The Book Writing Process Begins

When Robin and I decided we were finally ready to start working on our book in January 2014, I had put together a rough outline.  The next step was for me to go back to my journals so I could remind myself about the details of 2003.  I was beginning to work on that process, when something miraculous happened.  In hindsight, anyway, it now feels miraculous.

I was sitting in my living room, with my laptop computer on my lap where it sits much of the time when I am home.  I have become a pro at multi-tasking…often watching television with my husband while working on paperwork from my job, journaling, (now, blogging) emailing my friends, etc.  One afternoon, I was working on paperwork and checked my email.  There was an email with the title “Have You Ever Thought About Writing a Book?”

It was not in my spam folder, because it came from a company I know and trust.  It was a company that provides educational workshops for mental health professionals.  I had gone to many of their workshops and always had good experiences.  This is not always the case…as anyone who has to get continuing education units for their profession knows, there are many crappy workshops out there.  But that is another story.  On that afternoon, I felt compelled to open this email since I ­­was thinking about writing a book.  I was curious to see what it said.  That one email changed the entire course of the book writing process.

The email was announcing a six week on-line course offered by Bill O’Hanlon.  For those who are not in the mental health field, Bill O’Hanlon is quite famous.  I had known about him since my graduate school days in the late 1980s, when I attended a workshop he was doing on “Solution Focused Therapy.”  This type of therapy was new back then, and Bill O’Hanlon was one of the gurus.  I enjoyed learning from him.  His workshop was definitely not one of the crappy ones.  Twenty-five years later, when I opened that email I immediately remembered him.  In the meantime, he had had a very successful career and had written and published many books with various topics related to mental health.

The gist of the course was that Bill would be putting new material on-line each week, with assignments for students to complete.  He would provide feedback on the work you did as a student, and an on-line forum for other students to give feedback to each other.  And, during the class there would be six conference calls with Bill in which students could talk to him directly and ask questions.  The idea of taking a course with Bill O’Hanlon was exciting to me.

I was sitting in my living room, reading about the description of the course.  I had to make a very quick decision, as the deadline for signing up was that day!  The course was getting ready to start that weekend.  I remember feeling clear at the time, without question, that I needed to do it.  The cost was not cheap, but also not unreasonable.  I called Robin and we discussed it.  I told her I was planning to take the course, and we could do the assignments together.  I knew it would be a great way for us to get focused on our book project.  Robin, of course, was happy to be involved.

So, Robin and I sat down together in January 2014 and began the on-line course.  Bill O’Hanlon’s course, for anyone who has ever thought about writing a book, is helpful.  The beginning assignments forced us to get very clear about the focus of the book, the audience, the concept, the title and an outline.  The other students in the class were instrumental in terms of giving us feedback.

Coming up with the title was quite a process.  When we started thinking about the title, the word “Despair” was obvious.  But, from despair, to what?  What were we trying to communicate in terms of what happened for Robin?  Despair to Stability….no, true but doesn’t sound good.  Despair to Acceptance….also true, but not strong enough a word to relay the magnitude of the shift Robin experienced.  Despair to….what?  This is where the other students came in.  They joined us in the hunt for the perfect word.  I will always be grateful to a man named Matt from Arizona for throwing out the word “Deliverance.”  It was perfect.  All the other students thought so too.  It was the clear winner.

Then I googled it.  I wanted to make sure this title had not been used before.  I was happy to find that there was no sign of any books with this title.  Despair to Deliverance it was.  But, it also needed a subtitle.

It is important to know that Bill O’Hanlon is an expert self-help book writer and has helped many people write and publish self-help books.  The problem was, our book idea was really more of a memoir.  The assignments from the course wanted us to outline what the reader would gain by reading our book, and how specifically our book would cause them to get to that point.  In other words, we were asked to complete assignments for our book as a self-help book.

I went to school for most of my twenties…four years of college and six years of graduate school.  I am nothing if not a compliant student.  When I am given an assignment in a course, I try to complete it to the best of my ability.  So, it was with the need for a promise to the reader that they would get a prescription for how to improve their lives, that the subtitle for our book was created.  Suddenly, the book Robin and I were writing together became “Despair to Deliverance:  A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness and How You Can Triumph Too.”

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About Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D.

Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D. completed her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Purdue University. She spent ten years doing full-time clinical practice at a community mental health center with primarily adults. She then spent eight years working as an administrator at that same community mental health center while continuing to maintain a small caseload of therapy clients. She now provides clinical services in long-term care facilities in addition to writing and spending as much time as possible with the people she loves.
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6 Responses to The Book Writing Process Begins

  1. It’s very interesting to follow the chronicles of this clinical relationship. It warms my heart.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! It means a lot to me to hear from a fellow psychologist. I assume you understand the vulnerability for me in writing about the once in career experience I had with Robin in 2003. It really is unbelievable how well she is now doing and we are excited for the book to come out so people can read the rest of her story. I have looked at your website and your blog, and love your work. I will happily send you a complimentary copy of our book once it is done (currently still in the editing process).

  3. This sounds really interesting. I’m in the early stages of writing a book myself – I look forward to yours.

  4. Aden Ng says:

    As a mental health blogger, it still amazes me that you managed to tell such a long and well structured story from your experience. And as a writer, I find the way you started fascinating. I write fiction, so stories just come and pour onto the page as I go along. But non-fiction like yours is a whole different ball game, and it’s interesting to see the process.

    • Thanks! There’s more to come, both in the telling of the process of writing, and of course the book! I’m about to write the Epilogue for the book, and we are thinking about the cover. Robin and I are getting excited!

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