Free to Feel: An Interview with Author, Anne Koller

By Shahnaz Radjy

 

Anne and I met what feels like a few lifetimes ago, when we were both working at the World Economic Forum. At a team retreat, we were asked to each bring an object that represented us. Anne was dialing in as a remote participant, and she said: “My object is water.”

What a perfect balance between rebellion and completing the assignment! That’s when I knew we would be friends. Today, with a first self-published book under her belt, Anne shares some insight into her writing process, being vulnerable, the imposter syndrome, and more. As she puts it, “My goal is to leave no one indifferent.” So far, so good.

An Unexpected Journey from Corporate Life to Emotional Sherpa

Anne’s background is as diverse as a meadow full of wildflowers. With work experience in big-name organizations ranging from Google to the World Economic Forum and What if? Consulting, it’s a personal loss that shifted her trajectory.

In July 2011, Anne’s father passed away unexpectedly. Unsure how to process the tsunamis of emotion she read books.

However, Anne didn’t find any relief or solutions in existing books or support. So, she dove in and launched The Ashes Project, a visual exploration of grief. The response was not what she expected.

Instead of relating to the emotions of sadness, anger, loneliness, and grief, the powerful photographs often made people feel uncomfortable; voyeuristic.

Harnessing Emotions to Channel Creative Genius

Anne started wondering why full-fledged emotions weren’t shareable; why we weren’t allowed the ability to fully feel. That led to TAP IN, a movement based out of New York City. People got together to discuss a particular emotion and created public installations based on their experiences. It was exploratory and interactive, and who knows, maybe even helped people work through their feelings.

In 2017, Anne started journaling. Her initial urge to do so was based on words popping into her head, almost like a message she was the vessel for. It rattled her physically, with her body shaking uncontrollably – a bit like what Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her Ted Talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”

A year later, she realized that while she had been toying with the idea of writing a book, she had written one – albeit a very different book than what she had set out to write. Some content came to her while she was sleeping, and she found fully typed sentences on her phone in the morning. Other words were inspired by life experiences. On the whole, the words flowed and were only lightly edited if at all, before becoming the book “Free to Feel.”

Some may consider it a poetry book, but to Anne, it is explicitly not poetry. The words are expressions, closer to spoken word or mantras than poetry.  (She read the book aloud to one editor, to make sure she got the indentations and layout right.)

Behind the Scenes: Insights on the Writing Process

The book has two sections. The first one presents the primary content divided into chapters, and the second part provides the story behind the words – a date, a location, a paragraph of context.

A first idea was to present the content in chronological order, with chapters based on the seasons. The result felt disjointed. Next, Anne tried to separate her writing by emotion – but that was complicated because some texts reflected more than one feeling. Finally, an approach categorizing the words by element – fire, water, earth, and air, saw everything click into place.

Anne did not make her book come to life alone. She worked with an editor and had different designers collaborate on the layout. Anne created the cover art herself. For the back cover summary and Amazon blurb, a long-time friend and copy editor stepped in.

When “Free to Feel” was ready to be released into the world, Anne printed a copy to share with a few close friends. When she saw them lean in and squint to read her work, she put the launch on hold and went back to the drawing board. It took a few more months to find the right font, but she has no regrets. “Until you print out a copy, you really don’t know what your book will look like. Finally, when I held Free to Feel in my hands, it was exactly as I had envisioned it” she reflects.

Anne opted to self-publish because she felt like working with a publisher made more sense when you didn’t have a full book almost ready to go. In other words, she wanted to do things her way, and stay true to her vision (not that working with a publisher means you can’t do that – this is merely one opinion and approach).

Stop Comparing and Create

When I was reading “Free to Feel,” one of the notes I jotted down was “impostor syndrome?” So, I asked Anne about it. Her response reminded me why she was so good at being an emotional Sherpa:

“We live in a comparative culture, but if I look at Brene Brown, for example, and her book about vulnerability as a source of creativity – I won’t sell like her. In fact, I probably won’t do anything like her. It’s ok to inspire yourself from others, but you shouldn’t compare yourself to them.”

In that same vein of thinking, Anne went on to say that “Ideas may or may not be unique to you. However, anything you create – as long as you do it from our heart – is a unique expression.” 

Beyond that, Anne pointed out that many of the “big name authors” or celebrities we look up to and compare ourselves to in our darkest moments of impostor syndrome? They are probably suffering from the very same thing.

Advice to Budding Authors

Aside from practical advice such as “put all your content in a Google document, so you have all your assets in one place, and scattered writings will start being connected,” Anne recommends two basic yet never-said-enough approaches:

  1. Just start
  2. Allow yourself to keep writing

When you do, try the label on for size by saying “I am writing a book” out loud to yourself, and see how it feels. (Note: surreal is ok.)

What Next?

Technically, Anne is doing a book tour – except (and this should come as no surprise by now), she’s doing it with her own special sauce. She’s aiming for one experience a month, developed in collaboration with local hosts around the US.

The event might be a writer’s workshop with yoga and focusing on writer’s block, or using poetry as a basis for making music, dancing, and creating art from movement – or anything in-between.

Anne wrote “Free to Feel” for herself. If it can spark something in readers, and help people realize that creating from their emotions holds the key to unlocking their creative genius, Anne feels like she will be well on her way to achieving her purpose in life. She wants to create spaces, places, and experiences for people to be free to feel.

A theme runs through everything Anne does around emotions, she is in favor of taking out the taboo and making it talked about.  “From our emotions come our greatest masterpieces” explains Anne.

As for what more she has planned? Based on her experience with her first self-published work, Anne has developed a 6-week workshop for authors, to support them in taking their content and turning it into a book. There may also be a few more books on her horizon, including one that will dive into difficult emotions such as grief and loss. If and when she goes down that path, she will explore all her options, including working with a publisher. 

If you’re more of an audiovisual person, you can view the video recording of our chat here.

To learn more about Anne’s work, follow Anne on Facebook to learn of upcoming events. 

Amazon Smile Benefits the Author and Others

Do you know about smile.amazon.com? It’s almost the same as Amazon except that a percentage of everyone’s purchases gets donated to an organization of their choice. I mention this because I always encourage authors to use the smile.amazon.com link to their book.

Anne’s book, Free to Feel on SmileAmazon

Follow Anne’s blog at: annekoller.com

Interview Suggestions? 

After talking to Kacie Main about her memoir “Giving up Men for Lent” and interviewing Anne about “Free to Feel,” my next author interview will delve into the world of fiction, more specifically fantasy.

So, stay tuned – and if there are any authors, genres, or backstage questions you want to find out about, let me know in the comments below!

 

Bio: Shahnaz Radjy

Shahnaz Two drops of ink marilyn l davisShahnaz is an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover. She is a freelance writer based in Portugal as well as the co-founder of an eco-tourism project.

Alumni of the World Economic Forum and the University of Pennsylvania. Shahnaz has lived in Geneva/Switzerland, Philadelphia/USA, La Paz/Bolivia, and New York/USA.

You can read Shahnaz’s blog, visit her Medium profile, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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3 comments

  1. I love how this shows the personality of the author and shines a spotlight on her book at the same time. 🙂

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