I went to a party six years ago, where I ended up in a conversation with another writer. At the time, it was rare for me to meet another literary person. He was a writer but spent most of his time working as an editor at a literary magazine. I had just returned from Japan but didn't return to my day job. I was working full time on my first manuscript.
When he started asking about my work, and if I did readings, I told him that I hadn't done any.
"I'm sort of an anti-social writer," I confessed.
"You're gonna have to work on that," he said. "Nobody likes an anti-social writer."
The blatant way he made that statement caught me off guard and broke the rhythm of our conversation. Soon we found new topics, then wandered to different conversation partners. But his words stayed with me for days after that.
At the time, I considered 'writer' to be more of an adjective than a noun. It was a way to describe me, it was part of my identity. I understood that I had introverted tendencies, and had used the term "anti-social" as a playful, self-deprecating jab--which, perhaps, my conversation partner took too literally. I, in turn, took his comment personally, as if he had told me, "Nobody likes you."
For days after our conversation, I'd be sitting at my desk, and would have to remind myself that I was justified in not doing readings and other promotional efforts. There were plenty of anti-social authors who just wrote from their houses, where they were alone with their books and tea. That was what I wanted--and from what I had gathered from other writers--what most writers wanted, too.
The more I thought about it, the conversation had proved my point--See? This is why I don't bother going out. I don't need to go to parties and talk to people. I can just stay home and write.
The thing is: he was right.
Back then, I didn't give much thought to the marketing side of being a writer, a naive mistake that a lot of new writers make. I begrudgingly started a blog, a twitter account, a Facebook page--but it wasn't enough. When the manuscript was making its rounds to editors at publishing houses, it was turned down, all with the same comments--
It will be difficult to sell this work since the author doesn't have a platform.
These notes of rejection forced me to look at my approach to my work and come up with a new strategy.
My writing life now is much different from what it looked like when I first started. Six years ago, my top and only priority was writing. Nearly everything in my life took a back seat to finishing my manuscript (as is evident from my early blog posts, which are primarily focused on my search for work-life balance). Now, my work routines have a healthy mix of activities--from hosting meet-ups with Social Artists and Writers to curating The Beautiful Worst or dropping into #StorySocial on Twitter. Writing is still an essential task, but my time is also spent connecting with readers, artists, and other authors. I have found that connecting with others and maintaining these relationships to be equally important and just as fulfilling as the act of writing itself.
As I fought against my reclusive-writer tendencies, I discovered that the point of writing was not just to craft a beautiful sentence, but to share ideas. Marketing is an unattractive term, and writers don't want to see themselves as sales people (and readers don't want to be sold to), but it's the best word in our current vernacular to describe this exchange of ideas, this art of connection. Not being an anti-social writer is not simply about being good at selling books, but participating in the world so you see what's happening and have something to say about it--even if you are just the wallflower at the party. Your imagination can only take you so far before you begin to exist in a vacuum.
In my last post, I mentioned Chuck Palahniuk's keynote at the Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace conference, and his point remains pertinent here. For years, I used writing as an excuse to hide away, to not go to parties, to not take any risks. There are still times when I have to fight against the urge to just stay home, swaddled in my safe cocoon with journals and mugs of tea. And yet, every time I make the return trip home after some sort of excursion, I sit on the train or drive along with the traffic, feeling an after-glow of human connection, with a glimpse of a story that I want to write.
When I was a kid, my favorite part of any book was the set-up: learning about the main character, meeting their friends and family, seeing what their room looked like. I dreaded the inciting incident, the moment when they were kicked out of their everyday lives to go on some sort of adventure. I couldn't understand why we couldn't just stay in their room together, where things were safe. For years, that impulse was the basis of my writing--let's just write about what is normal, what is happening. But, I admit, descriptions of normal will only take you so far before you begin to lose interest, even in the very story you are writing.
Stories--writing them and reading them--have taught me is that life is so much more rewarding when we take a risk and choose the adventure.