By Paula Watson Gardner
In the sunshine month of August 2022, I finally finished my book Healthy Black Life: A Cultural Guide To Better Health. The feeling of relief, as well as elation, engulfed my mind, body and spirit and it seemed quite surreal knowing my book was finally complete and ready to be published.
The idea of writing a book was conceived during the Covid pandemic, a challenging and fearful time, not only for our nation but also for humanity, when the world stopped and this disease took over. This dark time created the opportunity for a ‘call to action’ moment, motivating me to write my book. To be quite honest, I’m not sure if I would have considered writing if it wasn’t for lockdown. So, it seems, a cloud really can have a silver lining!
It’s always good to be passionate about something; it drives you to action. Growing up, I loved sports and took part in nearly every sport in high school just so I could do some form of physical activity and jump about. Of all the sports I pursued, athletics was my one true love, so I became a serious athlete up until my early 20s. As my passion for sport continued through adulthood, my desire turned to understanding the workings of the human body and how we use it. So, I eventually decided to start my own business and for the past 12 years, I’e spent my time helping individuals increase their health, well-being and fitness levels as a Personal Trainer, Fitness Class Instructor and Health Coach. I’ve had the pleasure of working with people of all ages and backgrounds in the local community!
To be honest, I’m not sure if I was inspired to write; more like angered. During lockdown, it was the media that was ruling the day, broadcasting the number of deaths and how the hospitals were struggling as we eagerly awaited the next government announcement. As we know, the most vulnerable people were the older generation and needed the best protection, but then I started to hear that people of colour were being severely impacted too. This angered and motivated me to embark on a journey of research into why we were more vulnerable. On my findings, I then considered what I could do to help the situation, hence the conception of my book Healthy Black Life: A Cultural Guide To Better Health.
As a newbie to writing, I just got stuck in. There was no format to start with. I created a word dump on what was in my head and on the research I had found. I needed to address the problem of our poor health, which had been hovering under the radar for decades in the black community. I wanted to try to identify the problems and then educate and create simple steps for people to adapt in their day-to-day lives, having a positive impact on their health through the eyes of our lifestyle and culture.
This word dump got me started on forming my book, but I became stuck and didn’t know how to frame it into a finished manuscript. So, I thought, ‘If in doubt seek it out’ and decided to attend a free online Author Challenge Group on Zoom. Here, I had the privilege of listening to publishers and authors encouraging and directing us on how to get from ‘Pen to Print’.
If you’re thinking about writing your book, fiction or non-fiction, I would highly recommend seeking out those who have gone before you. There’s a host of authors and publishers in the virtual world who are willing to help and cheer you on every step of the way. I decided to work alongside a publishing company in the United States. They were able to help guide me through the stages to completion with no added pressure from their side.
A very valuable lesson I learned was to narrow down who I was writing to, and who was my audience. This was the most important thing that carried me to completion. I had to find my niche and have a picture in my mind of the very person/people I wanted my book to help. Age, background, gender, lifestyle, etc. were all part of the process of knowing what content I needed to include. There’s so much to say about health and fitness and, by establishing my so-called ‘Avatar,’ I was able to focus on what I thought was necessary and what wasn’t. So, I went back to my word dump and started deleting, editing and adding.
I spent most days typing and researching online, sitting on my couch in the living room, or in the garden with my feet up basking in the sunshine, absorbing Vitamin D, but I should have known better. Hunching over a laptop for hours on end can create bad posture and cause shoulder, neck and back issues. I suppose I just didn’t think about it at the time, as I was too engaged in my work. I tend to sit at my breakfast bar with the laptop at a good working height now and would most definitely recommend sitting at a desk to work for long periods of time.
Top Tip: When you are working on a laptop, try to draw your shoulders back and sit up straight. You can also purchase chair back supports online, which would definitely help.
I found breaking down the chapters and subtitles into bite-size goals made the concept of completing the book manageable. When I reached a particular point, I’d celebrate that fact, then have a break for a few days, stepping away from my laptop to regroup and relax. As a Body Balance instructor, I found engaging in some Yoga and Pilates was super-useful in my downtime.
Going over the publisher editing was quite challenging for me and this is where insecurity started to set in, especially as a new author. Should I add more? Is it good enough? What if no one likes it? This made me procrastinate, so I continued checking text, content, grammar, etc. to ensure nothing was missed. I wanted the book to sound like me and wanted this to come across in the text. I didn’t want to produce a generic robotic non-fiction book. I was advised to include my life experiences and I think it definitely helped to bring out the ‘Paula’ factor.
Because we were in lockdown, I had all the time I needed to write. However, as the nation started opening up again, and I was back working on my business, the time to write became more precious. My writing time became more erratic, catching a few hours here and there to focus, which happened to be late at night – not ideal! This made writing less enjoyable, as I felt I was rushing my work. This frustrated me, as I put myself under pressure to finish and I was also losing precious sleep. Next time, I will plan my week, so I schedule in my book time during the day and not after classes at night! I’m sure many authors can relate to spending late nights working, having a few hours of sleep, then off again. I do understand, though, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll! But it should not be a regular occurrence.
Healthy Black Life: A Cultural Guide To Better Health took me around a year to write. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so making it just right was important to me. I needed to feel that sense of ‘OK, I would read this book if it wasn’t mine’ achievement. But at some point, I had to say it was finished and feel confident with the end product.
Overall, writing was a learning experience I enjoyed, despite the challenges along the way. Looking back, it all seems such a blur, but I can honestly say my passion created productivity!
Passion carries you through the difficult times and develops perseverance. So, whatever your passion or whatever floats your boat, it’s good to know that writing about it, fiction or non-fiction, can be a blessing to others. Writing my book enabled me to help people far beyond my physical reach. We never really get to know how many lives we can positively impact until we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I have no doubt I will be writing again in the not-so-distant future.
Happy writing, Peeps!
Healthy Black Life: A Cultural Guide To Better Health is currently available on Amazon.
You can connect with Paula on her website: healthyblacklife.com, on Facebook: @healthyblacklife and on Instagram: @healthyblacklife.
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
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Passion carries you through the difficult times and develops perseverance.