Even as an adult I sometimes feel as if I am back in high school. Usually, this is a good feeling (I loved high school), if a little bit bizarre, considering that I’ve long since left my school days behind and moved into the working world.
But, as I’ve come to understand, life is a series of overlapping cycles, of beginnings and endings, and what’s old is often new again.
For example, deciding to write professionally, choosing Novelist as my new career category, was a decision that came upon me slowly. I loved my adventures in the business world and had planned a long and healthy future turning simple ideas into tangible products and services.
As I suspect most of us have experienced, even the most carefully plotted plans have a tendency to be uprooted when stormy weather sets in. For me, the unplanned change in course took some adjusting to, and even required a complete recalibration of my mindset: to stop trying to predict the future and to simply stay focused on what I knew to be my center, and let the rest unfold.
It wasn’t easy; I won’t pretend that it was.
In 2011, after a genuinely challenging period during which I accepted the fact that I was ready to change my self-assigned path and turn to writing, I self-published my first set of short stories. Almost exactly a year later, my first novel joined them on the e-shelves.
While I loved the story and the characters and the plot of my book, the product itself was flawed. I had all sorts of errors in that first release, and they included all of the usual suspects. Punctuation (I love the comma), grammar (not always my strongest area), formatting (though I’d come really far in learning this new skill, it wasn’t far enough), and marketing mistakes (products are an altogether different kettle of marketing fish from a service-based business) haunted my days and weeks after the first e-book release of Ava.
I survived the mistakes, and I have written about them on my blog and in my Zero to One Million blogging guide. Yes, my pride took a few hits, and much of my writing time was reassigned as problem-solving time, but I made it through that challenging period.
After 2013’s Summer of Curveballs, I am happily settling into my “junior” year as a self-published author. What a change. While I no longer quake with nervous energy at the prospect of turning my writing into publishable works, I still have much to learn. Thank goodness for the strong community of writers, readers, graphic artists, editors, formatters, book tour experts and more that book lovers from across the world have formed through social media!
I still “hang out” with writers I met during my “freshman” year. All have become successful authors, and some are in what I would call the Accelerated Program, due to their excellent writing and smart marketing choices. Each person has been a wonderful resource, has lent a kind ear during challenging times, and has certainly offered great advice at every curve in the path. Among them are Melissa Foster, Carl Purdon, Suzan Tisdale, Deborah Batterman, and Carmen DeSousa. They are motivated; they are smart; they are community builders.
What it comes down to is this: forward motion isn’t about perfection. If it were, no new idea would ever succeed. Forward motion is about learning, about testing one’s own limitations and fears by throwing a new idea – no matter how wild – into the ring of public scrutiny and then standing by it.
Forward motion is about belonging to a community, one based on the principles of inclusion, creative expression, and hard work. It is about asking for help when you need it, and offering help of your own whenever you can make a difference, no matter how great or small.
Community strengths aside, it seems evident to me that one of the biggest challenges of self-publishing is the lack of in-person interaction with readers. Sure, we do a lot of connecting online and it is wonderful, but few things compare to actually seeing the joy on a reader’s face when he or she says those magic words: “I love your writing.”
Most of my in-person feedback has been from people who love me (family and friends), and while their compliments and praise absolutely count, it is hard to give it the same weight as it would command coming from readers who are not so fully connected to my everyday life.
With this in mind, imagine my surprise when I stopped by to see my parents a few weeks back, whipping into their driveway a little too fast and with my radio a little too loud (nothing new there), and a neighbor, one who has known me since I was in single digits, and who was standing at her front door at precisely the moment I arrived (kind of Hollywood-esque timing, if you think about), called out to me as she stepped onto her front porch.
It seems she had come across my blog.
“Ashley!” she gushed – and she is not a gusher. She is smart, traveled, well-educated, and kind, but not a gusher. She enthusiastically motioned me over and, when I was standing in front of her, didn’t ask me the question I’ve come to expect from people who know I’ve chosen this career path: “Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?”
Instead, she asked me, “Did you always know you could write?”
Wow. Wow, wow, wow!
To me, those words carried the full impact of thunderous applause from a packed audience. And yet, they were the words of one woman, a fan.
The positive impact her words have had on my confidence as a writer, as a story-teller, is much stronger than I had anticipated. I’ve thought back to all the blog posts I’ve read on this subject, and to that moment with my neighbor and that tingling, light-headed feeling that flashed through my consciousness, and I’ve realized that we writers, those of us taking the road less traveled, the self-publishing route, need more opportunities to interact directly with fans of our respective works.
How do we bring that about? Well, I know you have a few ideas, and I do, too. Some will be finding their way to this blog, and soon. (Fair warning to you, Hallmark Channel!)
Most of all, my neighbor’s words reminded me of the purpose of building a community in the first place: to welcome, to support, to encourage, and to grow, together. Here, in this, my “junior" year, I want to extend a warm welcome to all the "freshman" writers who are joining our ranks this fall, and to extend my thanks to all the “seniors” (and beyond) who have, so often and so kindly, reached out a helping hand to this writer.
Collectively, we have an opportunity to strengthen this community of book writers and book readers, and, better yet, to shape it, drive it, and to ensure that it retains those essential qualities that inspired each of us to step forward and share our dreams, our works, and our knowledge with one another in the first place.
Here’s to a bold and adventurous year ahead!