Life Lessons: I Can’t Do Everything Myself?

I had a plan for this summer (I know: Life is what happens while we’re making plans): I would devote myself to narrating the audiobook version of Bless the Birds, my latest memoir and my 13th book.

I’ve procrastinated narrating the audiobook for the entire two and a half years since Bless the Birds was published, partly because I wanted to do the narration myself. It’s my story. (Also, I narrated the audiobook for my first memoir, Walking Nature Home.)

My excuses were good ones: since the book came out, I’ve moved four times, to three different states, and renovated three houses. And until this condo, which has a walk-in closet in the main bedroom, I haven’t had a place I could turn into a home recording studio.

The real reason? I wasn’t ready. Bless the Birds is an intense story. I needed time and distance, and perhaps every one of those four moves, to prepare myself.

This spring, I blocked out June through late July, the weeks between my two weed-management trips to the ranch, for audiobook narration. First, I had figure out the technical end. I watched some videos about audiobook narration and ordered a new microphone and headphones. I experimented with GarageBand, the recording and editing software, which I last used in 2010. Pretty soon, I thought I had it down.

By mid-June, I had set up my studio in my closet, and begun audio work. I recorded and edited the first few files (the front matter, introduction, and chapters one and two) and after listening to them carefully, decided there was too much background noise.

My recording microphone, a Blue Yeti Nano.

So I ordered a boom to hang the mic, with a vibration-dampening mount. When they arrived, I reconfigured my “recording desk”–a bookshelf I use as a dresser.

And started recording again. I would record a chapter, listen to the audio track and edit out any flubs–word mistakes, bad pronunciation, etc–and correct pacing issues, and then record another chapter and edit it. I could do two chapters a day before my voice tired.

About two-thirds of the way through the narration, I decided to make some small changes to the read and show the shift in Richard’s physical voice through the story.

My closet recording studio, set up between my winter coats and my hats!

That meant re-recording some sections and splicing them in. No problem; I’m good at that. I finished the final audio-edit a few days before I was to leave for Wyoming for my second weed-management stint at the ranch.

Before I left, I talked to an engineer highly recommended for audiobook mastering. When I got home, I uploaded some sample files for him.

A few days later, he called. There was good news, and bad news. The good: “You read well, and your voice is compelling.” The bad: My recording levels were too low; when he boosted the levels, the background noise was too high. “You wouldn’t be happy with the final product,” he said. “I suggest you re-record the whole thing.”


Honestly, I said, I didn’t have the heart to start over right then. “Give it some time,” he advised.

I realized that I had just learned a life lesson I managed to avoid for more than 66 years: I can’t do everything myself. Sometimes it’s best to ask for help–before I jump in.

Me and my brother in about 1958, when I would have been two years old, and he four. That’s my “I can do anything you can do!” face. 

Growing up, I was the small, often sickly kid who struggled to keep up with her adored older brother. My first sentence, my mother said once, was “Do it myself!”

I have always believed I could. And here I am at 66, still trying to prove myself. It seems that it’s time for a change.

I called The Guy and poured out my disappointment, and added my realization about not always being able to do everything myself. As I said those words, I remembered one of the few real arguments we had. “You never ask for help!” The Guy said back then, clearly frustrated. “I need to know I bring something to the relationship!”

Now, I reminded The Guy of his words and said, “You were right.” He didn’t gloat. “Yes,” he simply said. “That’s an important realization.” He asked what I planned to do.

“I’m going to look for a recording studio nearby,” I said, “and in the meantime, the new book is taking all of my attention.” I could hear his affirmative nod over the miles between us. “Patience is good,” he said, voice dry.

“Another thing I’m not good at,” I said, and we both laughed.

Learning sometimes comes hard and takes time to digest. Still, I’m grateful to continue to grow.

What have you learned about yourself lately?

10 thoughts on “Life Lessons: I Can’t Do Everything Myself?

  • Brandi Dredge says:

    Love your “I can do anything you can do face” as a little girl, full of confidence!! Thanks for sharing your experience, I am sloooowly learning a similar lesson. All the best!

    • Thanks much, Brandi! All the best to you, too, as you learn this big lesson. It’s interesting how difficult it can be to learn something so important….

  • Doing the audio is tough. When I’ve done YouTubes where I am talking about my books, same problems arise. Good you found some solutions. And learned something from it.

    • Thanks, Rain! I record and narrate a video every week on FB and IG called “Weekly Wildflower,” and the audio works smoothly. But that’s different than audiobook narration, which requires a whole other level of audio quality in order to work with Audible and the other big distributor’s specifications.

  • Oh yes this is a tough lesson. I learned a lot about that lesson all during cancer treatment. And then as I’ve felt better over the past few years I have forgotten that lesson. This summer I’ve been reminded again. I hate it when I have to learn a lesson more than once! I need help with my 1/3 acre of yard and house. All my efforts to lower maintenance are great…but you still have to do maintenance! Lower doesn’t mean none. Today I spoke with a company to do a variety of maintenance projects I have avoided and I have rehired my friend to help with the yard. Ugh, I want to do all of it myself, but it isn’t happening, so it’s time to get help! I so appreciate you sharing your journey of life lessons. xo

    • Susan K, Some lessons we have to learn more than once, or at least in more than one situation. This is certainly one of those for me! I’m glad you you’ve got people you can turn to for yard maintenance tasks, and your friend to help as well. It’s really a relief when we remember we don’t have to shoulder everything…. Hugs, S/t

  • Hi Susan,

    We are also finding out audiobooks are a whole other beast. Still working on raising funds to do our audio described coffee table book for the visually impaired. We want to narrate the image descriptions but we’ll hire professionals to read all the essays, including the ones you wrote. Thank you again for our wonderful essays in our book, “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.”

    When you are ready may your next recording sessions go smoothly.

    Where we are getting help. As you may know Rob and I have been printing our fine art prints in-house on our 44″ printer. We just found a way to paid for an e-commerce art website connected to vendors, where labs fulfill artwork and merchandise orders. Hands free art sales. They are also posting on our IG and FB accounts daily. Not fully hands free social media promotion, but all this will free us up to do other things, such as working in the yard.

    Yesterday we had our first sales: both a puzzle and a print of our field of wildflowers from Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve plus a copy of the book. A good start and we didn’t have to do anything. Hooray.

    Now we need to direct our time to keep building our website visitors.

    • Hi, Nita,

      I am glad you found the e-commerce art website! That sounds like a huge help. I have my eye on one of your prints to give to friends at home in Wyoming who love doing puzzles–I think the sandhill cranes at the Bosque del Apache print would be one they’d really enjoy, and I’ll be interested to see how it looks in puzzle form. I love the idea that this site is a way for you and Rob to add to your income stream without having to do all of the work yourselves. You’ve already done the work by traveling and “seeing” with your artists’ eyes this continent’s amazing biodiversity. So it’s good that you can diversify what you earn from that work in this new way. And also bring your art to new eyes.

      Good luck with the continued fundraising for the audio book version of Beauty and the Beast. That’s such a beautiful project. If it’s useful, I could read my essays and give you the sound files to use for the project once I get my new audio setup online and working.

      Blessings, Susan

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