Book Reviews

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter – Book Review

Nicole Melanson ~

Writer Bella Mahaya Carter Book Cover - Where Do You Hang Your Hammock?

My first thought upon receiving my copy of Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter was, Woah, that’s a big book. My second thought was that it looks like promotional material for a day spa. And that’s exactly what this book is: a writer’s day spa, packed with restorative and invigorating treatments.

This book comprises a long series of blog posts, and as such, it covers a wide range of topics. The topics have been wisely categorized thematically rather than chronologically, with 5 sections: Dream, Nourish, Write, Publish, and Promote. While this structure represents a typical creative process, it’s entirely possible to read the sections out of order. There’s an overarching theme linking individual posts, but again, each piece is capable of standing alone, which makes this an easy book to peruse over time.

Carter’s voice is nurturing, encouraging, and supportive. This shouldn’t be confused with her going easy on the reader because what Carter advocates is digging deep within and confronting creative fear head-on.  She challenges the reader to investigate notions of identity, pride, and success, and to question where the writing process might be working against personal goals. Here’s one passage that really resonated with me:

The word “author” makes me think of “authority.” We authors have to be authors of our lives and careers, as well as our stories. It is not enough to know what we want. Receiving clear guidance, as precious as that is, is one thing, but acting on it is something else.

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? comes complete with journal prompts, which should help writers who are feeling a little untethered to reconnect with their creativity. But there are also lots of practical posts about the actual nuts-and-bolts of publishing and promotion. Carter isn’t afraid to use examples from her own life to show what she learned in her path towards publication.

Writers looking for advice on everything from using social media to hiring a publicist will find relevant information in this book. There are posts on indie publishing, soliciting blurbs, planning a book tour, and launching on Zoom, among other things, making this book feel timely even within the context of a pandemic.

I disagreed with one minor point of advice in that Carter talks about a couple instances where she politely addressed “social media shaming” as she calls it. In the first instance, a random Facebook user made a rude comment on a post she’d promoted; in another, a Facebook friend’s teasing rubbed her the wrong way. In both cases, Carter explained how she responded and resolved the situation to her satisfaction. It’s great her net outcome was positive, but I think it’s important to point out that investing time and energy into negative feedback can be a death spiral for authors. I’ve seen way too many writers completely unravelled by online commentary, and I personally think it’s better not to engage with any kind of trolling whatsoever, be it intentional or otherwise.

All up, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? is a thoughtful and provocative guide to leading a rich life as a writer, and I enthusiastically recommend it for both emerging and established authors.

— Nicole Melanson

 

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? is available from She Writes Press.

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