My Book’s Journey, Part 3: Hiding Behind Others’ Projects… And Writing My Way Out

Posted by on Apr 19, 2012 in General | 5 comments

How could I NOT put Don Crawley in here? Read why!

Day 3 of the mini-series! So, when we last left, I found a new career as a professor, but a lost publishing deal. I made the conscious decision that I was just not meant to write for myself. I’ll pick up where that sentiment left off. If you’re just coming on board, catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.


As is expected with chronologies like this, I don’t want you to think I totally gave up on my writing dream: I absolutely did try several times to get a freelance career going and to work on some fiction projects over the years. In fact, in the 1990s, I wrote about single life (after I got married for my 1.2 seconds, of course–not fiction, though I wish it had been!) for several publications–unpaid. I scored a few magazine articles and one co-authored piece in The Denver Post. I had a few different book ideas that I hoped to get going. The problem, as is true for so many writers, is that those damned bills just have to be paid. When I did medical transcription, I worked long hours and the last thing I wanted to do was sit at a keyboard for one more minute.

Once I became an academic, my writing “need” became somewhat re-ignited by the publishing jobs. The only problem, of course, was that they were for other people’s work. What happened with the defunct public speaking project frightened me too much to entertain any type of author project ever again. Believe me, I’ve been asked many times since then by well-meaning editors and I just (kindly) put my hand up and change the subject.

Now in the meanwhile, let’s circle back to me as an educator: I had this conversation with a student one day (eight years ago, to be precise). It was one of those conversations that turns a prof upside down—you know it isn’t one you’re going to soon forget (I won’t get into details… you’ll see why tomorrow… Just trust me on this one).

After the student left my office, I took one of those yellow legal pads and scratched out a few clueless statements that I wished students would stop making.

I kept the list in my desk drawer. I kept adding to it from time to time. I had no real plan for the list. But over time, you can imagine that it kept growing.

A few times, my heart would thump with a, “I wish I could help students realize that if they could only communicate in a different way… Hey, this would make a great book!”

But I’d stop that thought right there. I couldn’t handle the heartache again.

Fast-forward to 2009. The economy took a huge hit. My husband had lost his job (in corporate healthcare, no less–he has an amazing job now, so not to worry!) from 2008-2009. The publishing industry was hit hard, too. I was planning on my usual high add to my annual income, which had been committed by one of my “clients.” But then, they pulled back about $7,000 out of $10,000 offered… and reduced the entire scope of the ancillary deliverables! Ugh! Devastation!

As this was happening, I had a coffee visit with a former non-traditional student of mine, Don Crawley. Don is one of those rare students that could have taught my Interpersonal Class because he is so skilled, himself. We expressed mutual desire to stay in touch once class ended because we both love public speaking, interpersonal communication, and writing (he has a number of published books). We also had a lot in common in that Don did training to fund theater and other projects that he loves.

So when Don and I met for coffee and shared our stories, I told him my sad publishing tales… the lost deal, the pull-back of the $7,000. By this time (remember, it was about six years after I started that list in the desk drawer), I actually had done more with the list I was scratching out–fleshing out paragraphs associated with them. The writing was extremely random, though. Maybe once every couple of months, I’d pick up the list or open up the file on my computer. I called it my “student-professor communication heart piece” (whereas the public speaking book was my “head” piece. Boy, it became a head-piece, all right–a head trip!).

I told Don that I was just weary. I loved working on publishing projects, but I was tired of being at the mercy of publishers and their budgets (when I met up with Don, it was in summer 2009–my husband was just going to be heading back to work weeks later, but we didn’t know it yet). I was tired of writing behind the scenes. The truth? I was tired of giving up on myself as a writer.

I pulled out my pieces of paper and showed Don some of what I had written.

He took a close look and made two powerful statements:

First: “Ellen, I think you might have something here.”


“This weekend, why don’t you just write again… because you love it.”

I smiled at Don’s comment that I might be on to something special, but waved my hand at the possibility of writing over the weekend. I have two young kids. How was that going to happen?

Well, Don apparently spoke to the universe.

I rarely, rarely get sick. I credit the fact that I take pretty good care of myself, I run (waddle) all the time, and I think moms just aren’t supposed to become ill because we take care of everyone else.

That particular weekend, I got a vicious cold–in early summer. I don’t even get vicious colds in the dead of winter. Hmm. I was definitely laid up, though.

I wasn’t too sick to hold a laptop. So I wrote 21 more pages.

My soul began to sprout.

I called Don on Monday and said, “You were so right. I wrote again… for myself… and I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.”

My mind was made up then and there: I was going to pursue my project… my little student-professor communication heart book. If my work was good enough for others’ books, why couldn’t I have my own book?

Little did I know, another phone call was going to come in the coming weeks that would change everything once again.

Are you ready for the end of the story? It’s coming tomorrow… And, just to throw another interesting wrench into the picture, the publisher did come back with a counter after the pull-back of the money. They retooled the project, changed the deliverables, and then ponied up the majority of their original offer. Would I run to the “safe” and give up on me? I’ll tell you!

No reason to wait… jump over to Part 4.




  1. I’m LOVING this story – the evolution of you, your new book, and how it all happened. I feel like I’m watching a soap opera – a good one though. Thx for sharing, Professor!

    • Hi, Bruce,

      I just posted the last installment late yesterday evening. I’m away at a faculty retreat in Leavenworth, WA… a beautiful, SUNNY location, which was the perfect place to end this series! (It’s raining in Seattle… oy!). Thank you for staying with me. And for being with me, just in general. My connection with you in SM and otherwise is treasured.

  2. Besides enjoying the story Ellen, I am really enjoying the natural breakpoint “cliff hangers” for the story segments.

    Great job, and I look forward to the happy conclusion (great when you know the ending sometimes, huh).

    • Hi, Brian,
      Yes, I guess it’s true that you do know how the story ends. I had fun writing it, even though I know how the story ends. I had a lot of fun writing this and you gave me a lot of inspiration with your last series and even your upcoming one! You have impacted my blogging more than you could ever realize!

      • I know you have some great contributors to your feed and ideas, Ellen – so I’m glad to be a part of your creative process!

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