The best way to start this post out is with a disclaimer. I might seem a little harsh when I’m telling writers and authors how much responsibility they have towards their books and their legacy. I don’t mean it to sound that way, except towards myself. I got in touch with my inner drill sergeant a long time ago, and much of who I am and what I have came from letting the guy be a little brutal with me from time to time. In the end that’s what this blog is, one long letter to Yesterday Jay. If it sounds like I’m being a bit forceful about my more than occasional kick in the pants rant, don’t take it personally.
He’s my drill sergeant; that’s my job.
Everyone has their own journey, their own pace and their own way of getting things done. Studying other people that I admire and swiping their great ideas on being more productive might make me a little more like them…but what it really does is make me a lot more like the me I want to be. That’s worth that occasional boot in the butt. Make no mistake, though; I’m not telling anyone but me how they’ve got to be, and my own advice to myself is subject to change at any time. I just like to share it with you in the moment, in the hopes that you might get something out of it.
Uh-oh, Jay started a post off with a disclaimer…what could be next?
Yep, I’m going to go off.
There was a time when I did a lot of drawing. Pretty much everyone thought I would grow up to be an artist of some kind, and more than one adult figure tried to push my childhood self in that direction. I didn’t resist, but I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking about art either. There was some natural talent there, and I spent a ridiculous number of hours on it, but I wasn’t reading books about how to be a better artist or staying up late learning some new technique. It was tough for me to receive a compliment properly back then, and I tended to tell folks that praised my drawing that I wasn’t really that good. When people called me an artist, I corrected them.
“I like to draw,” I would say. “I am not an artist.”
I wasn’t being humble; I was being realistic. I could draw or paint or sculpt most kids under the table, no sweat…but the few that I couldn’t were miles beyond where I was, and I knew that it was that driving passion that made them that way. Those were the kids that needed to grow up and be artists…I was burned out on art before I ever mastered drawing. All that other stuff was like most things I have come across: I can learn it pretty quickly, and be pretty good at it pretty fast. But once I hit that barrier between learning a skill and embodying it, I leave off more often than not. There is a limit to how many things we can effectively embody, and I choose those things carefully.
It was the same with singing, and playing guitar. Once I learned some basics, I rested on my sparse laurels more than I worked at improving. I spent a few years trying to put a band together, and the guy I was trying to put it together with always accused me of not being fully committed. When practice was over, I went and read a fantasy or science fiction novel; he hung out with the latest edition of the band or practiced his guitar long into the night. I couldn’t work the sound board or the recording equipment, and I showed very little interest in learning how. I wrote songs that got rejected because they were too much like stories, and had people point out that the ones that did make it through were also written in a storyteller fashion. I always took it as a compliment, and never saw what was staring me in the face the whole time.
When I was drawing, I would often give away my drawings if someone said they liked it. I would be all smarmy, and tell them that I would probably just throw it away when I was done if they didn’t want it. Then I’d say something else, still being all smarmy about it.
“You know what they say,” I would sneer. “‘If you just reach that one person…’”
Later, a few people tried to tell me how much they liked my singing or songwriting. I would say the same thing, in the same smarmy way. It was shitty of me to be so shitty, but it was also kind of telling. I didn’t even care if my drawing or singing reached that one person, and that’s why one seemed to be more than enough.
Okay, ready for the rant?
I hate that phrase when I hear it now. You’ll never catch me uttering such silly nonsense, and I wish I never had to hear anyone else say it again. If you love what you do, and you think that it’s great, you should be almost painfully dedicated to making sure that the people that will love what you do get the chance to find out about it. If you don’t love what you do, or you don’t think that it’s great, that’s okay too. The best advice I can give you is to work harder on making it great or find the thing that you can truly dedicate yourself to. Don’t be upset that the thing you thought you wanted to be isn’t what really fires you up; dig deep, and find the thing that does.
Assuming you love what you are doing, and assuming that that thing is writing, reaching one person should never be enough. It should be satisfying, and rewarding…but it should be used as fuel to find more people to reach, rather than reason to cool your jets. We each think our own way, and authors reach their readers by sharing part of that precious process with them. When we writers reach someone, we really reach them sometimes. That can be a mind-blowing and sublime experience, but the incredibleness of the experience is reason enough in itself to work hard to repeat it. That’s not the only reason, though; and some folks need to have it put a little differently.
So, here goes.
Your books are the best of the best of you, your own essence stamped into printed or electronic eternity for readers to peruse at their leisure. If you have worked hard on them, you want them to have a life that goes beyond you in so many ways. Pounding the proverbial pavement must be done if this great work is going to find the minds that will thrill at the words you have put down. Understanding that the first person to think of marketing or advertising was probably not evil at all helps us see how it can and must be used. When the first farmer that wanted to offer fresher produce at a cheaper price wanted to let folks far and wide know about it, it was the passion for the product that led to those first flyers being carved in stone. It helped everyone that the farmer took the time to let them all know.
(So, historical accuracy is not my thing…just making a point here.)
Growing a thousand pounds of the best tomatoes in the world would be quite an accomplishment…unless they all rotted on the vine. With no one to pick and eat the most delicious tomato in the world, it doesn’t really get to be the most delicious tomato in the world. That requires that the farmer cultivate customers as well as tomatoes. And it’s going to take one very dedicated tomato lover to make it worthwhile for that farmer to reach just one.
Books are even better. There is no limit to how many copies of a book that can be printed, just as there is no limit to how many readers we can talk to. Digital books make it even easier, and those readers that dig that format can have your book in hand the moment they order it. If reaching just one person is enough for anyone, in this age of easy global outreach, then I reserve my right to respectfully disagree. I want every single person that will love my books to know about them and get the chance to read them, because they are the best of the best of who I am. I’ve never felt that way about anything that I have done, and it’s part of why I know that writing is most definitely my thing.
The other part is that every time I do reach that one person, and hear about it, it makes me all kinds of silly happy inside. My books mean a lot to me, but hearing that they mean a lot to someone else is a strikingly special thing. It’s one of the few things that I can’t effectively wrap words around: it’s simply sublime. It makes me glad that I wrote the book all over again, and reminds me that I’m not the only person that I’m doing this for. I’m doing it for those that already love my books and those that will when they find out about them.
I’m an author, after all; I live to embody that, because that’s who I am.
Thanks for reading!