I have mixed feelings about using the term “sherpa” as a metaphor for being someone’s guide to the writing process. On the one hand, I kind of hate how popular it has become. The phrase “digital sherpa,” for example, to describe someone who can increase your online platform or enhance your etailing efforts is so incongruous as to just be plain wrong.
At the same time, writers like company. They like to hear that you’ve been up the mountain of writing a book a few dozen times before — even though it always looks different, of course, when it’s your book, author…
I have found that writers are especially grateful for a sherpa when they are merrily tromping up the lower reaches of a trail after having left base camp, doing some good climbing and starting to sweat but being content that they are getting somewhere… and then they look up and the mountain top is towering over them, a sheer precipice they could never imagine scaling. Because sometimes the closer you get, the further the goal looks and it’s helpful to know that that’s all part of it.
P.S. I have a friend whose family trade is being a sherpa, like a real sherpa, in Nepal. In fact, their last name is Sherpa. Anyway, he told me that most something Westerners don’t know which is that every sherpa carries a body bag in their pack for the hikers who don’t make it back alive. But of course we don’t tell the writers that…
I had a client recently begin her memoir on a lark. Pretty quickly she realized that this process is not for the faint of heart. And there’s probably nothing that can soften that.
For a memoir that is any good, we have to go there, and we have to stay there. And we’re going to have to write all about what it was like on the inside beneath the revenge fantasies that may have prompted us to write this thing in the first place.
I believe this is where opening a can of worms as a simile can be applied…because those worms might not be great looking and they might go in every direction and they are impossible to get back into the tin, once the lid has been pulled jaggedly back.
I would preach, and also hopefully practice, that when we are writing about real stuff more real stuff tends to come up. And not always in a good way.
That, to me, means I have to enjoy the act of writing as much as I can. Choose my hours, my implements, my setting, and my preparation with care. I have to really settle into the process, and not only respect it, but enjoy it. Love it, in fact, because it helps bring increasing clarity to our lives.
Then the work gets done and it doesn’t feel so much like work. Does that resonate?
Introductions drag; they are dry; they are officious and insincere. But it doesn’t have to be this way if you consider these five strategies:
1. Talk to us in the voice of the book. Don’t adopt a more serious or distant tone that isn’t engaging or faithful to what readers will hear when they progress to Chapter One.
2. Tell us something new. The academic-style synopsis which reels off what each chapter in the upcoming book will contain smells like school. Plus, it won’t have the life of the chapters to come: the thought-provoking idea, the sensual details. So it’s truly worse than nothing.
3. Give us connections that we might not get elsewhere. An Introduction is by definition not any particular chapter, but rather than just treading water until we get to the good stuff, afford us a perspective we can only embrace by surveying the entire landscape at once.
4. Keep it brief. An introduction between two people at a party gets to the heart of what might be interesting to each person present — it isn’t a ten minute soliloquy that is all about the speaker. Introduce your reader to your book and then excuse yourself to see what kind of scotch they’re serving.
5. Be direct. Addressing the reader intimately might not be your style, but you are basically asking them to read your book. Even if you want to convince them based solely on the book’s own merits, you still have to connect with the reader personally on the level of motivation or emotion.