176: “Writing a Book Can Save Your Life” with Heather Lee Dyer

How to Write to Transform Your Life

“As I committed myself to writing those words, my body got stronger and my mind got stronger. And the brain fog that always plagued me, it started dissipating as I was writing.” – Heather Lee Dyer

At one time, Heather Lee Dyer was given just two years to live.

With her Lupus spiraling out of control, she turned to writing to fill her days stuck in bed when a poem she wrote about her disability won a national poetry contest. Inspired to look for more contests, she found the National Novel Writing Month and wrote her first book in a month.

And, suddenly, each day committed to her craft helped heal her body and mind.

Today, Heather is healthy. She attends conferences, seminars and travels the country in her converted cargo van, Moonbeam. She is one of our author success coaches here at Authors Who Lead. And, this week, she returns to the podcast to discuss her newest book, “Leo On Fire: Book One of the Zodiac Drift Series,” and how writing a book can be a transformative and healing experience.

How to Start Writing Your Book

As with any story, there are key ingredients you must have — like characters and the world they live in — and certain elements of your decided genre, such as murder mystery, science or historical fiction, or fantasy.

Heather always likes to start with world-building, which came as no surprise since I know she loves hands-on research. She once spent an afternoon at a morgue, taking a full tour of the facility that inspired her Delta Fringe series, where the main character is the daughter of a space station coroner.

She encourages authors to get up from their computers, out of the house and into the real world to experience adventures. Your writing and creativity will only benefit, she said.

Other than research and paying attention to her surroundings, Heather said her writing flows into her like a movie — and she is just typing what she sees. She’s the vessel for her story and her characters, who normally appear in her dreams. It will feel like meeting a new friend, she explained, complete with a name, personality and purpose in the story.

Nonfiction vs. Fiction

Before we met, Heather had already written several novels, often finishing them in about a month. But when she started her nonfiction book, she hit a wall.

She tells me that writing nonfiction was “completely different” than her fiction process, taking her six months to finish the draft of “Creativity over Perfection: The World Needs Your Book!” which was half the size. With creative nonfiction, “it is the subject and the transformation and the message that dictates that process and that journey,” she said, not any kind of structure or outlining as with a fiction book.

This is why I tell my authors that words are not the book. It’s the message that needs to be clear and found first.

When I write fiction, I’m more of what they call a “pantser,” which means I’m more comfortable just writing freely without an outline. I want the characters to lead the story and tell me what’s going to happen next. Heather, on the other hand, is an “outliner” — so I asked her what her process looks like these days.

When she first started, she researched everything she could about outlining. She followed all of the big writers and even worked with a co-author, who used and taught his own unique style of outlining. Over the years, she’s used all this knowledge to design her own process. She recommends authors learning about outlining, but then finding their own style, as well. There is no right or wrong way to structure your story.

How Our Lives Affect Our Creativity

This past year, Heather started working on the third installment of her nonfiction series — even though, at one time, she told her friends she would never write a nonfiction book.

Then, she heard me talk about writing on a podcast and an idea blossomed inside her. She realized that it would only expand her influence and, along the way, every book she has written has transformed her.

As she wrote this newest book, she knew it would be a bit different. It was a “dark time” in her life, she said, navigating a divorce and facing an unknown future. She tried to leave that part of her life out of the book, but it didn’t work — and it turned out to be too dark and personal to publish, she said.

Sometimes, this happens with authors. We write books for ourselves — allowing us to get a message on the page so we can reflect on it and move on. This frees up space to write the actual book we intended.

For Heather, as she rewrites that book, it is now coming from a place of inspiration and adventure, she said, rather than darkness and survival.

On Being an Author Success Coach

We invited Heather to be one of our Author Success coaches to help prospective writers feel confident as they work through our program. As authors write their books, they find themselves transformed along the way, which shows up in their daily lives and shapes their books.

Heather has observed this transformation in other authors, as well as in herself. Watching the process is a “beautiful experience,” she said, and reminds her that she could have missed her own journey if not for the amazing people in her life who reflect back to her. An integral part of the program is that safe space to allow creativity and vulnerability to flow into our authors’ books.

A Spirit of Adventure

During our interview, I asked Heather where she was — which her author groups also ask, considering she is now living her life from a place of adventure and travel as a digital nomad. At the time of our call, she was in San Diego, where all she needed was a relatively quiet parking spot and cell service or WiFi.

She tells me that if she were still in a survival mentality, this nomadic life would be oppressive, as there are many things to decide on a daily basis — where to park, do laundry, take a shower, et cetera. Since she’s focused on adventure now, she can deal with all those decisions and still find her life free and peaceful.

Advice for New Writers

Heather didn’t start writing novels until she turned 40 — and so, her first piece of advice for anyone who wants to begin is to just start, no matter your age.

She also encourages new writers to read widely. This is the best way to get a feel for the genre you’re writing in, as well as different writing styles. Learn everything that you can and then move forward in your own unique style. Break the rules, if that is what helps get your creativity onto the page.

You don’t need to be good at writing to start writing. Even though it’s good to research how to write, it’s the moving forward and actually writing again and again that will give birth to your book. If you are having trouble getting started, remember these greatest takeaways from my conversation with Heather:

  1. Transformation first happens for the author. This is the most valuable thing that can happen when you write a book — because if you transform, it will help the reader understand what they need to transform into.
  2. You’re never too old to start. 
  3. You don’t have to be a good writer to actually publish a book. You just have to be committed and start and you will get better as you go (and editors can help). Writing your first novel isn’t about being good. It’s about getting it done time and time again.

I think about my own writing journey and how many times I’ve gotten stuck. I make excuses — like, “I have other things to do,” or “I just don’t have time.” But the truth is, most of the time, I stand in fear when I face my manuscript. I realize, at some point, someone will judge it. Someone will call me out. Someone will have to read it, and I might be exposed as a fraud.

But that’s not enough of a reason not to write your book. Living in your book is about you living your real life.

I know that’s true for me. I’m really inspired by authors who keep up the work and are persistent because that’s how books get done. And I hope you will find your path toward writing your book today.

What was your biggest takeaway from this episode? Do you have a book you want to write, but you feel like you’re too old, too young, too busy, too sick, or not a “good enough” writer? Let’s talk about it. Share in the comments below!

That’s all for this week. Find ways to nurture your creativity and write your book!

Episode Resources:

Website: http://www.heatherleedyer.com 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heatherleedyer

Instagram: @heatherleedyer and @moonbeamsandwords

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