There is a myth of the isolated writer. The writer shuts herself off from the world, curls up in a dark attic, and furiously pounds away at an ancient typewriter. Okay, the furiously pounding part is real. But a true writer cannot build a fortress of solitude and hide there. A true writer is one who experiences the world fully, not simply from her own perspective but from everyone she meets and everyone she imagines.
The writer must write, of course, and for this she must turn off the phone, sit down at the computer and write. But this is only one part of being a writer. Writing means interacting with people, taking notes, learning to read body language and listening to the way people talk. Then the writer takes all of this back to her quiet space and enters into her fictional world, bringing all of her observances with her. She creates a real world because she writes from a place of knowledge and experience.
The writer cannot—unless she is Thomas Pynchon—hide from the world after she has finished her writing. A writer must go out into her community and connect with others: writers, publishers, librarians, journalists, and readers. Especially when a writer is competing (I despise that word) with so many other books, she must be accessible.
Our modern technology has made this much easier than before. I credit my husband and Amy Guth, founder of the Pilcrow Lit fest, for instructing me in the ways of social media. Thanks to twitter, facebook, myspace, my two blogs, and my website, I am able to connect with potential readers near and far. I am able to make real connections with my audience. At last June’s Printers Row literary festival, I learned about teen bloggers. These teens read practically one book a week, or more, and write interesting reviews. They also do interviews with the author and contests to win the book. I was amazed at the web savvy of these Young Adult lit reviewers. Many of these blogs have hundreds of followers.
The past Wednesday, I experienced a wonderful part of being an author. I read at The Book Cellar (Jim wrote a wonderful description of it here) with three other YA authors. One of them I had read with at my first reading, J. Adams Oaks. I did an interview with him here. The other two, Pamela Todd and Diane Mayer Christiansen, I had the pleasure of meeting that night.
Diane was the first to approach me. She was animated and outgoing, but nervous about reading aloud because she is dyslexic. Her novel, Switcher, is written for kids and teens. She wants her stories to tell them that it’s okay to be different; you’re not alone.
Pamela was a kind and lovely person. Her well-written novel, The Blind Faith Hotel, deals with environmental issues, about which she is very passionate.
I was panicking all day about the reading, of course. Being a writer (there are reasons for that myth), I extremely dislike public speaking. Even reading in front of people makes me nervous. When I was in elementary school, I was supposed to be in a public spelling bee. I was so anxious that I refused to go. It didn’t matter how good I was at spelling (my skills have diminished significantly since the invention of spell check), I could not think or speak with a crowd of people looking at me.
But I want to be an author so badly that I push through the anxiety. Of course, a nice glass of La Fin du Monde goes a long way to helping me. I also had my devoted husband and a great group of friends, including the charming Jim of OS, to support me.
The best part of the night was afterwards when I sold a book to two people I didn’t know. One was a delightful woman who wanted to give it to her niece after she read it. The other was a staff member of the bookstore and our wonderful MC for the evening. It is wonderful to sell books to friends and family members, but they know you. It is quite another experience to sell your book to someone who heard you read for ten minutes and that made them want to shell out several bucks to read it. My mind is still blown.
Participating in the Chicago literary scene has made me feel like a real author, instead of being someone who loves to write. This sense of belonging has been invaluable. Chicago authors continuously impress me. So far, I have never been disappointed. They are delightful, down to earth, and passionate about writing. None of them has ever treated me differently for self-publishing my YA novel, rather than getting it published traditionally. They have always been generous with their attention and advice.
A writer cannot simply hide in her attics, intermittently hating and adoring her work. A writer has to write, but she also must interact. She has to talk and listen and observe and live. Writing is about communication. A writer has to see that her writing actually means something to someone else. This completes the circle.
"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. […] It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship."
~Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”