Interview with author Patti Digh
I started writing my blog, 37days.com, in January of 2005, as a response to my stepfather dying just 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was asking myself one question: “What would I be doing if I only had 37 days to live?” and writing my stories down for my two daughters was one important answer to that question. Several years after I started writing it, a publisher approached me and asked if I was interested to make a book from 37days. That book, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally, was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2008, and is illustrated exclusively by readers of my blog from around the world.
Q: Tell us a little about your background.
I got my undergraduate degree in English, with a focus on contemporary American literature, and my graduate degree in English and Art History, with a focus on the figure of the artist in fiction.
My graduate thesis was on William Gaddis’ masterpiece, The Recognitions, which I consider one of the great American novels (along with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove [yes, really], and Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing).
I imagined I would be an English professor somewhere, but I found myself in Washington, D.C., for 20 years after graduate school, in the business world. The first book I co-authored was called a “business book of the year 2000” by Fortune magazine. A few years later, I wrote another well-regarded business book.
And then the death of my stepfather sent me on a much more personal path, and I haven’t looked back at that other business voice since. I am fully inhabiting my own voice now, and telling my own stories.
Q: When you started blogging, was your objective to get a book contract and if so, are there specific steps to make that happen?
Absolutely not, and I believe we fall prey to focusing on outcome and not on process far too often. My intention was singular: I wanted to write my stories down for my two daughters so they would know me as a person, and not just as a mom. I wanted to leave behind a record of my being-all of it, not just the tidy professional me, but the messy, confused, fearful parts too.
I had no audience in mind but them, and I believe this singularity of intention ultimately drew readers in great numbers to the blog, ironically. A friend teaches young actors and one of the first things he teaches them is that you can’t play two intentions on stage at the same time. For example, you can either warn Hamlet (if that is the part you are playing), or you can try to get the audience to love you, but you can’t do both and do them honestly. Writing for a book contract is a split intention. Write what it is you long to say instead. Focus on process-using your voice, saying what you long to say-and not on product. Focus on content, and not on form.
Q: Will your MWW Intensive Session be more technology oriented or writing oriented; in other words, what should people expect?
Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. In general, writers spend more time talking about how to write or what to write or what keeps us from writing than we do actually writing. This intensive will take us into process. I’ll also share insider tips on product–what happens in that liminal space between blog and book? We’re going to look at intention, voice, and much more–by writing, by digging into both content and form.
Q: Anything quirky or unusual about yourself inquiring minds would want to know?
My childhood hero was Johnny Unitas (quarterback for the Baltimore Colts), I played Johnny Appleseed in my fourth grade play, one of my favorite recording artists is Johnny Cash, I have a slight obsession with Johnny Depp, and I’m married to a man named Johnny. There is a pattern here. I also love the smell of lavender, and I write a thank you note every morning. And mail it. And I love to laugh.