Monastery to Matrimony, my memoir, might be considered a journey through modern times in the Catholic Church. My twenty years in an Illinois convent gave me a perspective not only of how convent rules and practices changed over the years, but also how the Church changed.
Midpoint in my twenty years introduced the first hope for the Church to be in step with the thinking of its people. Pope John XXIII introduced the documents of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In his wisdom he saw how the Church needed to be open to the people it served. He recognized that nuns could better serve by coming out from behind the heavy gated walls. He urged them to return to the mission of their founders, a mission to work with the poor, the sick, the neglected, the suffering under injustices. He set in motion a refreshing new role for nuns in the institutional Church.
In the years after Pope John XXIII, his legacy dimmed with the succeeding Popes. Not all of them agreed with his foresight. Today the Vatican is underestimating the independence of the intelligent religious women of convents. They are not accepting a return to dominance by the Bishops of the Church.
With the election of Pope Francis in 2013, I have hope once again. He is not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. First of all, his cloth is that of an Order priest, from the Society of Jesus Order, (Jesuits). He has lived a minimalist life in common with his brother religious. When elected, he immediately rejected the elaborate trappings of previous Popes in everything from his simple clothing, to his car, and living accommodations.
For the future I see a Church that is open and inclusive as evidenced on Sunday, September 15, 2014 when Pope Francis married twenty couples at St. Peters in Rome, including couples who had lived together, which is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. As he has said, “Who am I to judge.”
My friend Father Joseph Breen of Nashville, must be rejoicing at this news. He has long preached the same message of inclusiveness and never judging.
Next, I am hoping that Pope Francis will eliminate the practice of Nullification of first marriages required for a divorced person to marry a Catholic. (See my own experience in Chapter Twenty-Four of Monastery to Matrimony.)
As I wrote on my HOME PAGE, I believe curiosity is a valuable trait to cultivate. It’s a type of gymnastics for the brain. Thankfully, many people expressed a curiosity about what my life was like in the convent. If they hadn’t, I may never have written my memoir. A comment from one reader from Jacksonville Beach, FL confirmed to me that my book responded to those curiosity seekers. “My few brief, casual encounters with nuns made me curious about their lives, and your book gave me so much more insight.”
Many wise folks recognized the importance of curiosity.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ― Walt Disney Company
Mr. Disney describes my life. I kept moving forward, often out of curiosity, but sometimes out of necessity. There is no point in looking backward. That’s over and done. We should live our life in the present. As for the future, my philosophy is to ASK, EXPECT, and RECEIVE. And don’t worry about the how, when, or what as you focus on the PRESENT.
In my memoir I characterize many of the rules and rituals as “archaic” during my years in the convent, though practices have changed in modern times. Today nuns are recognized as intelligent, thinking, responsible women, capable of making decisions on their own behalf.
While the prayer life in my Illinois convent is the same today, silence may be relaxed a bit, and I don’t think they are required to get on their knees to ask for a penance for accidentally breaking a dish. I doubt that anyone would break it out of frustration or anger. Today their ministries are varied, based on their interests and talents rather than strictly on the needs of the community, whether or not they are suited for it.
Many readers have asked how I could have endured the unnatural silence, the humiliating times I knelt for a penance over insignificant things, the attempt at stripping individuality and personal possessions, and the separation from family.
Though I knew nothing of the reality of living the life of a nun when I entered, I was prepared to accept whatever it entailed. I knew there would probably be sacrifices, but I lacked knowledge as to what kind of sacrifices. Praying the Divine Office several times a day in the chapel was a normal expectation. Just about every other practice was a revelation. The daily silence—even at meals—was the most difficult to understand. I could never get my curiosity satisfied in the couple of hours of recreation allowed for talking each day. If I hadn’t gone to boarding school prior to entering I doubt that I could have accepted the lack of communication with family that the convent required. Being away from home at boarding school conditioned me to some degree.
I continue to look forward and satisfy my curiosity on a daily basis. Other than during the writing of Monastery to Matrimony, which called for considerable revisiting of times past, I don’t look backward. Even the process of writing was a way of looking forward. I had a curiosity for learning the craft of writing. Today in the process of promoting the book, I am delving into the world of media—traditional and social. Mr. Disney was indeed correct when he said, “curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Robin’s comment, “It was hard for me to put it down,” reminds me of why I pursued my dream of writing the story of my twenty years in the convent.
With many friends, business associates, and even strangers, who learned of my former life, I found a recurring curiosity about the convent. To a person, they were surprised that I would have been a nun. Guess I didn’t fit the image—maybe because they knew me as an interior designer. A litany of questions always followed: What was it like? How long were you there? And always ultimately, the tough question—Why did you leave?
Most questions were easy to answer, but the “Why did you leave?” question always left me hedging my response. It was a simple question, but it had a complex answer. One I couldn’t adequately explain in a sound bite. The answer is filled with emotions that needed to be put to rest. It called for soul searching if I was to get it right. I knew it was time for me to share my convent life experiences and address my own feelings about the occurrence that set me on the decision-making path to leave the convent. The answer would be as much for me as for others.
Thus the book was incubated.
Since the publication of Monastery to Matrimony in July, 2014, I can now legitimately say, “The answer to that one is in the book.”
Publishing your book is just the first step. Next you must let people know about it. It does you no good to spend years writing a book only to order copies and keep them in your closet.
I began the promotion process by announcing the pending arrival of the book on Facebook. Preorders were taken and filled when the box of books ordered arrived. I held an “Opening-the-Box” party at my house for the neighbors who anticipated the book. They brought flowers and wine. We took pictures and toasted the event with champagne. Then I began a whirlwind of booksignings during a two-week tour through Tennessee and Illinois. Former writing groups hosted two of the signings, a third was hosted by a friend at a private house party. To announce the signings, I sent advance press releases to newspapers in the areas. In addition, the schedule of dates, times, and locations were announced on my website www.maryannweakley.com and on Facebook.
Back home again, I will continue looking for ways to promote the book at book stores, churches, clubs, or anywhere there is an interest. I generously hand out bookmarks, business cards, and post cards. I will utilize social media in everyway I possibly can. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @maweakley
I find find helpful tips on the blog info@daily writing tips.com . Some days I read it, but do not save the information. Other days it is spot-on with the exact answer I needed that day.
I belong to the Writers League of The Villages, FL — where I live. We often have great speakers. Recently I heard Rik Feeney firstname.lastname@example.org of Orlando, FL give a talk on Editing: 11 Easy Steps to Improve Your Writing. Rik is a Book Coach, consulting with authors to write, publish and promote books. He has published numerous books and is a sought-after speaker.
Here are just some of his tips:
- Take some time off, 48-hours to a week, to distance yourself from a freshly written piece. The edit the writing for clarity and competence.
- Eliminate one word out of every ten . For example, words like “and, or, but, nor, so, and that” and almost every word ending in “-ly”
- Remove excess “its.” Too many “its” can lead to confusion. Use the name or a noun instead.
- Exterminate He’s and She’s and Him’s and Her’s. Replace with the proper name of the person. Instead of “He climbed the hill after her.” Try, “Jack raced up the hill after the girl of his dreams.”
- Read your writing out loud. You will be amazed at the mistakes, or awkward phrasing you will find. It may have sounded right in your head, but doesn’t work on paper.
- Use the five senses in your writing. Bring the story alive by incorporating the five senses. For example: Sight, add descriptions of color, lightness, darkness, speed of motion.
Rik says, “No book is perfect.” That is a comforting thought for me since my first book is being released in mid-July.
Watch for MONASTERY TO MATRIMONY, A WOMAN’S JOURNEY. Find it at Balboa Press bookstore www.balboapress.com , on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and on Ebooks, and For a personally signed copy, contact me at email@example.com. Balboa Press is a division of Hay House Publishing in California.
DON’T GIVE UP!
To all writers, my message today is, DON’T GIVE UP. It has taken me almost ten years off and on to get my book to completion. There were times I would rather do the dishes or the laundry, than sit down to that annoying ever present computer screen.
Today I am working on the final galley of my manuscript—at least, I hope it is the FINAL galley. Though MONASTERY TO MATRIMONY, A WOMAN’S JOURNEY, was the main book I wanted to write, I know the next one will be easier. I will actually follow the advice I had received from speakers at conferences, other writers, writing group critiques. I am passing that advice on to you:
o Don’t edit as you write—just get the first draft done.
o Don’t revisit and rewrite yesterday’s writing—move on.
o Schedule a daily writing routine—then follow it.
o Join critique groups—listen to feedback.
o Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again.
o Ask people you trust to read it and give an honest opinion.
o Pay a proofreader/editor to work it over.
o DO NOT submit to a publisher, magazine, or anywhere until you have checked and rechecked every line, every word.
ENJOY BEING A WRITER
It’s been a long time since my last post. I have shamefully neglected my blog. Perhaps some of my followers are still out there. I welcome you back.
What can I say, life happened. Jumping to the bottom line – in May, 2013, I moved to The Villages, Florida with my rescue cat, Sammie. More about The Villages and Sammie later.
Through all the changes I have kept up with my writing. I had promised to share my pursuit of writing and publishing my manuscript, and I still will, but I will have to backtrack and fill in the blanks.
As of this summer, I will have my first book published by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House Publishing in California. After much searching of self-publishing sources, from the simple to the complex, Balboa seemed the best fit for my book and for me.
Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman’s Journey, my memoir, will become a reality soon. I promise to keep you posted, and let you know the steps on my path to publication.
Notes From a Ghostwriter
Last month at Barnes and Noble’s Writers’ Night I caught Jane Lorenzini, a freelance writer, speaking on her recent ghostwriting project. This is not paranormal stuff; I’m talking about writers who write a memoir for another person. Often celebrities and corporate executives will engage a ghostwriter to tell their story either because they lack the time or the talent. I hadn’t thought much about being a ghostwriter before, but Lorenzini’s topic caught my attention. She was asked by Hoda Kotb, co-host of the Today Show’s Hoda and Kathy Lee, to write her memoir. Kotb had known Lorenzini from their days working together in New Orleans. Lorenzini took on the project for her friend though she now lives in Nashville, Tennessee while Kotb lives in New York.
They accomplished the task through the magic of skype. With a great pitch and Kotb’s connections in New York they received a contract with Simon and Schuster. The publisher gave Lorenzini specific directions as to the length of the book and the time line for completion. They wanted 80,000 words in 300 pages delivered in five months. A daunting task even with skype.
Lorenzini worked from an outline of major parts of Kotb’s life from her youth as the middle child of Egyptian parents, to the Peacock network with many reporting tales including the Thailand psunami, Katrina and Afghanistan, to her present show with Kathy Lee Gifford and recent survival of breast cancer. Lorenzini’s method of viewing home movies of family gatherings captured Kotb’s youth.
When writing a memoir it is difficult enough to find one’s own voice, I couldn’t imagine being able to authenticate another person’s voice. Voice is key to the success of the memoir and Lorenzini was dead-on in that accomplisment–at least as far as one can judge from watching the Hoda and Kathy Lee show on daily TV. Testimony to that is the back cover blurb by Brian Williams. “This the Hoda I know. She’s written this book the way she lives: out loud and up front. She has written about the stuff of all of our lives–love, loss…and what she wore!”
The book, titled HODA–what else? was launched in October, 2010 on the Today Show. At that point Kotb began marketing around the country at book signings including our own Nashville.
Now that you know the back story, read HODA for yourself. You’ll enjoy it and see the brilliant work of freelance ghostwriter Jane Lorenzini.
Lorenzini’s message to writers is, freelance writing can open up many and varied opportunities for writers.
Note: In Writer’s Digest March/April issue find an excellent article by Kelly James-Enger, a ghostwriter and freelance writer, which answers questions on breaking into ghostwriting, understanding your role, establishing parameters, getting the job done and getting paid. Ghosting projects can bring a writer $12,000 to $60,000 per book project depending on the topic and number of words. Got your attention yet?
James-Enger is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books.
If You Write, You Are a Writer
I remember the day a published author said, “If you write, you are a writer.” That was an eye opener to me. She was speaking to a group of wanna-be writers at a writers’ conference. With that comment she instantly gave us permission to think of ourselves as writers. It took a while, but I gradually began to respond, “I’m a writer,” I responded when someone asked “What do you do?” Always before, depending on what stage of my life I would respond, “I’m a teacher or administrator,” or “I’m a decorator.” It took courage to begin saying “I’m a writer.” I felt like an imposter. Everyone is interested to meet a writer. Of course, I had to brace for the next questions, “What do you write?” and “Is it published?” “Where can I find it?” In the beginning I was writing personal essays. That response usually killed their interest. With more experience and focus to my writing I began writing a memoir. “I’m writing a memoir,” usually evoked a faint smile and a changed subject. No one wanted to directly say, “So what’s so special about your life?”
After attending writing workshops and joining writing groups I felt more like one of them—a writer. I designed business cards with my name and address and WRITER boldly printed under my name. By doing the cards on the computer, I could add information as needed. One of my first writing endeavors was writing a column for a local newspaper on decorating—a topic taken from my profession as a decorator. I added WRITER/COLUMNIST to my business card. Newspaper editors are eager to have new column ideas. Write what you know and share it whether it is your hobby or your profession. You feel like a bona fide writer when you see your byline in print.
For one of my writing groups I volunteered to write a monthly newsletter—The Collective Connection—with writing tips and member news. Writing groups are wonderful support for new writers. I recommend joining or starting a writing group. I became a member of The Tennessee Writers Alliance and attended their conference. I added member TWA to my card. As a member of The Council for the Written Word, a writing group, I submitted a story for an anthology and had it accepted for publication. With that accomplishment, I proudly added AUTHOR under my name.
Publishing is not necessarily the goal of every writer. Writing for many is simply for their own pleasure. For some, as Pulitzer Prize nominee poet Stellasue Lee says, “writing is like breathing, I have to do it.” She breathed life into two recent poetry books, Crossing the Double Yellow Line and Firecracker Red.
If you enjoy writing, write. If you write, you are a writer.
YOU SHOULD WRITE A BOOK
I guess almost everyone has thought about writing a book. It has been my intention forever; I always loved to write. Though I had no idea what I would write about, there it was tucked in the back of my mind—the goal to write a book some day. Writing a whole book of fiction seemed daunting—still does. I was better at writing about life experiences or taking an idea from reality and embellishing it into a fiction piece. Something like television shows do with story lines—taking an idea right off the front page.
As the years went on and I got older, my plan of one day writing a book became just a line on my “bucket list” and not even near the top of the list. There were many days in the convent—especially in the novitiate—as young new entrants breaking rules and getting into trouble, we often commented that “we should write a book.”
One day I wrote a story about my experience of surviving a tornado as a child. I joined a group of people interested in writing who offered critiques at a Barnes and Noble book store. It was a group of new writers, many like me, wondering if what they wrote was considered any good. Experienced writers critiqued the work of anyone brave enough to read their stories. I took the plunge and read my tornado story. The idea might have been good, but the writing was limp. Even so, the group gave me an encouraging critique. I continued to edit and rewrite the story. Rewriting is a way of life for writers. As literary agent Noah Lukeman says, There are no good writers, only great re-writers.
After sharing experiences of my convent life with friends, the mantra became, “You should write a book.” And so more than five years and many rewrites later the manuscript is complete—FROM MONASTERY TO MATRIMONY. I can cross that one off my “bucket list.” Getting a book published is the next line on the list. I’m making progress.