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An Experiment in Conscious Publishing

by Shari Caudron

Writing the memoir was easy compared to the thought of putting it out there—to be read by real people with real thoughts and feelings and, worst of all, opinions.What if I humiliate myself? What if I hurt someone? And why am I even asking these questions anyway? I know that memoir writing is not for the faint of heart.


Shari Caudron

I’ve taught memoir writing for more than a decade at Lighthouse and two universities. I’ve been the “expert” who’s helped other aspiring authors unearth their stories, reveal their vulnerability, and speak honestly about appalling truths. I’ve spent untold hours talking writers off the ledge when fear, shame, guilt—or all three—have threatened to derail their projects. I’ve cajoled, prodded, reassured.

Fat lot of good that’s doing me now. Suffice it to say, the view is different from this side of the page.

I spent 18 months writing my memoir, cocooned inside the safety of a sunny loft in Boulder. The writing felt sacred, like something I had to do, and I fiercely protected my writing time and space. When I finished, the book was vetted by a longtime editor, read by three good friends, and sanctioned by loved ones who appear in the story. In short, I did everything I could to get the book ready for prime time, including writing and rewriting the title about 327 times. (It’s currently called The Second Story.)

What have I been doing since? Looping around inside my own anxiety. What will people think when they read I lived 23 years as a lesbian even though I knew, deep down, I wanted to be with a man? Will my clients still respect me when they read about my sex life? Then there’s the writing itself. When you put yourself out there as a writing teacher, your own words better be good.

Of course, all that is assuming the book even makes it into the hands of readers. How sad would it be for a memoir teacher to not be good enough to get her own memoir published? I can picture the averted eyes, the sympathetic half smiles.

This is when the voice in my head chimes in. But this is what you do, it says. You write. I ignore the voice. It gets louder.

You write personal stories. You read personal stories. You LOVE personal stories. Get out there and find an agent!

So I start to argue with this smug little smarty pants. “But the book, in part, is about how I learned to let go of the need for external validation. How can I shop that story around? Isn’t searching for a publisher all about external validation?”

Come off it. You’re just afraid.

“Maybe. Yeah. So…”

So self-publish. You’ve helped several clients self-publish. Why not you?

“Oh sure. I can hear the whispers now. ‘Poor Shari, she couldn’t find a publisher so she had to turn her book into a vanity project.’”

But this is what you do, the voice insists. You write, and you write to be read.

This is a drastically edited (and far more polite) version of the argument I’ve been having with myself for months now, an argument that has left no time or energy for actually moving forward on the path toward publication.

Hence, my newest project: Conscious Publishing. I’ve decided to start tweeting about the publishing experience at @ShariCaudron and sending regular email updates (write to to sign up).

The teacher in me wants to share the emotional experience of publishing a memoir. In writing circles, we talk a lot about the craft of writing and the how-to of publishing, but we don’t talk nearly enough about the emotional turmoil this work creates. Maybe, by sharing my own inner torment, yours will seem a little less overwhelming.

But there’s another less noble reason I wish to share my experiences, and that is because I want to be held publicly accountable for doing something on a regular basis to get my book out there.

My guidelines for Conscious Publishing are:

  1. To publicly share the emotional journey involved in publishing as a way of staying conversant with my emotions, so they don’t derail me.
  1. To pursue both traditional and self-publishing at the same time. Experimenting with both paths will allow me to discover the approach that feels right for me and the book.
  1. To not let my ego dictate what the outcome should be, but rather, let my soul guide the process (even though I know the soul is often hard to hear).
  1. To not impose artificial deadlines.
  1. To avoid harassing myself for not doing the things I think I should—i.e., networking, blurbing, tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, Instagramming, and otherwise feverishly building my platform. My issue is not with the activities themselves; I did many of these things with my last book and learned they do help build readership. Instead, what I’m trying to avoid is pushing myself to do things when they don’t feel right. At age 55, I no longer wish to do thing simply because I’m “supposed” to.
  1. To lighten up a little. I mean, jeez…

I wrote The Second Story because I needed to understand a very difficult time in my life. I guess you could say I’m doing the same thing here. I’m trying to stay conscious, trying to stay present, trying to learn.

Shari Caudron is a longtime faculty member at Lighthouse and a past winner of the Beacon Award. She is the author of two previous nonfiction books, What Really Happened and Who Are You People?, which won the Colorado Book Award. Shari’s company, The Narrative Group, helps aspiring authors write the books they were meant to write.

Shari will be teaching a class at Lighthouse this Sunday, April 24, for beginning memoirists called Tell Your Story, Change Your Life.

18 comments on “An Experiment in Conscious Publishing

  1. judithsaragelt
    April 20, 2016

    This meant the world to me. Maybe because I know Shari as a wonderful writer and teacher. Maybe because I write memoir. Maybe because I’m in the midst of that hellish process she somehow beautifully expressed–how it feels to pursue publication of the pieces of your life. Damn.

    • Shari Caudron
      April 20, 2016

      Damn, indeed! Thanks, Judith!

  2. ilona fried
    April 20, 2016

    Go, Shari! I salute your courage in both the writing of your story and of your decision to publish consciously. I would love to read your story assuming publication is what your soul truly wants.

  3. mjohnson1009
    April 20, 2016

    Shari! What I love about this is that your voice is the exact opposite of my voice, the one that says “What’s the point?” or “Who will ever read this stuff of yours?” What a great inner voice you have!! Can I borrow it sometime? Can’t wait to come along for your journey and to read your memoir in any form!

    • Shari Caudron
      April 20, 2016

      I dunno, Michelle. My inner voice is awfully argumentative at times…

  4. mjhenry
    April 20, 2016

    Brilliant! I am eager to follow how this process goes. Good luck!

  5. Page Lambert
    April 20, 2016

    Hi Shari. My first memoir (In Search of Kinship, Fulcrum, 1997), was far easier to write than my second memoir (a work-in-progress for 7 years), even though I have the success of the first memoir to bolster me, and even though excerpts from the new memoir have won awards, it’s a grueling and insecure process. The first memoir was about the cowboy I fell in love with, and our life on a Wyoming ranch. The new memoir is about leaving that beloved ranch, about the death of that relationship, and the birth of a new one (ironically, with an Indian). How to tell this story without making everything in the first memoir seem like a lie? But yes, this is what we do: we write. We rediscover the truth of our lives, time and time again.

    Page Lambert

    • Shari Caudron
      April 20, 2016

      Oh, thank you for sharing this story, Page. Like you, I referenced past relationships in previous books–and this new book makes those previous references seem false. All I can say is they were true at the time of writing.

      • Page Lambert
        April 20, 2016

        Shari, I’ve learned before reading or teaching from my first memoir, to be honest with the audience or class–to share the inner struggle before I share the piece. I preface it by saying that as memoirists, we learn how to discern the beauty in even the most difficult of experiences. This is our gift to the reader. And once an experience has been transformed into Story, it is no longer ours. It has a life of its own, and its beauty remains intact. Like Picasso who could turn a yellow spot into the sun, we strive to do the same with our stories. All that sounds good, but in reality? It’s so difficult.

  6. Anonymous
    April 20, 2016

    Can’t wait to share your journey, Shari, and read your next book. 😎

  7. Scot Sawyer
    April 20, 2016

    Not surprised at all by welcome life instruction from an insightful writing instructor. As I learned in her workshops, Shari plants herself with conviction at the intersection of life and art–territory that demands rigor of all kinds, nowhere more so than in the memoir. It’s tough enough handling the moral torment of writing in the dark about life as we perceive it; afterward, we step into blinding daylight to find little foxes already nipping at our grapevines. Thanks for taking it on, Shari.

  8. Shari Caudron
    April 20, 2016

    Wow, you captured the torment so beautifully, Scotty. Thank you! One question: Are you sure those foxes who nip are “little?”

  9. Scott Sawyer
    April 20, 2016

    Big or small, they never go away! Great to hear of your progress. Your immersive book “Who Are You People” entertained and enlightened in so many ways. This one promises a whole ‘nuther punch. We can’t wait.

  10. Susan Burnett
    April 23, 2016

    Shari, what you’re saying in this blog post is a testament to what you teach: be vulnerable, be scorchingly honest, and share it with others. The value is that no one can hope to live up to the cultural demands for a perfectly structured life, and good memoir can remind us that we’re all simply a part of the human family and its messy progress. Thanks so much.

  11. Jenny Itell
    April 26, 2016

    Hi Shari, I’m reading this blog post late, but just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it inspiring. I love what you’re doing with putting your work and your process out there! Thanks. I’m looking forward to your reading your memoir.

    • Shari Caudron
      April 27, 2016

      Thank you, Jenny! Your support means a lot to me.

  12. Pingback: An Experiment in Conscious Publishing | Candace's Blog

  13. debaumer
    May 2, 2016

    Wow, Shari! Thank you for this. The synchronicities these days are amazing. I am in the final rewrite/revision of my memoir (first book) and have had lots of the same thoughts, worries, and anxieties. It’s so good to connect with someone my own age who is finding creative ways to work through those things. I have such deep respect for folks who write memoir; it can be a painful and difficult journey, but requires such incredible strength and integrity. – Diane

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2016 by in Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice and tagged , , , , .

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