Ashevillian Patti Digh spends a lot of time out of town. Her successful nonfiction book, Life Is a Verb, has landed on two of Amazon’s top ten lists: “careers” and “motivational.”
A North Carolina native, Patti spent her youth in Morganton and attended Guilford University. After finishing an MA in English at the University of Virginia, she headed to Washington, D.C., to work at an international association, where she provided diversity initiatives and traveled internationally.
Asked what led her to leave a high-flying career to focus more on writing, Patti describes an event from about twelve years ago. “When my oldest daughter was about three years old,” Patti says, “she talked about a dream she’d had. She was a tiny fish in the big ocean and couldn’t find her mommy.” That dream was not to be ignored. Having made the decision to stay closer to home, Patti partnered with other writers to author books on global diversity as well as serve as a consultant on diversity issues for businesses and organizations.
She, her husband, and two daughters moved to Asheville in 2002. In 2003 her stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 37 days later. Watching a beloved family member face death had a profound impact on her. Patti asked herself, “What would I do today if I only had 37 days to live?” Her immediate answer was simple: “Spend time writing down my stories for my two daughters.” So, for that same number (37), except weeks instead of days, Patti produced an essay a week on her blog. This blog (pattidigh.com) now has 15,000 subscribers, and Life Is a Verb is the outcome.
“A publisher saw my blog,” Patti says, “and came to me. We selected 37 essays from about four hundred that I’d written and arranged them into six themes: say yes; be generous; speak up; love more; trust yourself; and slow down.” Patti describes the book as an instruction manual for living—“how to live a more mindful life, with clear intention.”
After the book was published, the need for publicity came next. “I was surprised to find out that publishers do very little to help you market your book,” she says. Taking matters into her own capable hands, Patti tapped into her blog following and set out on a grassroots tour of 40 cities. She calls her marketing plan “bumbling authenticity.” It is more likely an example of the mindful intention she advocates; in this case, a creative use of her personal audience.
Life Is a Verb is not only inspiring to read, but also beautiful to look at. Filled with color, there are illustrations on almost every page—drawings and collages sent to Patti by faithful blog readers. This collaborative effort not only keeps her close to her audience but ensures that her fans will be a part of her future efforts.
Patti has enhanced the book’s message by creating a coaching process that she and her business partner facilitate. They lead three-day group retreats and have started a teleconferencing/internet-based coaching practice.
Even though she has a full plate with business, the blog and coaching, Patti has two other books on the drawing board—one to be titled Creative Is a Verb; and another, shorter, work influenced by her love of Twitter, comprising over a hundred four-word statements in the self-help vein, again illustrated by readers.
Since moving to Asheville, Patti has taken several courses in the Great Smokies Writing Program, which she says helped in “reading and critiquing others’ work and sticking to a schedule with my own work.” She adds, “I’ve developed more discipline and gained friendship and assistance from people in these classes.”
Given that Patti’s writing has spanned different genres (business, motivational, and now self-help), what are her plans for trying another genre? “I want to grow and expand as a writer,” she says, “perhaps into memoir, Southern fiction or creative nonfiction. It’s important for me to really explore the craft of writing, complete with peer feedback.” One of the ideas that Patti is contemplating centers on her diversity expertise and on a personal experience. She lived in Greensboro in the 1970s during the Ku Klux Klan killings and trial and can see this part of her life being the centerpiece of a creative nonfiction book.
When it comes to the challenges of writing and getting published, Patti is emphatic about “having an audience of readers but not writing to them.” She talks about the awareness of a “split intention”—pleasing the publishers or standing up for your vision of your work. She feels strongly that a writer should focus on “what you long to say and why you want to say it.” As Patti puts it, “Focusing on the product and pleasing a publisher really take you away from the writing itself.”