Author Nicole C. Ayers: How To Write A Book That Sparks A Movement

A few years ago, I became aware of how much I disliked myself, my body in particular, and I was horrified by the things I said to myself. I wanted a tangible way to change my relationship with my body, so I began writing daily love notes to different body parts because I reasoned it […]

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A few years ago, I became aware of how much I disliked myself, my body in particular, and I was horrified by the things I said to myself. I wanted a tangible way to change my relationship with my body, so I began writing daily love notes to different body parts because I reasoned it was awfully hard to hate something I was sweet-talking. And I was right. A love affair bloomed between me and my body.

As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole C. Ayers.

Nicole C. Ayers has been playing with words as long as she can remember. While she’s held many jobs in her life, editing at Ayers Edits was her favorite, because she combined her love of reading with the fun of wordplay, until she became a writer. Now it would be hard to convince her there’s anything better than telling her own stories.

Nicole is the award-winning author of Love Notes to My Body (SPARK Publications, 2020) and its two body-positive companion books. She’s been invited to speak about the importance of women accepting and respecting their bodies by local and national media, and she invites women to disrupt the narrative that tells them they — and their bodies — are not enough, just as they are.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

Thank you for having me!

I grew up an only child, surrounded by women. My parents divorced when I was seven. In the years that followed, my mom spent a lot of time with her single girlfriends.

Because I was a bit of a mascot to my mom’s girlfriends, I was privy to many conversations about women’s bodies and how they were never “just right.” There were fad diets and diet pills and beauty products galore, and once, even a “slim your body” spa session that featured beds that moved different body parts and supposedly targeted “fat” while you laid on them.

With every Aqua Net-filled breath I took, I learned that being beautiful and slim would solve every possible problem that I had and that I should go to any lengths necessary to conform to society’s beauty standards.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

From the time I learned to read, I was never without a book. They were my escape, my comfort, my adventure. I remember the first book that made me cry: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I vividly remember sitting on my couch, sobbing, and wanting to keep reading, but crying too hard to even see the words on the page. It was a pivotal moment in my young life because I realized that stories, even made up stories, had the power to move me, to make me feel something, to make me yearn. And I began to wonder if I had the same kind of stories inside me.

Another book that changed me forever is Mary Roach’s Stiff. After reading about the many uses of cadavers via Roach’s signature style, I found myself in awe of our miraculous bodies and the ways they help us, even after death. I was already an organ donor, prior to reading Stiff, but I was inspired to donate my body to science after reading.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

A few years ago, I became aware of how much I disliked myself, my body in particular, and I was horrified by the things I said to myself. I wanted a tangible way to change my relationship with my body, so I began writing daily love notes to different body parts because I reasoned it was awfully hard to hate something I was sweet-talking. And I was right. A love affair bloomed between me and my body.

Several months into the process, I heard a whisper one morning while writing. That voice said, “This isn’t just for you.” With that nudge, I envisioned Love Notes to My Body. I knew it would be an illustrated gift book of the love notes I’d written to my body, and I had the perfect illustrator in mind.

When I approached Mica Gadhia, my dear friend and a talented artist, about bringing my words to life with pictures, she offered to paint a few trial pieces to see if we’d be a good fit. The moment I saw those paintings, I felt as though she’d been walking around inside my head. It was a beautiful collaboration.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

I wanted to disrupt the nasty-gram narrative that women often have running through their minds that tells them they are too much this and not enough that. By sharing my own stories of celebration, gratitude, pain, fear, and grief about my body and all her parts, I hoped that other women would catch glimpses of their own stories and begin conversations with their bodies that came from an honest place of respect and acceptance.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

Launching three books just before a global pandemic is not ideal for traditional book-promotion strategies, so I’ve had to adjust the events and speaking engagements I had scheduled, which of course meant I wasn’t reaching as many women as I’d originally hoped to. But I’ve also been handed a beautiful reminder that making connections, one woman at a time is the way to build a strong foundation to sustain this body-loving movement.

At the same time, releasing body-positive books during a pandemic is the perfect moment. Now more than ever we need to accept our bodies as they are, embrace and celebrate them, nurture and protect them as best we can. And based on the number of memes I’ve seen the past few months, people are very worried about gaining weight during the quarantine, almost as if having a larger body post-pandemic is the worst thing that could happen.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take many years and many conversations for women to unlearn the lessons we’ve been taught about our bodies. I plan to invite women into these conversations about and with their bodies for as long as I can.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.

One Sunday morning, not long after I published, a close friend texted me a photo of a body love note her daughter had written to a body part she’d been struggling with. My friend came across the note by chance when helping her daughter clean up.

I knew then there was traction for this body-acceptance message. If our daughters can learn to listen to their bodies instead of shaming them or beating them up when things go wrong, then we all can. We’re hungry for a different way to relate to our bodies besides the same tired stories of control and shame.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

Because there are three books, readers have engaged with them differently. Readers enjoy the whimsical illustrations in Love Notes to My Body. They love thinking about their bodies in ways that haven’t considered before. And there are stories that connect to everyone, most especially “Dear Belly,” in Love Letters to My Body. I’ve heard many readers tell me that they can relate to my experiences, even though the details of their own stories are different. And hearing that readers are using Write Your Way to Self-Love to write their own love notes is a joy.

Readers are still loving the books. And I’ve heard that it’s moving folks to think about other areas of their lives where they’re dissatisfied, beyond their bodies, and to apply the same techniques to change those situations.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

I received an order for a signed book bundle without instructions. I emailed the buyer to ask who to sign the books to and received an email that broke my heart wide open. She told me that she’d found me on Instagram and that she’d been so moved by the material I shared. She was in recovery from a decades-long eating disorder and was finding inspiration to continue to stay in recovery and keep healing. She planned to use the Love Notes to My Body companion books as another tool in her recovery toolbox.

I burst into tears of gratitude because her email validated how necessary this work is, and she reminded me that my words are powerful.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

I’ve encountered a lot of silence about the books’ message, especially from friends and family. This is tender work, and there are many people who just aren’t ready to have these conversations. And that’s okay.

As hard as these conversations can be, I think we must disrupt those old narratives so that we can reach our full potential. When I free up my energy to devote to the things I’m passionate about, rather than trying to control my body, I can follow my dreams and devote time to the things that really matter to me. The positive changes I make create ripples that I’ll never even know about. Multiply that exponentially, woman by woman. That’s power.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

Books often serve as “windows and mirrors.” They inspire us and embolden us to make a change because we see that someone else has done it, that their story isn’t so different from our own (or maybe it is, and that difference becomes a catalyst), and that we, too, can create change.

Books, for me and for many others, become touchstones, reminders of the change we want to see in the world, that we can revisit anytime our energy to keep the conversation going flags.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I had to keep my inner editor in a box whenever I was drafting new material. Otherwise, she’d try to sabotage the stories I wanted to tell. She’d say things like, “Who are you to tell this story?” or “This is dumb.” or “Your writing isn’t good enough to write a book, much less spark a movement.”

So, thanks to a trick I learned from the folks at NaNoWriMo, I grabbed a small, decorative box, and I wrote “Zelda, my inner editor/critic” on a slip of paper. I popped that paper in the box, and anytime Zelda tried to rattle me, I’d tap the box and remind her to stay there. I promised I’d let her out to hone the message and polish the words when I got to the editing phase, which made her content and allowed me to write with the freedom I needed to tell my truth.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

One of the biggest challenges for me was to discern which stories were for sharing and which stories were just for me. I wrote many more essays and love notes than were included in the books. At first, I felt compelled to publish everything because our current culture promotes vulnerability and transparency. But when I checked in with my body it became clear from my level of discomfort that some of my stories weren’t ready to see the light of day.

I received a lot of feedback from early readers that felt a few letters were missing. I second-guessed my initial decision to leave those letters out, but I’ve learned to trust myself, to trust my body, and I knew to keep those stories to myself.

The last essay in Love Letters to My Body is titled “Dear Body Parts I Haven’t Written to Yet” and addresses this. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that I have to tell all of my deep, dark secrets. It’s empowering to remember that I get to decide what to share and when to share it, especially in terms of my body.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)

1. Walk your talk.

If you’re going to invite people into your movement, then you’ve got to practice what you’re offering to others. This is the best way to connect with folks because you’re aware of what they may be experiencing when they encounter your work.

Love Notes to My Body was not the first book I intended to write, but I wasn’t ready to write that book. I had to do this work of learning to accept my body, just as she is, first.

2. Show up and write.

If there’s no book, then there’s no book to spark a movement. Writing, even in five-to-ten minute bursts, will lead you to the finish line. A blank page won’t.

Love Notes to My Body began in my journal and grew into three books because I committed to writing for just ten minutes a day. Especially on the days that I struggled, I needed to know that I wouldn’t have to write all day. I would set a timer, hit play on the “Nicole’s Love Grooves” playlist, and write. And it was enough.

3. Get feedback, especially around your blind spots.

Genuine critique is critical to publishing the book you mean to write. You need a trusted guide to point out where you’re holding back, where your message gets confusing, where you’ve gone too far, left things out, gotten off-topic.

I partnered with an editing colleague who was brilliant at dishing out encouragement and pushing me to my creative limits at the same time. Her objectivity was critical to making sure my message rang true throughout all three books.

4. Be honest.

If you find that you are making things up to make your message stronger, then that will be apparent in everything you write. You can’t BS your way into a powerful movement.

There were times that I questioned whether my stories were worth sharing, and there was the temptation to jazz them up, but I couldn’t do that because my message was about accepting my body, just as she is. That included accepting her stories, just as they are.

5. Stay in your lane.

Get very clear about your message. Fine-tune it and narrow it as much as possible. And then stick to it. There are so many events that will happen that you may be drawn to address, but if they are not your area of expertise, leave it to the teachers whose expertise they are.

For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained a lot of momentum in recent months. While I fully support BLM, it’s not my place to teach my audience how to dismantle racism. I have to point them to anti-racist educators instead. What I can do is amplify the work of black women who are sharing their expertise around body positivity and acceptance.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

I’d love to see this movement gain momentum for our young women and girls. I’ve already been asked several times to write a version of Love Notes to My Body for them, and I think that’s a marvelous idea. If we can disrupt those body-hating narratives before they even take root, then our girls can encounter the world with a completely different perspective. I also think a similar movement for men would be powerful. I’ve had lots of folks, mostly men, make comments that men struggle with these issues, too. Of course they do, but as a woman, those aren’t my stories to tell.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I love to connect with readers on Instagram. Find me at @nicolecayers. There’s a month-long “Write Your Way to Self-Love” Journey waiting for folks in my highlights.

Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.

It’s a joy for me to share this message of self-acceptance, so thank you for sharing your readers with me!

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