Fast Company

Hanging a Picture Frame Around Your Life

When I started working with Annie Hart and Katie Gutierrez Painter on my book, I really had no idea where it was headed, or how it would all come together.  In fact, like so many of my own clients, I often felt lost throughout this process.  Over the last eight months the three of us got together weekly and Annie pulled out my most poignant business, creative, and personal stories so that Katie could document them.  But remaining objective was something I have not been able to do well.  My view of my life is infinite, it has no edges, and yet, we have to put a frame around my stories to build the book.  We have to give the stories context.
 
A short lesson on context. One thing I have learned through working with so many books is that readers, as they read, are constantly pulling information, ideas and lessons from what they are reading and are subconsciously filing them in their brain as they travel down the page. If an author fails to provide their reader with enough context, files quickly get backed up and create clutter as the brain slows down and tries to determine how to categorize them.  For most readers, a single uncategorizable file can knock the reading experience off course. I call this a roadblock. The brain starts directing extra focus towards determining how to unclog the road block. But information, like cars, is still being added to the equation. So now attention is being split between trying to unclog the road block and trying to direct new traffic to where it needs to go. One little road block can lead to a pile-up if an author is not careful. And a pile-up is a quick indication to a reader to drive in the other direction—away from what they’re reading!
 
Throughout the process of telling my stories, I have been waiting for the context to become apparent.  I’m a strong believer in not forcing it, and so I have been patient. Then yesterday it happened.  Annie and Katie and I were coming to the end of the storytelling portion of our work together and over the last couple weeks we had begun pulling out the themes we saw running through my life.
 
Simultaneously, I’ve been dealing with some very difficult company setbacks and trying to untangle some rough terrain. To be candid, I felt recently like I was watching my company fall down around me. From an authentic conversation around my life and the business, my picture frame popped out and into view. What a joyous moment to arrive at, and we did it together.
 
This weekend I plan on taking my first stab at the introduction to the book, and next week, Katie and I will begin to assemble my stories based on our new context.  Phase 1 is over. Now we breath and enter phase 2.

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