“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me: Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” – Shel Silverstein
This will be my last post before Novel Launch Day, May 23 (and I’m running a little early this week). This past year, leading up to launch, in some ways has been a long transition. For years before that, the idea of getting To Love A Stranger out into the world was one huge “impossible” to me, or even a “mustn’t” and “shouldn’t.” I hadn’t done my work well enough. The book didn’t deserve to be out there…but then, somewhere, things changed. Anything can be.
Blogging, of course, is a public thing, but like many writers, I’m much more comfortable thinking aloud to the safety of a blank page, in a quiet room. It’s funny how writers are always putting their souls out in the world, through their work, when so often we’re very private people. Maybe we need to spend a lot of time quiet and still, in order to be able to share the things we write about.
In the leadup to launch, I’ve been tangling with marketing and publicity. Those are tough for me, as for a lot of writers. It feels unnatural to go after attention, even though we know we have to do it if our work is going to succeed. But it means thinking about how we present ourselves, who and what our prospective audience will see when they look at us, and whether or not we’re saying/doing/writing things they’ll find interesting. Many stories start in some deep, private place in a writer’s heart. We decide, in our solitude, that something is important enough to write about, and we work and refine, and scrap and try new things, again and again until the piece is as finished as we can make it. And when it’s finally ready, we face the whole new game of sharing it. That’s where we find out if what matters to us also matters to those people out there.
Marketing and publicity can be a maelstrom, and can be especially tough for those of us with anxiety, depression, and insecurities of different kinds (or some combination of all of the above). It’s awfully easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. It’s awfully easy to compare your Twitter following with someone else’s, and suddenly a number you were proud of seems tiny. It’s easy to feel like one insignificant voice that’s going to be drowned in the sea of much bigger, much louder voices coming from everywhere, all the time. Above all, it’s easy to lose track of why you started doing this thing in the first place, and what you hope will happen because you did it.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a speaker ask an audience, “What do you want to be known for?” I’ve carried her question in my head since then, as an anchor. What do I want to be known for? What do I want to do through my work and my words? What do I want to do through the stories – To Love A Stranger and others – that have mattered and will matter to me?
For instance, would I like to be famous? Would I like to be known for selling gazillions of books? The easy answer is, of course! Funnily enough, though, that isn’t totally true.
If a writer is famous, lots of people, in lots of places, must be reading that writer’s work. Sure, at first that sounds fantastic. But if you take it a little farther, that’s also a pretty serious responsibility. What is that writer putting out? How are his or her words affecting other people? Are those words making the world brighter, or darker? Are they deadening people’s senses, or are they waking people up?
Lately, I’ve kept running into the idea that “we get what we ask for.” If we’re holding out one hand, asking for something – yes, please, let people notice my work! – but at the same time, pushing that thing away with the other hand – actually, it’s nice and safe here in my burrow, I’d rather stay hidden – it’s hard to get anything at all. And when you’re hustling, trying to get people to notice you, and that hustling meanwhile feels pretty uncomfortable and (sometimes) unpleasant, it’s easy to get lost.
Terry Pratchett and J. K. Rowling are two of my writing heroes. The Harry Potter books are one of the best short-term depression cures I know. When I’m going through a down period, they never fail to wake me up and make me believe, again, in the power of courage, determination, and authenticity. They also never fail to make me laugh. Pratchett’s Discworld books, too, always make me laugh, but I also admire Pratchett’s work because he tells terrific stories that take us into a totally different world, and at the same time, make us think about our own world and see something new about it.
In some ways, that’s exactly the kind of work I’d like to do. And in some ways, I’d like to reach as many people, and minds, as writers like Rowling and Pratchett. If that kind of fame ever happens for me, though, it’ll be a very long time from now. Meanwhile, there’s this first book. One step on a lifelong journey.
What do I want to be known for?
Sometimes I’ve thought that if I were a different kind of person, more confident, not so shy and withdrawn, I’d be better at hustling. I’d be able to build a bigger audience, faster. Sometimes that has seemed extremely important, and I’ve been frustrated with myself for being the way I am.
On the other hand…
Introverts aren’t usually fond of small talk, and we’re often very uncomfortable in crowds, but we love to have in-depth conversations with people we feel connected to. I like to connect with one person at a time. That’s more my speed.
Recently, I shared the trailer video for To Love A Stranger, which I’ve also included in this post, with a friend and fellow piano teacher. She in turn shared it with one of her students. The student told my friend how excited she was to know about a book that reflected her own experience. She’d been looking for books like that, but had never found any. Just knowing that Stranger existed made a difference to her.
That’s what I want my work to do. I want it to give people something that will help them in some way. Something that will make them smile, or think, or something that will tell them it’s okay to be who they are, or something that will help them look at things through new eyes. If that happens for one person at a time, maybe, eventually, it can spread pretty far. But it needs to happen for one person at a time.
It’s easy to get lost in appearances and the idea that we have to make lots of noise if we want to make a difference in the world. At the same time, though, maybe the best way to make any kind of impact is to stay true to ourselves, and do our own thing, our own way. Maybe, if we do that, it’s absolutely true that anything can be.
In closing, I’d like to ask you the same questions I’ve been asking myself: What do you want to be known for? And how will you make that happen?
As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you on Launch Day.
To Love A Stranger‘s trailer video: