Cyndi Dale On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer
An Interview with Kristin Marquet
Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More. Writing can seem so glamorous. A finished project often is! But the process isn’t so brilliant, and it certainly isn’t seamless. The heroic author is the one willing to edit, and if necessary, pay for an editor.
Some writers and authors have a knack for using language that can really move people. Some writers and authors have been able to influence millions with their words alone. What does it take to become an effective and successful author or writer?
In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer” we are talking to successful authors and writers who can share lessons from their experience.
As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Cyndi Dale.
Cyndi Dale is an internationally renowned author, speaker, and healer, and the author of 30 books about energy medicine, including many award-winning books. Her ground-breaking books, including The Subtle Body Encyclopedia series, are published in over 18 languages. In addition, she has worked with over 70,000 clients and students and presented hundreds of seminars across the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was a writer from the time I was a small child. My first book was about the Fish Family. Illustrated, it “came out” when I was six years old. Very limited edition — to my family members.
I was always intuitive and began training in various types of shamanism and energy healing during my 20’s in sites around the world, such as Peru, Costa Rica, Morocco, Japan, and Venezuela. Now remember — I warned you. I’m intuitive. When I was about 30, a guiding voice told me to start a client service. I did. Then it instructed me to teach classes. I did. Then to write a book about my own special take on the energy system. I did. Now I’m 30-plus books and many adventures into my life as a published author.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
There is this one odd experience in Costa Rica that happened about fifteen years ago.
I was researching shamanism for a book and article and had the strong sense that I needed to travel to the southern edge of Costa Rica to interview a shaman I had heard about. Two friends came along. One, a police officer, carried his gun. The other woman and I were lightweights. We figured that if we got in a jam we’d yell.
We took a bus down a dirt road into the jungle, as directed by a café owner in the village we were staying at. Apparently the shaman lived at the end of the last stop off, deep in the jungle. We were only planning on staying for the day, so weren’t well-equipped for an adventure, which began immediately. There were holes in the bottom of the bus, which splashed water onto our shoes when we clanked over mud puddles. I get bitten by a goat and my girlfriend, by a chicken. We arrived at the end of the road, marked by a Coca-Cola stand, and discovered that the bus wasn’t going to return until the next morning. So, we set out to trudge the jungle path to the shaman’s home and figured we’d come back and sleep on the bus, as it was left unlocked.
The trek took hours; we hired young boys to use THEIR machetes to get through the foliage. However, the shaman couldn’t see us until the morning, so we slept in our pup tent with very little food. We awoke to footprints that looked awfully like those of a jaguar outside of the tent.
I didn’t learn much from the shaman myself. He charged me about two dollars to instruct me in his principles. However, there was another visitor, who had also remained overnight in his own tent. He was a crack addict. The shaman charged him 1,000 dollars for a cure. Then the shaman looked at me and laughed.
“Healing is about being invested in your outcome. You are ready to learn and grow. This man? I must take enough money from him to convince him to change.”
I’ve had MANY such odysseys in learning about healing, from riding camels in Sahara to taking flower baths in the Amazon to being spell cast by a bruja in Venezuela. That’s the life of an author in my business.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a writer? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
A lack of time. I mean, how many full-time authors are there? We aren’t all as successful as James Patterson or able to pay someone else to raise our kids, do our laundry, and deal with backed-up sinks. I’ve been a single mother for a long time; at one point, I was raising my two sons, a foster daughter, and five animals. But I didn’t let my overstretched days stop me. Instead, I remembered a message I’d gained during a class I took at the University of Minnesota.
We were studying women authors, many of whom had been wives and mothers. They didn’t make excuses for their busyness. They found time to write.
Well, so did I. One writing-go-to was to take my youngest son, Gabe, and a bunch of his friends to Best Buy at least once a week. Pre-teen boys LOVE Best Buy. I’d set them loose, like tigers in the jungle. Then I’d sit with my laptop near the front door, so the boys couldn’t escape, and I’d write. I’d get a good two hours out of each session. I must have looked so fierce — or crazy — the staff never confronted me.
Even now, decades into my writing career, I still squeeze time for writing in my schedule. I’m that mom at the college baseball games (for Gabe) who sits in the stands with her laptop. Early for an appointment? Out comes the laptop. Long line at the bank? Guess what.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Once I had a few books out, I began speaking at different events. I was a single mom, so I turned down most of the engagements. However, I took on a few of the cool ones.
Usually, I arranged a day care situation. There was no one to watch my youngest, however, during an Expo in Texas. So, I simply brought him along. Yup, you can already see it, can’t you? WHO travels with an over-busy ADHD three-year-old who doesn’t know how to sit or listen — or who doesn’t want to do either? I figured that I would have the organizer watch him while I was speaking. I left her outside the auditorium with a ton of snacks and a few toys.
My son took off when I was a few minutes into my talk. By then, he had somehow freed himself of his pants and was down to his diapers. Already covered with smushed Cheerios, peanut butter, and juice, he sneaked through a crack in the auditorium door, which was open just wide enough to slip through, and ran up on stage, making squishy sounds through his diapers.
“Mommy,” he cried. “I ‘ated!’” Then he smeared my dress with his crusty hands.
From that point on, I figured out how to separate “church” from “state” when I needed to appear at least somewhat professional.
In your opinion, were you a “natural born writer” or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Both! I wanted to be a writer since I was old enough to read books. I made up stories all day long — some of those got me in trouble. In fact, my imagination was so problematic that I was in trouble a lot. However, I used that tendency to create a set of plays to put on in the neighborhood during elementary school. “Trouble in the Schoolhouse,” “Trouble in Pink,” “Trouble with Dracula,” etc.
As great I was as telling tales, becoming a published author is another thing. The key? Editing.
I edit the chapters of my non-fiction books at least five times. I write freely, as per streams of consciousness, and then get down to the craft of writing. Writers might be naturally gifted but there is that very apt phrase about “inspiration” versus “perspiration.” The former only gets you started.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I want to break into fiction and so I’m finishing an illustrated picture book series for children featuring a set of magical beings called the Lightlings. It’s a truly lovely work and would help children face the very-real concerns of the day, from racism to war to being adopted — to normal issues like the fear of heights.
I’m also breaking into the sports industry. I am a baseball mom. A mom in the bleachers. I’m finalizing edits for my upcoming release, Energy Work for the Everyday to Elite Athlete as we speak. AND I am finishing the first book of an eight-book contract for mini-books on chakras.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Be a Successful Author or Writer”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Commitment. Not a word is going to be written — or edited — if you aren’t all in. The passion must come from your heart, not someone else’s. The love of writing is the only way you’re going to put up with the moments that you hate it! And you’d better love your topic…
Let’s be real. For every word that put down, there are thousands of others your unconscious has probably already rejected. For every word that gets written, there are probably four others that might eventually replace it!. The rigors of writing must be matched by your desire to create your manuscript — in full.
I remember putting together my first book proposal. I was about 30 years of age. I took a class on the topic, came up with a snazzy topic, and started sending out sample chapters with the proposal. The proverbial “you can paper a bathroom with rejections” couldn’t have been a more accurate description of what followed. So, I changed my topic. I had been spending the past few years studying shamanism and psychism and was traveling the world to learn more. I was even starting to take clients and teach a class in healing topics, but I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know if I wanted the world to know how “weird” I was, although I loved my subject material. Eventually, a mentor suggested that I write about what I loved. Energy. I committed. Voila. I wrote a proposal for a chakra book. A publisher gave me a chance and I’ve now written 30-plus books about healing.
2. No Expectations. Those of us who have had a million years of therapy (like me) are constantly advised by mental health pros to release expectations. That’s also a huge spiritual principle. I think it’s key for those seeking to become a successful author.
After my first book came out (and it did well!) I signed a several-book contract with a California publisher. I was counting my pennies, while egotistically counting on the fame, before I’d even written the second book. Well, two things happened.
Firstly, as I was working on the sequel to the first book, I had a dream. The dream clearly instructed me to rip up my in-process manuscript and start over. I did. That book, and several others, never hit the big time. The phrase is, “they bombed.” The publishing firm was sold, and my already-published books were killed off by a larger publishing company. I was devasted. Interestingly, one of those once-dead books has recently been resurrected and is the basis of a huge program at The Shift Network. And it’s selling well, 15 years after its first release.
Secondarily, however, something good came out of that event.
Because I was left adrift without a publisher, I was available to take a project. A firm asked me to develop and write an energy encyclopedia — with almost no guidance. I had no idea where to start and was only given three months to write a first draft. Within a day, a friend of mine linked me to a brilliant librarian in my field, Steven Ross, who sent me a huge box of research. That book? The Subtle Body Encyclopedia? A premier tome in my industry and quite famous internationally.
Who knows what book or project may take you, up or down — or in what time frame? Stay loose with those expectations.
3. Self-evaluation. Book sales go up and down. I’ve had some books take off and others simply sit there, growing mold. I’ve learned to assess my writing and its importance based on internal rather than external factors. Oh sure, I love it when people say, “Your book has changed my life.” Whether or not a book — or any writing project for that matter — touches a single or thousands of persons, that piece of writing can be considered worthwhile or important if it changes you.
When I was writing my very first book, after it was accepted by a publisher, I took a walk along a creek. I was attacked in broad daylight and was sure that I was going to be raped. He told me to be quiet. Then I remembered a message in the book that I’d been expanding upon.
Ask for help.
I did, within my head. I prayed. Suddenly, the attacker sat up and looked into my eyes. He sprang up and ran off.
There wasn’t anyone in sight. I believe that the focus in my writing made a difference. Often, we write what we need to read, and then put into practice in our lives.
4. Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More. Writing can seem so glamorous. A finished project often is! But the process isn’t so brilliant, and it certainly isn’t seamless. The heroic author is the one willing to edit, and if necessary, pay for an editor.
I’ve learned to edit my project multiple times. When I didn’t, I paid.
Years ago, I was working on a book about kundalini. The deadline was beyond tight; of course, the kids kept getting sick during that phase too. I only proofed the project once before turning it in. I told myself, “Oh I’m a pro, I’ll be fine.” It wasn’t my first book, after all.
The manuscript was returned. My publisher was very polite, but they couldn’t accept the work in its current form. I put in more time. Since that experience, I now edit a piece of writing at least five times. When I feel it’s necessary, I hire an independent editor to make sure I’m making sense to all those readers who live outside, rather than inside, my head.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor. Isn’t this a good life tip? Humor is especially applicable for writers. After all, there are so many factors over which you have little control, like how you feel any given writing day or moment; how well a paragraph shapes itself or falls apart at the seams; how your publisher deals with a draft, or if you can even get a publisher or agent. And there is no way we can predict exactly what’s going to occur in the mind of a reader. It’s always best to look at the light side and be ready to giggle at yourself.
I remember when I obtained a new agent (not my current one). I was so excited. Little did I know that this person was not exactly professional. When we traveled to meet with a publisher, she disappeared for the first two days. She had decided to have a fling with our taxi driver. You just never known what is ahead.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e., perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?
I think it’s my ability to keep improving. I look back at some of my early manuscripts and I can’t BELIEVE how un-grammatical (I know, it’s not a word) my writing was. I didn’t organize my points well nor pay attention to “flow.” Plus, I was old fashioned in my writing style.
Do you know that dangling participles are now okay? My high school and college literature instructors would have rolled over in their graves while digging mine.
Every time an editor returns a writing piece with suggestions or corrections, I look over their additions and adapt the ideas for future projects. Even so, I haven’t lost the tendency to make up words that I believe Webster SHOULD approve of.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
There are so many bodies of works that I would love to credit.
In college, I was an English major with a philosophy minor. I loved classical literature, to include works written by Homer; Shakespeare, and the like (though you can keep Milton). I studied the famous contemporary greats, such as Vonnegut, Steinbeck, and others. I learned to think from reading Plato and Sartre and all about cadence with Keats. These and other supernatural authors taught me that writing is an art and craft. It is also a JOB. Words make sentences and sentences add up to paragraphs, and every single component counts.
Over the years, I’ve also gorged on journals and books about physics, cross-cultural medicine practices, spirituality, religion, and psychology. I believe a significant key to being an author is reading and learning all facets of your content material.
Less you think I’m totally stuffy, I read at least five books a week that aren’t academic in any way. My personal, hero’s journey goal is the save the world before I fall asleep every night. Hence, I follow the adventures of kick-great characters such as Jack Reacher (Lee Child), Mitch Rapp (Vince Flynn), and the Grey Man (Mark Greaney.) I’d love to be a secret agent in my next life. Drawing from a bit of adventure encourages me to make my writing fun when possible.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Years ago, I watched a movie called “Freedom Writers”. It was the true story about an inner-city teacher who had her gang-impacted kids write essays, which she would read. Most of those kids went on to college.
I propose a “Tell Your Story”Movement, and not just for youngsters. Everyone deserves to be seen, to be known. Each of our stories are important. When we’re heard, we know that we count. When we know that we count, we are empowered to write a new story moving forward.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Easy! Go to cyndidale.com and sign up for my newsletter.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
Thank you so much, this was a joy…