Does your mind bounce from one thing to another, affecting your ability to be productive or creative? Does your inner critic occasionally control your thoughts, reducing your capacity to be kind to yourself? Cultivating Compassion, leads readers through a step-by-step exploration of personal values and thought patterns. It offers guidance through inspirational themes, self-reflection questions, and suggestions for daily action.
Today I’ve met up with Amy Pattee Colvin, the author of Cultivating Compassion. Amy, thanks for joining me today. Compassion meditation isn’t something that we hear about every day, generally it seems that we hear more about Transcendental, Mindfulness or zen forms of meditation. So, what lead you to writing specifically about compassion meditation?
I’ve been interested in sharing the benefits of compassion meditation for many years. I’ve also considered the idea of writing a book for a couple of years. One day, one of my sisters asked, seemingly out of the blue as I don’t remember the context, “Have you ever thought of writing a book?” I replied, “Yes! But I don’t know where I’d start.” She suggested that I start with my blog posts, and some of the ideas I teach in my Cultivating Compassionate Balance courses. From that seemingly small exchange earlier this year, the book came into being.
You would have obviously been influenced by your experiences teaching your Cultivating Compassionate Balance courses, did you also try and blend in other tidbits from your life to enhance the message?
Absolutely! It is difficult to convince people to embark on new habits, especially involving personal growth, if you can’t relate to their pain points. The introduction of the book includes a story of when I decided I really needed to start practicing meditation daily. That change of habit helped me through a pretty difficult period of life. I know first hand the positive change that comes from practicing mindfulness, meditation, and acceptance and compassion for self and others. From this first hand knowledge I can be authentic when I share experiences of my own growth.
And when the readers get into the authentic experiences in the book, what are the top three things they can learn?
Readers will learn how to:
1. Move toward contentment and away from anxiety while reducing judgment and criticism of self and others.
2. Calm the mind and direct thoughts more positively at the same time as creating deeper levels of serenity, resilience, and creativity.
3. Integrate mindfulness and self-compassion practices into everyday life
Did you feel that you covered everything you wanted to about compassion meditation in this book, or do you think you will have to revisit with a second book?
I’m thinking about new ideas for more in-depth books on compassion meditation. For example: Compassion Practices for Parents, Compassionate Leadership, or Self-Compassion for Healthcare Providers.
Giving a deeper message for these specific readers does sound like a really good idea. Just for curiosity’s sake, did it take long for you to get your ideas on compassion meditation onto paper? Did you type?
For this book I typed.
Okay, so getting the ideas onto the electronic paper, rather than the physical tree based kind. Did it take long?
The writing phase took only about 3 weeks. But, again, this isn’t a really text heavy book. However the self-editing, proofing, formatting all took much more time than the actual writing itself. I could have gotten it out the door a week or two earlier, but I’m glad I didn’t push myself to do that. I really wanted to launch this book on September 11th, and I like the juxtaposition of the offering a hopeful book on a day of tragedy.
Was that juxtaposition the most gratifying aspect of the end-to-end process of writing this book for you?
The most rewarding thing about writing this book is the recognition that the inspirations, self-reflection questions, and suggested daily actions are truly helping people live better lives. I’ve received feedback from many people via email, Facebook, or even in the book reviews, that they’ve begun implementing the 66 steps and even within a few short days they’re already beginning to notice positive change. That is what it’s all about for me. Helping people help themselves, helping people thrive.
And have you seen any feedback or evidence of people thriving from your work? How about your first book review, did that feel like you’d made a difference?
I was really surprised, and filled with gratitude. I’d just gotten the book loaded the night before, and hadn’t sent any messages out to my list of friends and family. When I woke up in the morning, voila! A book review magically appeared. The person leaving the review was an acquaintance, not even close friend or family! I immediately sent him a thank you message, letting him know he’d made my day. I’ll never forget that the first review on my first book came from him.
I’m glad to hear that the first appreciation from a book review went well for you. Now, we’ve gotten a bit sidetracked from where we were earlier and talking about the actual writing process. Can I now pick your brain about how you attacked the editing process?
I followed the advice that when writing just write. So I did. Based on this book’s format I actually started out in a spreadsheet.
That’s fantastic! As a big fan of spreadsheets, I love the idea of writing from a spreadsheet. So how did it work?
I had 66 rows, and the following columns: inspiration, self-reflection, daily action. Once I filled in all those columns and rows… and it wasn’t chronological, I’d jump around dropping in bits that inspired me here and there… I dumped it into a Google Doc and started writing the context for each inspiration. I simply wrote, I didn’t edit at all. Then when all those pieces were written I printed it out and read the whole thing through. I crossed stuff out, moved ideas around, made notes of what to add. After making those adjustments I sent it off to an editor, and made more adjustments based on her input. Then I took a dive into formatting. I chose to format the Kindle and paperback versions separately. I’d receive quite a bit of feedback that I should have had someone else format the book, but I found enough information online on how to do it I chose to do it myself. Because, in the formatting process I really began to fine tune the final product. If I hadn’t taken that incredibly slow process of looking for widows, and manually hyphenating words, I wouldn’t have seen how to tighten up some of the writing. Ultimately I think the best editing came from this round of revisions. And I was fortunate to have a couple of sisters who were great at editing/proofing and I could always text them and ask for feedback about phrasing, or structure.
That sounds like a different, but effective strategy. Did you take your ‘have-a-go’ attitude and dive into the cover design as well?
I was referred to a fabulous designer, ida Fia Sveningsson. I had no idea at all what I wanted the cover to look like, so I offered her complete freedom. The first design she sent back wasn’t what I was looking for at all, but it was brilliant as it helped me define what I WAS looking for. Ultimately she designed a cover that receives as many compliments as the context of the book.
She’s done a god job. As a now successfully published author who has even gone through the formatting process, do you have any tips for other authors?
Just do it! Don’t worry about if you have enough time or not. If you want to do it you’ll get it done. And, during intensive phases, such as writing or editing, get away from distractions. I’d close down email and social media tabs on my computer. I’d put my phone on do not disturb. I’d set a timer, usually in 15 minute increments on days when I was feeling distracted, and say to myself… it’s 15 minutes… you can concentrate for 15 minutes… Then you can take a break. Some days I didn’t need a timer, as I wasn’t running into resistance.
I like the idea of writing in bite sized chunks. Leaves less dents in your head from the keyboard, although that’s less of an issue if you try and write using dictation. Have you tried dictation yourself?
Though I can certainly see the benefit of dictation and expect I’ll use that for future projects.
You should try it, I’d be interested to hear how it goes. We’re at my personal favourite section of our author interviews, the Quick Fire Round. Just answer the next set of questions as quickly as possible.
Who is your favourite authors, and do you believe that they have influenced your writing style?:
I wouldn’t say she’s a favorite author, but reading Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization when I was in 7th grade had a huge impact on my life. I think that is the moment my curiosity about my inner life began.
I haven’t heard about that, but I’ll note down that book as a recommendation. More importantly can you stand on your hands unassisted?
Does a wall count as an assist???
Yeah, it kinda does count.
Then no. However, I still LOVE climbing trees! =)
Climbing trees is fun! What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved the original Winnie the Pooh books. And I really liked all the L. Frank Baum books. As I got older I really enjoyed The Once and Future King, and The Sword in the Stone.
Can you curl your tongue?
Yes, in two directions!
Which are cooler? Dinosaurs or Dragons?
Oh, that is a hard one. Dinosaurs are awesome, but I think dragons are cooler. In fact just the other day an artist friend of mine, who’s turning 80 this fall, just texted me and told me she’d painted a dragon, silver and gold watercolor on a black background, for me and is sending it up to me next week.
And finally, what is your favourite line, quote or statement from your book?
Day 2: “I want to be a better person, and I will work on that.” This is the best gift you can give yourself.
And I think that is a great note to leave today’s interview on. Amy, thanks again for being so generous with your time and I hope that you can help many more people thrive through this book and your next.
Want to connect with Amy? You can find her here: