Lee Woodruff's career as a best-selling author was launched with In An Instant, a memoir she co-wrote with her husband, journalist Bob Woodruff, after he suffered a nearly fatal head injury while embedded with troops in Iraq. Today her second book, a collection of autobiographical essays called Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress, hits shelves. In between dropping off birthday cupcakes at her kids' school and her impending book tour, she talked shop with HuffPost.
In the introduction he wrote to Perfectly Imperfect, your husband Bob says that you were incredibly supportive of his career as it was growing, but you also still managed to keep your own passion for writing going. What advice do you have for women who are trying to balance career and family?
What I've learned is that there really is no balance--and you have to make peace with that. At different times you're doing things better than others. But no matter what, I think women should always stay plugged into some passion that takes them out of the orbit of being a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, whatever their role is--something that is absolutely their own. I think that taps into an eternal happiness that doesn't yoke you to someone else.
When did you find the time to write the stories with all that you have on your plate? Do you have a writing routine?
The funny thing about Perfectly Imperfect was that it was mostly written on planes and in hotel rooms from the book tour of the paperback of In An Instant. It's really hard for me to write at home--there's so many interruptions from the phone and emails and the kids. I've learned to master the art of writing a few sentence and then running in when someone yells, "Mom, can you heat up my oatmeal?" I've become a very ADD writer, but I don't recommend that. But the heavy lifting of the creative part of the book was written when I was on a plane and couldn't get email or in a hotel room and I wouldn't hook up to email. When I had complete and total lack of responsibility to anyone else.
You co-wrote In An Instant with your husband Bob. What was that like, versus writing all on your own, like you did with Perfectly Imperfect?
I loved working on In An Instant with Bob. Part of it was some of the earlier things, that he had written before. But the later part of the book, he wrote afresh and at the time he was still working to recover pretty hard. So that was work he did and I would help him polish something or remember something and so I look at that book and think that was kind of our recovery together. The other great part of that book was that it was very compartmentalized--his parts and my parts, rather than being a true collaborative effort. We did each have our own he said/she said side, which made it easier. But having said all of that, it's so much easier to go off and do your own thing, like I did with Perfectly Imperfect. I didn't have to wrestle with anyone over a word!
I know you spoke publicly recently about how blogging for the Huffington Post helped you find your voice for this book. Can you explain what you mean by that?
I just got in the zone of blogging--things were just clicking with HuffPo--before I'd even started the book. I'd conceptualized some things and I pulled pieces out that didn't make it into In An Instant that I knew were important enough that they could stand alone for this book. But I hadn't quite yet figured out how it was all going to work. Then I just got inspired by writing these short lifestyle pieces for HuffPo and I kept waking up every morning and instead of writing the book, I was writing these pieces. But I realize it was kind of like tuning a piano or doing scales with your voice: I could write these little nuggets and polish them and feel like, "Ok, I can do this. Because what I'm thinking about doing for the book is maybe just few pages more than this." Without planning it or thinking about it it naturally happened because of HuffPo.
How would you define your voice?
It's just me! It's what I've grown up with inside my head for 49 years. I know I can be sarcastic. Brutally honest. Self-deprecating. I hopefully am 50% of the time funny!
I would add very insightful, smart and relate-able.
That's such a thrill. I'd aspire to be Every Woman, in an accessible way.
How did you decide which moments or events in your life were ripe fodder for stories?
Some of the things I started with I didn't end up with. I have a great editor, so she would say to me, "that topic is just a little clichéd." New topics would just sort of come to me halfway through the book. It took on a life of its own. When you're kind of in the middle of something and engaged with it, don't you feel more alive and creative, and feel the ideas just kind of popping up around you?
In Perfectly Imperfect, even given the trauma you experienced together, your marriage seems so solid, and so much fun! What advice do you have for people regarding a happy marriage and how to keep one going?
I feel an embarrassment of riches sometimes about how we feel about each other. Which is not to say that we don't have bad days or that there aren't moments that I get completely angry and frustrated, emotions every wife has! I think sense of humor has been a huge thing for us, always. Even in our darkest moments, one can say something that will just deflate the other. I fell in love with him because he's so smart, and so curious, and so inquisitive about the world, and I realized that this is not a guy that I'm going to sit across from at Denny's one day with nothing to say for an entire dinner. And that was one of my biggest fears in life--would I become one of those couples, sitting there and just masticating through an entire meal, having nothing left to say after all those years of marriage? No.
Do you feel like the skids were greased from In An Instant and as a result you'll have an easier time selling Perfectly Imperfect? Or do you still have to work at self-promoting with things like Facebook and other technology?
It's a tough environment today for people to get a platform. In some ways it's probably more democratic because everyone can write about and Facebook about their books. So me being the biggest dinosaur in the whole world, I dragged myself onto Facebook, created a website. I'm trying to Twitter. I'm trying to come up with something I'm doing that someone could possibly care about in under a hundred characters. I am going to use all of those things, everything I can, to let people know the book is out there. It's a lot of work. I've completely enjoyed it, but it's a challenge, like having your own business.
What's up next for you?
I've started two other books already. My dream job is to be a writer, to write books. I don't think ever imagined that I would have done this, and certainly never imagined I'd write something autobiographical. I'm so eager to see people's feedback on the road because if it's good that will give me the cojones to do more!