I’ve often joked with my students that to be a good writer, you need to be mildly schizophrenic. What I mean is that an effective writer needs to be able to live life, but also remain mildly detached from it, to be a participant and observer at the same time. One of my writing professors once told me a story about a writer he knew who tried to help a woman at the scene of an accident. As she sat inside her car afraid and covered with broken glass, he did everything he could to help her as they waited for paramedics to arrive. At the same time, however, he was also collecting details–what the glass looked like shimmering on her skin, the expression on her face, the words she shared with him. All of these, he knew, would eventually show up in a story.
The experience of sharing work with readers can also involve a major shift in perspective. For me, at least, writing is an intensely personal experience. I don’t like to share my work with anyone else while I’m in the process of creating it or even discuss basic themes and ideas. When I write, I create a world that I move into completely, often pulling details of events and experiences around me into this imaginary space and incorporating them into my work. Still, it remains an intensely private place.
The process of sharing work, whether through publication, workshops, readings, or just showing it to friends can be a jolt, especially for someone as private about their work as I am. For years I published in small literary magazines and in many ways enjoyed the anonymity of them. I knew somewhere, someone was reading my work, but I rarely had any contact with any of these people. Book publication has been a whole different experience, one I wasn’t entirely prepared for ten years ago when my first novel came out. All of a sudden, I had readers I actually met and who voiced opinions about this very private world I had created. The experience was frightening in many ways, but also exhilarating. The real surprise, though, came in the social connection that publication encouraged with other writers. Writers with books spend a tremendous amount of time promoting their work, and the relationship I developed with fellow writers I met at signings and book festivals and other literary events turned out to be one of the biggest unexpected rewards of publication.
I’ve been especially fortunate with the release of my current novel. One of my former students, Cindy Speer, by chance had a novel released by the same publisher, Zumaya Embraces, just weeks before I did. Our joint publication experience has been discussed in several newspaper articles and has given us an opportunity to reconnect. Meeting up with her again has been one of the best unexpected perks of publication I’ve ever received.
This time around I was more prepared for the social side of writing, the experience of sharing my work with others, but I’ve still had some surprises. In the almost ten years that have passed since the publication of my earlier novel and short story collection, the social side of writing has changed substantially. While I will be participating in signings and book festivals and talking to readers face-to-face, I’m also gearing up for my first ever virtual book tour, an experience I’ll describe in future posts. While I was a little skeptical at first about connecting with readers through social media–the process sounded cold and impersonal–I’m finding that the key word in the phrase social media is “social.” Reconnecting with Cindy has been one unexpected benefit. Now that my tour is about to start in earnest, I can’t wait to see what new surprises are in store for me.