Why We Do Readings, Running to Stand Still, Book Tours Take a Toll and How Not To Build a Platform
I don’t know how many of you are old enough to, like me, remember one of U2’s Joshua Tree hits, “Running to Stand Still?”
“And so she woke up/ Woke up from where she was/ Lying still/ Saying I gotta do something/ About where we’re going…”
I have been feeling a lot like that lately, running to stand still. A lot of it has been the Redmond Poet Laureate work, as well as the readings for the new book, and my own internal pressure as a Type A person that I should always be doing something to better myself, to make my book sell, to make myself a better writer, to build my local writing community…to do something about where I’m going. And I’ve kind of hit a brick wall – those of you who follow the blog know I have some health challenges, and it seems that every time I start to get a little healthier these days, I do another event or reading and end up back in bed with 101 fever and varying levels of immune-y/sinus/cough/stomach/killerbeesinmyhead etc.
Thanks to friend and blogger Rachel Dacus, I found this entry on Anne R. Allen’s blog “7 Ways Authors Waste Time Trying to Create a Platform.” I laughed when I read the post, because I recognized a lot of the scrambling I’ve been trying to do for the last year, publicity-wise, and how a lot of it was probably just that…a waste of time. I liked her quote that “no one buys a book because someone on Twitter orders them to.” Ha! We writers these days put so much pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone, and often with little impact on sales or the quality of anything worthwhile in the writing life. I mean, in the old days, we could rely on publishers and their PR teams to do some of the salesmanship and PR for a book – but now, it’s up solely to us. But weren’t we, you know, supposed to be writing or something with our time? I keep remembering that…oh yes, I used to be a writer before I started worrying so much about all the other parts of being a writer besides writing! (And obviously I don’t consider blogging a couple of times a week a waste – it seems more like something natural, reaching out to family and friends and a larger writing community and sharing.)
But this comes to something else that I don’t believe that (well, most of the time anyway) is a waste of time: Readings. Sometimes they hurt – you drive a couple of hours, you don’t get paid, a toddler screams through the entire reading, no one shows up to the reading, you go back home considering a life maybe in a nice nunnery somewhere, or possibly some alternate universe space piloting job or something. But a lot of times, like the reading last night at Hugo House, they go awry, but not terribly – a reader might not show up, but you meet people you might not have otherwise met, someone new connects with your work, or you’re able to give someone support or encouragement at just the right time – they might not go exactly as you planned, in fact, they almost never do – but they are really still one of the best ways to connect your work to an audience, to meet the audience, to hear other writers and share ideas. The chance for a high school girl to tell you she likes your way of looking at fairy tale things and also your earrings, or two people show up that have never been to a poetry reading before and were surprised at how much fun they had. I mean, there are some things that can happen at readings that can’t happen anywhere else. So even if you are held back by realities like – no money to tour, no time off from your job, fear of public speaking, or, like me, struggling with staying healthy – you should remember that even with Facebook and blogs and twitter, there are some things that have no substitute, and readings, from the sublime to the ridiculous or the somewhere in-between, are one of those things for writers. And that’s why you should do readings. But for God’s sake, writers, be kind to yourselves. Give yourselves some time to rest and recuperate and WRITE! If we stop running, I promise, the ground will not slip out from under us. A day or two off from the world (or Facebook, or twitter) is not going to be the end of your writing career. Remember the good things: the moment you write something new you really like, the smile on the face of someone at a reading when they’re listening to your work, when you found an editor or publisher who really got your work, the person who fell down and you could help them up. Those are the reasons we keep at this crazy life.
Now, I am going to take a Tylenol and sleep for about 48 hours. Someone wake me when it’s time for the next reading…