cover and had a really dear friend from high school who is a graphic designer who wanted to get more into publishing and cover design. We worked together for many months on the cover design, margins, fonts, copyrights, and much more. There’s meaning in everything that is on the cover from the perspective of the drawing on the front, to the pop of color.”
In addition to title and cover, Kathleen worked very hard to position her poems to tell the story of her experiences. “I spent several weeks ordering the poems to show my process. It was very dark at the beginning then it shows how I changed and worked through some things moving it toward the light. The grey area very much represents processing through identity, spirituality, and truth.”
Once all of this was done, it was time to determine how she would actually publish her work. “I did some research and listened to podcasts. I thought about sending it to a publisher, but I didn’t want to have someone else change the book or my vision for it. It’s never been about selling a certain amount of copies or about making money. It was all about putting out what I felt like I had to offer the world--it was part of my healing process.”
In the end, she went with KDP, the Amazon, self-publishing platform, because it was, in her opinion, the easiest to use as well as promote. She was also attracted to the platform because authors can pay for the printing as the books are ordered, which doesn’t require such a huge investment.
Would Kathleen do things the same way if she published a book again? “Yes,” she says. “I had a great experience. I think things would go faster now if I were to do it again. I went through roughly 25 edits/read-throughs of the book making sure the poems were laid out correctly and checking grammar and spelling. My friend who designed the cover helped me a great deal giving advice about how things should look on the page and spacing, among other things.”
Moving Forward In Spite of Struggle
Often people believe that being a writer is something you were “born” to do, but Kathleen didn’t have becoming an author as one of her goals. Once when asked about her “grown-up” aspirations as a kid she said, “I wanted to be a giraffe when I grew. I was a little bit disappointed when I realized this was not an occupation nor a logical possibility.”
She adds, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be--it probably changed every week. I did always love to write and always had a vivid imagination. I had a learning disability as a kid and it took me a long time to learn to read and write. I fell in love with it because it was so hard for me to do and when I finally learned it felt like I had a superpower.”
Though she has never gotten to be a giraffe (she’s young--there’s still time), she did get to become a writer and the process changed her for the better. “When someone experiences trauma and tries to process it, parts of the brain light up on brain scans. One of the areas that is often impaired and shows little activity is the area charged with forming and creating language. Talking about it is good, but it’s hard to process trauma through speech and express it accurately, so writing about it was part of my healing process. Hearing from strangers that I was not the only one feeling this way and that I would not always feel this way helped me move forward.”
Advice from Someone Who’s Taken the Fresh Path
So, what’s next for someone who has accomplished a major goal? “I think that after I sent it, posted it, and advertised it, it’s almost like that season is over and the door is shut. It really represented some closure for me. I probably will continue to write poetry and have thought about maybe writing a children’s book someday, but right now I am just basking in the victory of doing what I said I was going to do, being proud of it, and starting to thrive in life again.”
Her advice to anyone who wants to write a book? “Take a look at your intent and how you define success. This book was for me and anyone else who reads it. If only one person benefits from this, it was worth it. This was me putting my art and my truth out into the world. For someone else, if you put your work out there and in 10 years the worst happens (few read it or it doesn’t make the NYT Bestseller list), whatever that is, will you regret that you put it out into the world? The reverse is true as well. If you don’t put it out there, will you regret it in 10 years? I know in 10 years regardless of what happens, I will be proud of this, and I know that if I didn’t do it, I would miss the book I could have created."
Whatever the outcomes of the book in the coming years, Kathleen will be pleased for having gone through this process. “Regardless of what happens with it, I’m so glad I wrote it. I’ve been able to document the hardest year of my life--the pain, process, God, and connecting with others.”