In the little quiz I put out to you guys about six weeks ago, I asked about how you are liking my blog posts and what would be the most help to you and what you wanted to see, and one of the more interesting requests came from someone who asked, “Why do you do all this? Why do you spend so much time giving and teaching and trying to inspire us?”
It is a question that got lodged in my head, especially because of what happened to me this winter in the classroom. I taught a lot of classes and workshops. You never know what any given class is going to be like, because it depends on the people, the stories, and whether or not the moon is waxing or waning (there’s some weird voodoo that goes on in writing classes), but most of the time I am happily surprised and delighted by my classes. This winter, however, I had some tough things go down. I had some classes that made me sad and I began to ask myself why I was doing it.
I won’t go into detail, but people sometimes get mad at me because I tell it like it is – I tell them that their book isn’t good enough yet, that their idea doesn’t hold water, that they haven’t done the hard work they need to do to engage a reader, that it’s not going to be fast or cheap or easy to bring a book to life. They sometimes argue, they fight, they get defensive, they question me, they accuse me of being mean to writers, antagonistic to writers, self-serving.
I can shake a lot of it off, but that last one struck a nerve because the truth is I am self serving. That’s precisely why I am doing this – blogging, teaching, coaching, editing, writing. I have made this my life’s work, and I am deeply invested in doing it well, and all of this is part of that effort.
I have spent my entire career in publishing – at a publishing house, at magazines, as a writer, editor, teacher book coach – and I know a lot about how it all works. But a critical turning point for me came when I realized that I didn’t know the KEY thing about how it works.
When my seventh book failed to find a publishing home about three years ago, I was confronted with the stone cold reality that the world of publishing had changed. I thought I was well positioned to reach a wide audience, and I was not – not by a long shot. I had a fabulous publisher, an amazing agent, and a long list of people who had bought my books, liked my books, and hosted me in their bookstore for a reading, but I was doing nothing to connect with those people or engage them.
When I say I had a list, I mean it was a spreadsheet of emails that I never used. I realized I had been wildly presumptuous about who might read my books and why. I realized that if I wanted readers – which is to say that if I wanted to keep writing -- I had to change. Instead of sitting back and waiting for readers to come to me or for my publisher to bring them to me, I would have to do something to find them and keep them and connect with them.
I took a leave of absence from writing – and, as Jenny Blake would say, I pivoted. (People ask me if it was hard. It was not hard. I was wounded and needed to lick my wounds. ) I focused on teaching and coaching, instead -- giving my students and my clients the best of what I have learned in the last 27 years, and it has been a thrill to be part of other writers’ success. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it (or, to be perfectly honest, how good I would be at it.)
This blog has been a natural extension of that work, and a critical part of my plan for mattering to people, or offering them something of deep meaning. That was the key element I was missing in my writing career, and I am building back that muscle. (People often ask me when I am going to write my next book, and the answer is: I think soon. I hear the ghosts rattling their chains in the attic….they’re very loud and they’re keeping me up at night.)
The heavy lifting a writer does is asking, "What do I have to say? Who will care? Why will it matter to them?
It’s such a cliché to say that it is in giving that you receive, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. I have been writing this blog for about a year and half, every Friday, except that one time when I had the flu. It’s not that long a run compared to some of the epic bloggers out there, but it’s still pretty long. It’s a lot of work, but I have come to love it. It’s one of the best things I do.
So, again, why? There is nothing more powerful than working with people who are open to being transformed. Guiding writers who are open to learning and who are committed to the hard work of writing feels like noble work to me, even if I never speak to you or never meet you or never get down into the muck of your project with you. The fact that you chose to listen to me is an honor and a blessing, and it’s an antidote to the doubters I run across, both in the world and in my own head.
You will hear me talk from time to time about marketing strategy and the importance of connecting with readers, and when I do that, some writers will invariably say, “But I don’t have time for that,” or “I don’t like that,” or “I’m not good at that. I just want to write.”
Next time that happens, think of me, and think of this post – because THIS is marketing. I am writing this blog to market my services as a book coach, a teacher, and ultimately, a writer. I am writing this blog as a way to try to matter to you. If you’re reading it, it means it's working, and I’m so very glad.