Let’s start with freedom. One of the things I’m most grateful for is the freedom to put stories on paper. I try never, ever to forget this amazing privilege–that’s more a matter of where I was born and who I was born to than anything I earned. Fifteen percent of the world’s population can’t read or write. Of those who can, many can’t imagine the luxury of devoting their time to tasks beyond acquiring food and shelter. Add to that the opportunity to be paid for doing what I love and, whoa, talk about the pursuit of happiness.
And yet I freak out.
Jeannie Mobley’s post on Monday about the spotlight on writers and their books reminded me of an uncomfortable truth. Although many of us writers choose this profession as a means of being heard, a number of us are extremely queasy with the notion of being seen. After all, I’ve built an awfully cozy nest here under the radar. Case in point, when my sister got engaged a couple of months after I did, my first impulse was to invite her to do a joint wedding. More than one person expressed shock at my decision to share the limelight on my big day. Really? That thought had never entered my head. For one thing, a joint ceremony was practical since I have eleven siblings and getting everyone together is a logistical feat on a scale of the D-Day invasion. But honestly, I was relieved to deflect some of the attention.
In ten weeks, my book will sail into the world with my name plastered on the cover in large enough font to make John Hancock proud. (Doh! I shoulda used a pseudonym.) And when people read what I’ve written, they’ll assume some part of my psyche has been revealed, no matter how much I claim the story’s all fiction (really, it is!) Along with my freedom to write and share my words with others, comes the freedom of others to interpret those words, and respond with words of their own. And no matter how much I’ll attempt to resist, I’ll read those critiques. There’ll be reviewers who appreciate the thriller-y plot, yet others who’ll note that my story doesn’t stop to smell the metaphors.
What will I do with the criticism? Hopefully, take what’s useful and make my next book better. Hopefully, develop thick enough skin to avoid needing intensive therapy. But also, hopefully, there will be readers who connect with the story in a way that entertains them and inspires them to consider some of those things I like to ponder while I’m nestled in my under-the-radar-nest. Issues such as social connectivity, on-line privacy and where we place our trust. Boy, encountering that type of reader engagement sure would be another gift in the pursuit of happiness thing. Because I’d bet creating such connections and shared understanding would feel like another Fourth of July tradition—fireworks!
At any rate, the fuse has been lit…