Sabbatical Report: Taking the Non-traditional Path

Along US 50, the loneliest road, across Nevada

When I wrote about taking a sabbatical from forcing my writing to earn a living back in November, many of you left supportive comments on the blog or on social media, all of which I very much appreciated. Now that I’m two months in, I thought I’d let you know how it’s going.

Which is probably not the way you may have imagined. I’m not spending my days in leisurely reading and contemplation of the universe in its wondrous and chaotic ways. Nor am I writing up a storm.

What am I doing? A lot of planning for the April release of Bless the Birds, my upcoming memoir. I’ve been sending advance review copies to magazines and newspapers that have book review sections, which involves a lot of tedious looking up of addresses and editors’ names, and finding their requirements for review copies in these COVID times when many people are still working remotely.

The advance review copies of Bless the Birds

I’m also dreaming up virtual book events involving bookstores and libraries. The idea I am percolating is a series of internet-based conversations with fellow authors whose work intersects with mine, exchanges on topics that relate to our work.

One idea, for example, is a conversation with my over-the-ridge neighbor, Kati Standefer, whose absolutely stunning debut memoir, Lightning Flowers, tracks in gorgeous and raw prose the human and environmental cost of the defibrillator implanted in her chest that both saved and irretrievably altered her life. We could talk about living on the edge of death, a subject we both know more about than we’d like. My dream is to have that event sponsored by Collected Works, my favorite Santa Fe bookstore, as my book launch event.

I’d like to have a conversation with Ken Lamberton, author of Wilderness and Razor Wire, among other fine books, about stumbling into the understanding that the world outside our skin boundaries, the wild world nearby, can save us. I’d like to talk with Kathy Moore, author of Earth’s Wild Music, about what humans lose when we lose other species, when the tapestry of this living planet frays beyond what seems repairable.

Lichen, an entity made of two kinds of lives that are entirely different but manage to cooperate for their mutual benefit, a fungus and a photosynthesizing algae or bacteria.

I imagine these virtual events as a series of thoughtful interactions between people you’d like to listen to, conversations that explore ideas you’d like to know more about. Conversations that are inspiring and thought-provoking, and yes, might relate to our books, but are mostly offerings from us to you.

Because what I’ve realized during this sabbatical is that, while I do have a book to promote, what’s most important to both the writer me and the scientist me is that I have experiences and ideas that I want to share, and I know writers whose ideas and experiences I want to delve into. So if I can combine those things, book promotion will be something useful to all of us, instead of merely an exercise in selling something.

In dreaming up this series of conversations, I’m taking a non-traditional path, focusing more on what I have to share than on sales. Because that’s in alignment with why I wrote, which is to offer something I know to others in a way that I hope will be useful, inspiring, life-changing, or simply worth the read.

I owe this realization in part to work I did last year with Beata Lewis, goddess of transformational work (you could call her an executive coach, but that’s too limiting), and work I am doing now with human-centered marketer Dan Blank of We Grow Media. Both of them pushed me to look beyond the conventional view of what success in writing means, to integrate the left-brained scientist and the right-brained writer, and to listen to what my heart and spirit ask of me.

Which occurs to me is very much in the spirit of this sabbatical: reflecting on who I am and what I am doing with my life.

Hence this new mission statement:

I aim to restore our love and care for this numinous Earth, and help us be our best and kindest selves–wholly at home on a healthy planet.

Reflections on a lake in the Cascades above Bend, Oregon

24 thoughts on “Sabbatical Report: Taking the Non-traditional Path

  • Louise Olsen-Marquez says:

    Susan, what great ideas. I think one of my favorite things during Covid, is watching discussions between two writers that I love on U Tube, have watched a few. They were sometimes started as an interview with two writers that then took off as a discussion watched. I hope you record them and put on your website. Louise Olsen-Marquez

    • Thank you, Louise! I am hoping that one of the conversations will be sponsored by GARNA and the current iteration of The Book Haven, as a benefit for both. I’ll have to see about recording and archiving the conversations since that will require approval from everyone involved, especially the other writer in the conversation. Nothing is simple!

      • Fran Rulon-Miller says:

        I hope GARNA and the Book Haven respond to your request as I’m sure you have an eager and receptive audience here. Looking forward to BtB!

        • Thanks, Fran. If you have a relationship with the Book Haven, let them know you’re excited about BtB. It helps bookstores to hear from customers. 🙂

  • I’ve enjoyed watching writers discuss their work especially if they are out in nature to talk. It isn’t easy turning such out and many of them pay those who do it for a living to create something that works.

    • Hi, Rain, Producing professional video is expensive and time-consuming! I’m planning on Zoom conversations sponsored by bookstores, libraries, or non-profits whose work is aligned with the subject of the conversations. My idea is intimate, live discussions with Q&As afterwards.

  • Susan, I love your non-traditional approach. I’m looking forward to receiving and reading my preordered copy of Bless the Books.

    • Thanks so much, Lindy! I hope that BtB offers you useful tools and a renewed perspective on living a healthy and nurturing life.

  • I look forward to following your emerging journey, Susan. I’ve always enjoyed your poetic style of writing and your thoughtful musings. I’m a long-term subscriber to The Sun magazine and I’m always hoping to see one of your pieces in that publication. Maybe someday. In the meantime, all the best from Poncha Springs. JD

    • Thank you, JD! I’m honored by your words. I love The Sun too, and would be delighted to have a piece published there. It’s very difficult to get in because they receive thousands of submissions for each issue. But as you say, perhaps someday! Best to you.

  • I love this “non-traditional” path, Susan, and am inspired to consider this whole-mind approach in my own writing. Thank you for forging the path for those of us who need a guide.

    Hugs to you,


    • Len, I’m so glad my marketing thoughts and process are useful to you. I think it’s too easy to get in the mindset that we need to follow the traditional path, and while that can bar useful, it’s always a good exercise to stop and ask ourselves whether that path takes us where we want to go in a way that feels authentic and true to us individually. Hugs back!

    • As the American singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer sings about changing the world, I can only change what is right nearby, “within three feet or so.” But I’m working on it, person by person, plant by plant.

  • Hi Susan, I look forward to seeing you at a virtual event. Of course I will want a copy of Bless the Birds in hand when that time comes. The process of marketing is necessary and a non traditional path may be the best way to navigate life during these times. Your mission statement is thoughtful and we are thankful to be part of your journey. Hugs your way.

    • Robin, I think a non-traditional path is the only one that works for me anytime. I am just not good at coloring within the lines! Thanks for your support. Hugs back…

  • Such a a helpful glimpse into book promotion in a time of pandemic. I can’t even imagine the countless steps you are having to take to get your beautiful book out into this world, Susan! I have tried to call Book Haven but they didn’t return my call to purchase your book (way back when we could first pre-order). So I ended up buying it from Independent Booksellers online. I will call and leave a message about how I’d LOVE to see you in an online author conversation for your book sponsored by them. I can’t imagine GARNA not going to any length possible to support your speaking. Such a beautiful opportunity for them and all the members! Hang in there and thanks for sharing the journey with us. Sending great love and encouraging cheers your way.

    • Heather, Thank you for your thoughtful support! I have no idea why Book Haven didn’t return your call, unless they were still figuring out how to handle orders and pre-orders. I’m sure the pandemic has been challenging for them. I need to firm up my ideas a bit more before approaching GARNA, but will do that soon. Love to you!

  • Susan, I love that you have been able to give yourself this time to refine your focus, but also that you are working on ways to get BtB into the hands that will give the book its fullest next life, having nurtured it so carefully through its development.

    And I am rocked back on my heels a bit by the idea of promoting a book in a way that’s useful to everyone. Hmmm.

    • Andrea, Barry Lopez said something in a conversation a couple of years ago that has stuck with me. We were talking about the long journey of Bless the Birds as I sought to make the story meaningful to a wider audience. Barry said, “I have come to believe that the best thing we can do as writers is be useful.” So as I think about why I’m doing what I’m doing at 64, and what I want from this “homestretch” of my life, it’s to be useful. I don’t know that my Living with Love Conversations will be useful to everyone, but I do want them to have as broad a reach as possible. We wrote so that our words will make a difference. And that’s what I’m working on. 🙂

    • Thanks, Lynn! Actually, I’m not really aiming at the book launch, more at having a long tail for the book selling way beyond the launch. It’s already generating pre-orders, and I figure word of mouth will really help sell it. But what I need is to offer something that keeps people interested so that it keeps selling. And that’s the conversations, which are about offering a value that goes way beyond “buy my book,” into giving people wisdom about how to live with love in difficult times. I imagine the conversations developing into a regular podcast with spinoffs on social media.

    • Marlena, One of the things I realized during the pandemic and the political turmoil of the past several years was that there’s no better time to stand up for what I believe in than right now. That realization, plus a lot of help clarifying what gifts I bring to this world from both transformation coach Beata Lewis and marketing genius Dan Blank, has helped me “hear” my path and figure out how to create a way forward t hat I believe in and can devote myself to. May you find your own creative and rewarding way in these interesting times.

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