What does it mean to be a writer?
I don’t know.
This year, I accidentally saw a family deal with the murder of their daughter. And their pain was raw and poignant. I wrote about it. I’m used to writing about things I don’t understand, things that make the world seem wrong. When I wrote it, I wanted to extol our community, to be kind to them during their pain. I wanted to get reporters to step back while they grieved.
It was the wrong thing to do.
And I cried for hours when I realized it.
I made a mistake.
I make mistakes all the time.
Creative nonfiction is hard because it is so incredibly real and every time you write a story (as a reporter or blogger or public image person or whatever) you create ripples that you can’t control, which is why I give a lot of leeway to the press and what they try to do.
I try hard to find the humanity in horror. When the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I wrote about it. When I found a dead body. I wrote about it. When I was hurt by other people, I wrote about it… eventually.
I write to find a way through pain and I think… I think a lot of writers do that.
But people don’t always want us to. I used to think I was a good person, particularly because I kind of love almost everyone I meet. Even if they suck. Even if they hurt me. I still love them.
My ex-husband said to me once, “I don’t understand why you are still kind to me.”
I said, “Why wouldn’t I be?”
But sometimes. Sometimes? In my quest for understanding through writing, I think I might fail to be kind because I don’t think of all the potential repercussions. I go after life like some sort of weird no-chill terror, especially when I don’t understand why people are being violent or cruel. When I wrote about one of the best guys I know, a drug-addict, a felon, a guy who risked his life by going into a house on fire to save other people? I knew that other people had different opinions of him and would deride me. It didn’t matter. When I wrote about volunteer firefighters in my town, I knew that some people would deride me and say that what I was writing was schmaltz. That didn’t matter either.
I still wrote.
I don’t know how not to celebrate other people’s bravery, success, heroism. That doesn’t make them perfect. It makes what they did in that moment – exceptional.
And I have a really hard time asking for things in return. Or accepting praise.
“You should be a public speaker like a motivational speaker,” people keep telling me.
And what do I say back?
I say, “Oh gosh. That’s so nice. But have you heard my s’s? I sound like a Muppet.”
That’s self-sabotage right there. DO NOT DO THIS! Do not be like me.
Recently, one of my books was released, and I watched as all these beautiful people that I didn’t know at all (except through social media) retweet and share this, but my actual real-life friends? Only three of them shared my news and that… it hurt.
I had to dig deep and figure out why it hurt and I realized it’s because I try really hard to share people’s triumphs and companies and need and nonprofits and fundraisers. And none of those people shared mine. And I have a hard time asking them to share, to review, to subscribe, to like.
Why is it that I think that they deserve it, but I have such a hard time asking for the same things myself?
That’s the question.
But that doesn’t mean that good has to be reciprocated. It doesn’t mean that they have to care about me, too. I get that.
But in this weird social media world where I have to sell books to stay an author, it kind of makes me panic. How do I get people to buy and read and review my books?
I don’t know.
I’m an internationally and NYT-bestselling author. I know I’m a great writing coach and mentor. I know that as an author I’m getting better all the time.
It isn’t enough.
And all of us writers? We live on this weird edge, this precipice that we’re afraid to fall off. Will we sell enough books? Will anyone notice us? Will they only notice us enough to angry tweet at us? How the hell do we even tweet? Will people even know we exist?
And our amazing readers eat our stories rare; they fill them with their own love (or not), their own care (or not). Writing a book is this weird two-way communication where us authors aren’t sure that anyone is hearing what we’re saying. But they do. In quiet rooms, in libraries, on subways, on kindles, in real-life books… they read us.
That’s scary AF.
I don’t know if it’s enough to survive financially. That’s scary AF, too.
Erotic novels, romance, pain, they sell like crazy. We writers thicken our plots with so many sauces like apocalypse, and dystopian, and love. We hurl around our websites and tweets and hope that they stick.
But do they?
I don’t know.
This world of writing is so intimidating. But I know – I am positive, that even if nobody reads my stories, I will keep writing.