Thursday, February 19, 2009


I am almost three years into writing a book about someone else. Aaron Johnson is a remarkable man who has had nine lives... at least. And, I've been given the privilege of trying to record all of those lives on paper.

The thing that amazes me most about this process, is the trust that Aaron has had to have in me. I can't imagine doing what he's doing... opening up his life and private thoughts to someone he didn't even know three years ago. Yet, he has and I must tell you, I am the better person for it. Over the many hours Aaron and I have talked he has taken me into some of the darkest places we have on this earth, like the hollow chambers of death row or standing blindfolded surrounded by angry members of the Ku Klux Klan. He has also taken me into the heart of a loving family and shown me the joy a life of faith can bring.

After hundreds of interviews with not only Aaron, but family members, friends, colleagues and even a chat with a death row inmate the framework of Aaron's life has taken form. With over 61,000 words written so far, I'm closing in on the last chapters.

What have I learned about myself during this process? Well... first off, I'm a procrastinator. I will find any excuse I can to NOT start writing for the day. Like...emptying the dishwasher, or making the bed, or answering email. Why writers do this I don't know, but we do. We love to write, but physically taking our bodies and plopping them down in the chair and keeping them there til the job is done takes enormous willpower... so I'm sure I need to make a cup of tea first or maybe walk the dog. Of course I don't have a dog, but if I did I'm sure I'd need to walk him before I got down to business.

Second...I do get down to business. I'm good at it. Once I start working...I'm THERE. I focus. I pace myself. I write. I plot. I get'er done as they say. I'm not afraid of the work or the blank page (I just have a hard time 'facing it' first thing in the morning). I LOVE the process of writing. I love the laboring over just the right words. I thrill at arranging a paragraph that solicits a reaction. I love it all--even the stops and starts.

Third, I've learned just how much I love research. I love digging and following a lead. I love the thrill of discovery of a document or a fact I've been trying to uncover. And finding a photo that has long been forgotten or lost is like winning the lottery. Well, I've never actually won a lottery but I'm sure if I would, I'd do a happy dance and jump up and down and smile real big and be flabbergasted at my good luck.

I've learned more about myself, but I'll save that for another time. Think about it...would you ever do what Aaron is doing and open your life up for all to see? Would you tell everything or just parts? I'd like to hear from you. Until next time....

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