Words are dynamic, alive, able to take on new meaning with each unique arrangement. Linda Sivertsen is the same way: In one configuration, she’s a New York Times best-selling co-author and TED talker. From another, a mom. When viewed straight ahead, she’ll show you everything needed to write the book you’ve always dreamed of and then she’ll help you get it sold. Sivertsen is a wizard of words, and her CV is an amazing amalgamation of achievement. She’s penned several award-winning books. She’s invented a popular app. She has celebrity clients—from film, television and literature—who are her gushing fans. She’s written and delivered a revolutionary TEDWomen talk on what’s she calls “Time Debt.” She hosts a highly-praised, top-rated podcast (the Beautiful Writers Podcast), on which legends, such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Tom Hanks, and Brené Brown come to talk shop. Sivertsen has wrangled creativity and she generously sprinkles it over everyone she meets. She’s a true word-trepeneur.
Linda Sivertsen is awe-inspiring on the Internet, a force on the phone, and a miracle worker in person. The lean, fit woman with the long, brown hair and a striking smile works much of her magic during her iconic writers’ retreats in Carmel, which she considers her second home. Her parents spent their honeymoon in Carmel, and it was the favorite get-away of her Bay Area-based family.
“I felt that if any place in the world could nurture me, it would be this place. It’s known as one of the most beautiful locations anywhere. The ethers here are filled with the brilliance of past artists, and it’s exceeded every imaginable hope I had.” Just years ago, hope was hard to come by for Sivertsen. Her success was borne of hard knocks after her long marriage went south, right under her nose, and the infidelity publicly rubbed in her face. She subsequently weathered a financial fiasco. But, the recovery made her a better author and mentor. “The great shock of my life was when I found out my husband was cheating on me and that I was going to lose our home. I had no choice but to put myself out into the world. In my chaos, the only answer I had was to expand and reach out. I was scared, but I crawled to the one area I always felt safe—Carmel.”
Sivertsen may have crawled, but wanna-be writers (as well as established ones) ran to join her in this cozy hamlet by the sea. The first year, 2009, Sivertsen held two retreats. The following year, four. She’s now found the happy medium of six to seven workshops a year, almost always sold out, despite a steep price tag that would buy some people a car; the all-inclusive retreats are $10,000 a pop. Sivertsen justifies the cost by pointing out how much of her own writing—and all of her ghostwriting—she puts on hold for her clients. “I had the experience and connections writers needed, and their goals became mine. Nobody flies around the world and takes a week of their life and invests in their dreams in this way unless they’re up to something big. World-changing stuff. These writers are ready. Ready to be seen. To share. To catapult. They just need a champion. Connections. A tribe.”
They come from everywhere and every walk of life—CEO’s, famous recording artists, healers, mothers, even a highly successful collegiate football coach. They spend Monday through Friday with their mentor, and focus intensely on writing and its business aspects. Sivertsen jokes that many hem and haw at first, insisting they aren’t “joiners,” or girls’ girls.
“The women who show up to my retreats are nurturing, terrified, wonderful, big-hearted, talented, and exhausted. While here, they don’t cook, do a dish, or make a bed. And, they’re instantly finishing each other’s sentences.” Sequestered, like a jury, in a rented house in Carmel Highlands, Sivertsen massages the best work out of each writer, with nary an errand, chore or child in sight. She helps score book deals for many of these writers when they return home, as part of the price of admission. The publishing results speak for themselves; two New York Times bestsellers were brokered after the same retreat. Sivertsen deflects credit, saying it was the authors’ “time.” As for men, they’re welcomed occasionally, often sent by a spouse looking for an unusual, rewarding experience. Sivertsen says, ironically and charmingly, the men always cry more than the women during a week of rawness and vulnerability.
Sivertsen knows the struggle of balancing motherhood and a career. She managed to keep her only child, Tosh, in the creative loop when they co-authored the book, “Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life,” when Tosh was still in high school. Being able to save her home and put her son through college was an added bonus of her successful Carmel retreats. Tosh is now a film school graduate.
Her own educational background is unconventional. She bailed from the University of Southern California after three years studying psychology, drawn to the subject by her innate curiosity about people. But the prospect of several more years of school after graduation was a deterrent, so she started a dog-walking business, and some of her clients were major celebrities. She capitalized on her gut and gusto by interviewing the dogs’ owners, and selling a book called, “Lives Charmed: Intimate Conversations with Extraordinary People.” The book’s visibility led to Sivertsen being hired as a magazine editor, then ghostwriter and co-author on other projects. It also led her to interact with people, en masse, which she sees as an accidental blessing.
“I had a writer’s fantasy: cats on the desk, dogs at my feet, everyone leave me alone, I’m in my own head… that’s the dream, the quiet office,” she says chuckling. The best-pal-you’ve-never-met runs the Beautiful Writer’s Group, which anyone can join, online. Writers have monthly access to Sivertsen when questions are answered on a conference call. She also sends frequent emails to keep members fired-up and fighting for their projects. Somehow, she finds time to stay engaged in her own health, well being and current writing projects. It all comes down to juggling the day’s precious hours.
“When I gave the TEDWomen Talk on ‘Time Debt,’ I had to up my A game. I’d long been looking at the issue of time and how I was spending it, but now I brought in the microscope. Saw it with new eyes. I asked myself, ‘What’s next?’ My mother was dead at the age of 59. My father at 67. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ The area of life that’s always flowed the best for me is when I follow my curiosity around the writing process. So, I’m going with the flow, and finishing up books on writing and Time Debt. Just like everyone—time is of the essence to me.”
The fairy godmother of writing will continue her life story, one page, and person at a time. And we’ll be so fortunate to read about it.