For some people, uncertainty and loss can be debilitating. For Sara McClellan, she chose to turn hard times into a positive message anyone can benefit from, by writing and self-publishing the recently released book, The World Needs Hope. The 36-year-old Gilbert resident, with about 20 years of professional writing experience, crafted 19 chapters of how hope can be interpreted, with a desire to inspire readers to integrate hope more into their own lives. The book also features art by 20 contributors, all who have lived in Arizona, who visually showed what hope means to them. In addition to writing and editing a blog related to the book at www.theworldneedshope.com, McClellan will be releasing book-related merchandise starting Thursday, January 31. She talked about her inspiration for the book, what she hopes people take away from it, and why she loves living in the Valley, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
My father was relocated for a job, so we moved in high school, having never been in Arizona. My grandparents were here, and it was an opportunity to start completely fresh in a new climate. I was born in Wisconsin.
When did you first get the idea for The World Needs Hope?
I first got the idea for the book more than a decade ago, around the transition of y2k. Everyone was in this state of distress, and they were all fearing what the world might bring. The moment after 2000 came, there was this wave of relaxation, and people kind of surrendered and embraced hope. Seeing people refocus their lives got my attention, and I started thinking about how powerful hope was. Through a lot of trials and the loss of family members, I was able to refine the principles of hope and how you have to climb out of a very dark place sometimes to redefine your life. The book was a gradual process over the years.
How did the book evolve since you first conceived it?
I was experiencing the world as I was creating the book. Chapters would come based on what I was going through — for example, the chapter on healing came after I lost my father. The chapter on acceptance came when I had to redefine my personal character in this world. Sometimes, there would be months where the writing just flowed, and then there would be months where I’d have a great life experience or travel. I came to an understanding that the book needed to be written through that time so I could see the world through the eyes of other people.
I started doing grief facilitation because I really wanted to share the level of compassion that I had harnessed, and I wanted to understand these levels of how people find hope in their lives and what it means to them. People think of hope as this unrealistically optimistic Pollyanna principle. Hope is what you need when things are going horribly, and there are challenges. The 19th chapter, Surrender, was actually my biggest accomplishment of the book, because it was such a lesson to me that surrender is not giving up. It’s accepting the world and focusing your energy in a more positive way. It comes with a certain ability to say that you don’t have to be in control of everything, but you can still make wise choices.
Why did you decide to include contributors in the book?
I’d be talking to people, and I’d watch them visualize hope in their minds, and I was curious about what they were thinking. I also found myself developing kindred friendships with different creatives, and, often, their primary form of expression is a visual medium. So, I could achieve the most sincere form of their stories by giving them the opportunity to put what hope meant to them into sculpture, painting, photography. I realized in the last year I didn’t want my voice to be the only voice, but to show that hope should be a community, and when you look at it from any angle, you can find something meaningful.
What was the writing process like for you?
Every day was a surprise. There are moments when the muse smiles on you, and everything flows, and then there are moments when you’re on a completely different continent. I have this idea with writing that, when things are flowing, whether you’ve got a napkin or a notepad, you’ve got to be open to capturing it, even by using voice memos or scribbles. I didn’t do a whole lot of editing in the beginning — it was more stream of consciousness.
How did you decide how to organize the book?
I wrote the chapters in exactly the order they’re in now, almost like a fingerprint to my journey and my life. The hardest part was writing about myself and making sure my message at the end of the book was sincere and as moving as I wanted it to be. The themes came up over time — sometimes I’d wait for the universe to tell me what those next chapters were going to be and let the circumstances influence me. I’m a very curious soul, so seeing it come to life in that way was very fun.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
I hope people love themselves. Hope is such a crucial thing in this world. It’s one of the few things that can’t be taken away from you. If you look around the world, and you have a hopeful perspective, your way of treating people is better, and your quality of living is better. I believe we can then open ourselves up to be the best, most creative, most fulfilled versions of who we are. Having seen people in a state of grief and trial, there is nothing more powerful than seeing the day when hope comes home again.
Did writing the book help you cope with losing your dad?
My father was a mentor, a best friend, my cheering section. He was one of the most amazing people you would have ever met, very giving — he would take the shirt off of his back, and then some. In 2004, he died very suddenly of a heart attack while I was on a ski trip, and I didn’t get to say good-bye. I think by writing, we have a chance to vocalize what we’re not always able to in person. Through the book, I also was able to remember I’m his daughter, and there’s a certain strength in the ability to stand and say, “Yes! This is who I stand for, and this is who I am!”
I can genuinely stand next to someone who’s having a hard time and say, “I know what the darkness feels like. I know what it is to question how easy it is to get out of bed. I know what it is to have to say good-bye to someone and to want to have a legacy for them.” I’ve lost a variety of other people along the way, my grandparents, friends to cancer, lots of other people who meant something to me, and each one has left an imprint. Each one shows up in the book in a certain way, but out of all of it, I think the book itself was both cathartic for me as a creative, and also reassuring for me as a daughter, to be able to say I did it.
What techniques would you recommend for people to become more hopeful in their lives?
I try not to prescribe hope because it’s so unique to the person, but I can tell you, hope is a choice. You can embody hope in the things you do. Some of the things I mention in the book are word choice. Using words that support and uplift can be so powerful in our lexicon. We choose to put people down, out of fear and frustration and misunderstanding. Just switching a few key words, such as “I can’t” and “I hate,” to “I love” and “I appreciate,” can open an entire door.
You can’t have a feeling of negativity if you’re holding a feeling of gratitude in your mind at that moment — they don’t coexist. I think if you’re having a hard time, and hope just doesn’t seem to be connecting with you in that moment, start writing down what it actually means to you. We don’t often think of hope as a tangible part of our lives, but it is. Hope can be as simple as, “I hope I have a great haircut,” or, “I hope the sun shines today,” or “I hope this first date goes really well.” Hope can start as small as that, and it’s like any muscle — when we find a way to bring it into our lives on a day-to-day basis, we start living it.
For those who are having an especially hard time, reaching out to others, finding out what they’re hoping for, talking about fears and moving past things that hold us back from being hopeful is incredibly important. If you’re holding woe, worry, fear, grief, frustration, and bitterness in your circle of hope, you’re not leaving room for the things that might actually propel you to that next step of happiness.
There’s nothing wrong with being content. I tell people all the time that happiness is a mood or feeling that ebbs and flows in life, but be content with the moment and really be present with what you’re experiencing, since that’s the only moment that you’re sure to have.
What are three of your biggest hopes?
My constant hope is that my family and friends stay healthy. I hope people will choose to love themselves more. Really loving and knowing yourself is the greatest of all blessings. People can’t put you down or take things away from you, and moreso, you can have such an amazing glow that people will connect with and want to be around. A general hope is that the world remembers the word “unity.” We get into an us-versus-them mentality that’s very caustic. We’re allowing it to corrode who we are, and instead of saying, “They’re different, and I want them to live by my rules,” I would much rather that people band together and think of ways they’re similar and how they can help each other. We do feel mutual pain and mutual happiness, and we’re connected more than we allow.
How would you advise people cope with disappointment?
Setbacks are natural. Every single day, I have to choicefully decide hope is the direction I want to go in. We all have bad days, we all have really rough spots. We meet unfortunate people. The things we’re hoping for, if it’s something that’s truly important to us, there’s no reason we can’t keep hoping. A setback, a stumbling block, being forced to take a step back, doesn’t mean that it’s failure — it just means that we sometimes have to realign with the direction we’re going in. Hope is not merely one of those principles that is forward-thinking alone. I challenge people to think that hope is right now. Journaling is a great way to do that. When you journal, you can look back and have a better perspective on your world and see hope in individual, everyday moments.
What was the book publishing process like?
For any aspiring author, I would give you two pieces of advice. One is, be patient with yourself. There is always something you didn’t realize that you didn’t know. Two, I did a lot of front-end research with other indie authors and just talked to people in the publishing world in general. 20 years ago, writers would submit huge manuscripts, pray that a publisher would look at them, and cross their fingers. Today, just like we have open source code, we have all this content that’s coming from people. Everyone has a right to publishing.
What challenges did you face as a self-published author?
The challenges I faced were really understanding how many rounds of review you have to go through, especially when you have 20 contributors who all have very different character traits. That’s a lot of coffee, that’s a lot of meetup’s, that’s a lot of review, and that’s a lot of prayers and understanding. In the creative space in general, there are a multitude of online publishing tools and virtual proofs. There are very few things in this world that are quite as impactful to an author as getting something in the mail where you see your book for the very first time. If I could still do cartwheels at my age, I would do them, but you have to be willing to know it’s not going to be perfect the first time. Marketing is a whole other avenue that takes a lot of spirit and determination.
What are your goals with the book?
This book was not a mission of fame or a monetary exercise. I’m nowhere near making money on this book at this point, which is just fine. It’s really an opportunity to spark people and inspire them to hopefully be present and compassionate. It’s available online worldwide now, but I want to physically get it into bookstores and start donating it to hospices and shelters. Another adventure for an author is to see your book in five or six different formats, such as Kindle Fire — it almost has a whole different landscape. I hope to some day have it translated to different languages.
There’s a lot of white space in the book. What was the purpose of that?
One of the reasons was to give people a space to make notes. Plus, today’s society is packed with words. We have sensory overload in every way, shape and form. One of the things I was hearing from people is, “I don’t have time to read.” When I went about writing the book 10 years ago, I wanted to make sure each of the lines could stand on its own. I didn’t want to do the standard prose, where I felt like I was simply telling my story, as a diary. I wanted to make it more approachable for people. What I’m finding from feedback from readers so far is that sometimes they’ll settle on a certain line or page, and it’ll stick with them during the day. I’d like the book to be with people like a close confidant.
Another reason is that during grief facilitation and in my own journey, I learned that you process at such a slower speed when you’re in a state of grief because you’re so overwhelmed, that often it pushed me to make sure the information is palatable in a way that allows you to work through it at a steady pace. I wanted people who are faced with a certain challenge or fear to not feel like the book is intimidating but also find meaning in each of the words.
What’s the most meaningful line to you in the book?
One of my present favorites is that hope is “to acknowledge that character-building mistakes are blended into life.” It’s to understand that mistakes are sometimes our greatest lesson and that life is that much more interesting when you don’t get it right the first time. It makes us want to try more and be better, and there’s motivation to create something beautiful, like hope for the next day, next step or next encounter.
For people who want to write a book themselves, what advice would you have for them?
Don’t edit as you go along — just write in your own voice. If something is not flowing, consider it a nice little break to go out and experience something in the interim. Life is often the best muse, and when you allow yourself to take a breather, a lot of times, that inspiration will flow back in. You should always be true to who you are, and that’s what people are going to connect with. It’s going to be true to you as a brand and as a person and will have the most meaning in the world.
Why choose to publish a hard copy book rather than just do one online?
I wanted to create something that had a tangible presence for those moments when we all need to hold hope in our hands. Also, I wanted to feature the contributing artists in a manner that honored their personal journeys.
Why would you encourage people to check out the book?
Hope is like a diamond — when you look at it from each of the facets, you see something different and brilliant, and I think the way people cultivate hope in this world is how they choose to see it. My hope for people is that as they go through the book, they’ll realize that to be a hopeful person, everything doesn’t have to be going right. They can choose, in very small ways, to make hope find a home with them.