Most writers dream of the day they get to write their “Acknowledgments.” The Acknowledgments are that section in the back of the book that tells uninitiated readers just who helped a writer along the way. Part of the excitement in writing an Acknowledgments section is that it means the book has gone on to bigger things, that it actually will be in the hands of an uninitiated reader. Aside from that bit of ego, the exercise seems relatively harmless.
I sat down to write my Acknowledgments at an island cafe one afternoon anticipating a joyful experience. I also thought I might be finished in time for dinner. Several days and several drafts later I realized that acknowledging and appreciating others—practicing the Habit of Generosity as Rev. Ed Bacon terms it—is no easy task.
First, there are the people you have to put in versus the people you want to put in. It’s kind of like a holiday in that way. The people who deserve credit for their contributions to our lives and the people it is fun to give thanks for do not necessarily belong to the same subset of individuals. Yet it turned out to be critical to acknowledge both groups.
Next there are the gradations to consider, like “Who goes first?” “Who gets all caps?” Or, “How many exclamation points?” As an independent editor I end up in a lot of Acknowledgments sections. I have been guilty of flipping immediately to the back of a new book to see if my name is in there, and if it is, then in what relative position it is located or how many words surround it. This line of thinking sucks the joy out of receiving a finished product that took another individual years to complete. Such analysis also relativizes everyone’s offering, operating from a scarcity mentality that somehow there is not enough greatness to go around.
The Habit of Generosity, as I came to understand it from working with Ed, is the opposite of scarcity. Who came up with what line or idea is irrelevant—what matters is the relationship between people that provides the inspiration necessary to continue on with what can be challenging work. When I started focusing on the relationships that were generative for my writing, I began to play in an area of the Beloved that caused my pen to flow faster and faster, and I almost made it to the end.
What stopped me? Well, life, which as we know, is not “all good.” The names of individuals with whom I had recent conflict surfaced. What about giving credit where credit was due to an individual that I no longer worked with? How could I adequately describe her profound impact on my work given that we were barely on speaking terms?
Again the Habit of Generosity came to my rescue. It whispered that on my present plane such complications were real, while on the plane of the Beloved my former colleague’s contributions had been recorded in their most bright and shining incarnation. It was only for me to enter there; the door, as I think Jesus says somewhere, opened from my side.
During the writing of 8 Habits of Love, Ed would say to me, “The Beloved always ends in a party.” Well, since the Acknowledgments were the last section, I wanted my book to end in a party, too. Keeping the Habit of Generosity in mind, I ended up feeling like the host of a large gathering where you want to keep moving just to make sure that everyone feels comfortable.
Stuart Horwitz is the author of 'Blueprint Your Bestseller' (Penguin, 2013) and a noted expert on literary revision who assisted Ed Bacon in creating a sound structure for his book, "8 Habits of Love." Stu is coming to All Saints to share his process on Wednesday, April 17th -- he is most excited about part two of his presentation that night when he gets to share the stage with Ed to discuss the ins and outs of editors and authors working together.