Think about your most awesome high-school teacher. Now, multiply that by a million and you’ve got Camille Adana.
Camille is a motivational powerhouse who has influenced over twenty thousand teenagers during her sixteen-plus years as a high school teacher and coach in Portland, Oregon. Her success is especially poignant when viewed in light of her difficult upbringing. She was raised in a home environment of drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and financial hardship. And yet, she found a way to thrive. She was a top student and athlete throughout high school and college, and today she is a happy, healthy adult who looks back on her life with gratitude.
Camille is committed to sharing her message of love and inspiration with as many people as she possibly can. Because writing has been an important part of her own personal development, she decided that writing a book was a natural way for her to expand her sphere of influence beyond the high school where she teaches.
The challenge for Camille—and the reason she sought me out—was that, after six years of hammering away on her book, it still wasn’t finished. As driven as she is, she leads an extremely busy life (I’m sure many can relate!). She decided it was time to bring on a collaborator.
When I read an early draft of Camille’s book, I recognized right away that it suffered from problems that are very common in personal development books.
Problem #1: Genre conventions--The genre was a mash-up; it wasn’t fully committed to being a memoir, and yet it wasn’t quite a traditional nonfiction self-help book, either.
Problem #2: Audience was uncertain--some of the content was aimed at teens, while some of the content was more appropriate for adults.
Problem #3: Given the highly delicate nature of the memoir, Camille was experiencing some anxiety and vulnerability around how much of her personal history to reveal.
The Writing Process
Our first task as coauthors was to figure out some key foundational pieces: Who is the audience? What are the key messages we want to impart? How should we structure the book?
We started very loosely. I grabbed my audio recorder, hopped into Camille’s car, and we ventured out around SE Portland to some of the important places from her childhood. My goal was to let the story reveal itself to us. A few hours later, we ended up at a bar, enjoying a couple beers, when Camille mentioned the fact that she’d created a five-step personal development system called ADANA Dynamics—using her name as an acronym, which stands for:
A: Acknowledge your current reality
D: Deal with it
WHOA! Tire screech! Hold the phone! Stop the presses!
Turns out, we’d stumbled upon THE book. We would write an introduction to ADANA Dynamics. Camille had used these five principles to help herself, and with this book we’d show teenagers and young adults how to apply the principles to their own lives.
It was such a delight, the way we seemingly stumbled all at once upon the purpose, the audience, and organizing principle of the book. All the sudden, in what felt like one fell swoop, we suddenly answered the biggest questions of the project! That’s part of what is so amazing about writing a book—and what is especially so amazing about working with a collaborator. You head out on a journey, with a desired destination but an uncertain course for getting there. And it’s just by the process of doing that you figure out what you’re supposed to do.
So, we organized the book into five parts, each one delving into an aspect of the ADANA acronym. And with our structure in place, we spent the next several months in an intensive interview process. Camille talked me through her personal stories and philosophy, and we created "do now" exercises to give readers hands-on experience with the concepts.
We wanted to add teenagers' stories to the book to show young readers how their peers are handling the same kinds of problems they face. I crafted a questionnaire for those of Camille's students who volunteered to take part in the book, and I also visited her classroom a couple times to hear their thoughts in person. I collected their stories, edited them, and found appropriate places to slot them into the manuscript. This was a lot of work and a lot to organize, but it was so worth it in the end. I was surprised and saddened to hear the hardships these teenagers were facing, but I was blown away by how thoughtful and sincere they were, and how willing they were to share their stories. They really add something special to the book.
After months of interviews, exploration, research, writing, and revising, we had a gorgeous finished manuscript of 45,000 words, ready to go into the design phase. Though I suppose my job is technically finished at this point, I like to be on standby to help clients through to the finish line. Though I always defer to other professionals for things like design services and legal issues, I was able to support Camille by consulting with her around the many details of publication: the ins-and-outs of fundraising, marketing, getting an ISBN, registering the copyright, setting up her online merchant accounts, and so forth.