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Joy to the (Writerly) World—Post-Pub Edition

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Fernwood-Christmas-Tunnel-860-860x484.jpIt’s the holiday season! I seem to have created a tradition of sorts with my last few December posts here on WU, dedicated to my feelings about the prior writing year and the year ahead. Last December’s essay spoke to a positive change I was sensing, triggered by the oncoming release of my debut (this past October). I expressed how the self-evaluation I’m prone to this time of year had often led to less-than-positive feelings about my writing journey. Feelings born of judging my progress, particularly in relation to publication. Feelings that had unfortunately become entwined with the holidays (in spite of the ready availability of peppermint flavoring and the household scent of a slowly dying conifer). I reported that my improved outlook was due primarily to two factors: the freedom I was finding in staying true to my story, and a growing ability to let go of the outcome.

In the wake of my release, as I once again look backward and forward, I’m happy to report that the positive change I sensed last year has, for the most part, continued. I remain enormously happy that I’ve chosen a path that allows me to stay true to my story and how it’s presented. And, although some days are better than others, I’m continuing to get better at letting go of the outcome.

I hope you’re feeling joyful enough to stay with me as I elaborate. Or, who knows? Maybe I can help with that.

Inevitable Peaks and Valleys

I look back on my book release with memories I know I’ll cherish for a lifetime. I think this overwhelmingly positive outcome owes much to the experience of years in and around the writing community. I’d heard how ephemeral, and even disillusioning, a release could be. I had lowered my expectations to the point of resting assured that absolutely nothing magical or enduring would come of the day on which I happened to be published. Those expectations were utterly trampled by what actually occurred.

The day started right here on WU, with my first author interview (thanks, Therese!), and an outpouring from you guys in the comments. Followed by an uncountable number of calls, notes, texts, tweets, and posts, congratulating me and commending me. This went on for days and days. I continue to be astonished by the number of people who are so clearly, genuinely happy for me. My wonderful wife planned and threw a release reception that even a famous bestselling author would’ve been amazed by. Over 70 kind souls came out that Saturday night, and most of them left with signed books. In all of my six decades, I have rarely felt more appreciated.

I’m equally astonished by the dozens of non-fantasy-readers who have picked up, and are reading or have read, my debut. As delighted as I am, I’ll admit to an occasional chuckle over the response from friends and family who are finally reading my work. Several have reported that they’re actually enjoying the story! It makes me smile, how surprised they are to be engaged by a fantasy story, let alone mine.

Of course life can’t be rosy all of the time. I have continued to have my ups and downs. I’ve made mistakes and had setbacks. I’m sure there will be more of each. But all peaks with no valleys would be nothing more than featureless flatlands, right? This past week has provided some good examples. On the day that I found out that a fairly prominent fantasy BookTuber didn’t connect with my characters, another popular Bookstagramer announced that the book had taken his top spot for the year. In addition to that, as we prepared for my first in-store book-signing (which will have occurred the day prior to this post’s publication), my dog slipped on wet leaves while retrieving and tore her ACL. Our poor girl is hopping around three-legged, waiting for surgery, scheduled for early January.

In spite of the ups and downs, I’ve mostly felt honored and humbled by the entire experience. And joyful! My heart is full. Nothing has engendered those feelings more than the response from this community. So many of you have been so supportive and helpful. You continue to buoy my spirits, and to make me, and my books, better. My gratitude is immense.

Let It Go, Elsa

I’ve also had my ups and downs relative to my ability to let go of the outcome. In spite of promising myself I would do otherwise, I have read all of my reviews thus far. In my defense, there aren’t that many of them. The previous sentence may reveal that I’m also failing when it comes to not keeping track of how many ratings and reviews I’ve received, along with the commensurate, dastardly Amazon and Goodreads star scores, both of which I am generally aware. Thankfully they’re good so far, but I know there’s zero guarantee that will continue (and a very good chance it won’t). So I must do better.

I can report a few successes, though. For one, I have yet to lock myself away in an ice palace (#TeamElsa). Regardless of my home-heating circumstance, I honestly don’t know how many actual books I’ve sold. I have some idea, and I’m satisfied—both by what I’ve gleaned and by my ability to not obsess over the numbers. I also haven’t once checked on any of the sort of ranking scores that seem so ubiquitous in the bookselling world. I consider them wins.

Although this next example doesn’t technically resemble letting go, I had to let go in order to fully appreciate it. One of my book’s reviewers titled their review, “Warning,” and pointed out that my book has what they deemed to be unnecessary explicit sex and profanity. The reviewer then generously went on to say it was a good story, called it well-written, and awarded the book four stars. Beyond these generosities, by letting go I’ve come to realize that this review actually performs a valuable service, both to potential future readers and to me. If explicit sex and profanity are going to ruin someone’s experience, they don’t want my book and I don’t want them as a reader—one who is liable to voice a less generous opinion.

As I say, I’ve had my successes and failures in regard to letting go, but I’ve learned that I’m capable of improving, and this is just the beginning of my publishing career. Moving forward, I have a grasp on how much healthier a hands-off-the-outcome approach is for me. I can see that by letting go I will better recognize and appreciate the joy the journey brings.

Joy’s Secret Ingredient

In recent weeks, even amidst the most angst-inducing portions of this roller-coaster ride, I’ve discovered an ingredient that provides more than a mere remedy to the resulting queasiness. It can keep joy alive and despair at bay. Better still is its simplicity. It’s something we all can do, at any point along the way. I’m certain you’ve heard it mentioned, but today I’m going to try to convince you of its phenomenal effectiveness. I hope you’ll more fully embrace it than I used to.

So what is this simple ingredient to our writing lives, that provides remedy to nearly all that so often ails us? Three simple words: keep moving forward.

Lately I’ve been focused on what will soon become my second published book, and I can’t overemphasize how soothing and reenergizing the work has been. Even as I continue to market my first book, focusing on moving forward with the second keeps me from obsessing over what has now become my previous work.

It’s a cliché because it’s true, that a writing career is a marathon not a sprint. Working on the next book reminds me every day of what brought me to this gig. It forces me to appraise how much is yet to come. Which in turn reveals how insignificant to the greater scheme any review or rating truly is.

I’ve long recognized how important momentum is to the completion of a manuscript. It’s also the key to a successful career. Besides that, maintaining forward momentum is a boon to the actual readers who have found connection with your storytelling—you know, the only ones that truly matter. By staying focused ahead and writing on, you are laboring to provide exactly what those all-important fully-connected readers want most. More story. Which can only make your career more rewarding.

After all, passionate readers tend to spread the joy they’ve found in story. Your story. And isn’t that the sort of human connection that most of us have been seeking since we first picked up a pen, or sat at a keyboard in front of a blank Word doc? Isn’t that the essence of writerly joy?

What say you, WU? Does your conifer need watering? Have you embraced the joy found in staying true to your vision? How are you at letting go of the outcome, even if your name isn’t Elsa?  

I’d like to thank each and every one of you for being a part of my memorable year. You make me a better writer and human, and it’s much appreciated. I wish you the very best of the holiday season, and much writerly joy in the year ahead.

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