“Unless you confess your own emotional stakes in a project, why should a reader have any?” – Mary Karr, from The Art of Memoir
Since my first blog post about a year ago, I have learned a lot of things about being a writer and pursuing a creative activity. As memoir author Mary Karr says in this quote, writers need to connect emotionally with readers. This is not as easy as it sounds. As I sit here and reflect on a year’s work, there are three major things I have learned.
- Writing a memoir is standing naked. I am a private person by nature, so taking off my armor is scary. I have worn a shield for a long time, to protect myself against criticism and judgment. Growing up as an immigrant, I was told to fit in, and not express my feelings in public. Writing with honesty and emotion, however, means letting go of these fears in order to connect with my audience. This struggle to be seen, but not seen too much, has been a challenge for me. For example, even writing this post about taking risk, is taking a big risk! If I had known this starting out, I probably would have run in the other direction!
- Rejection hurts. As you know, I am trying to find a traditional publisher, and that usually means landing an agent. I have queried agents and received multiple requests for manuscripts, but ultimately these agents have passed. People have told me that rejection is a rite of passage for a writer. But it’s hard not to take rejection personally, especially when you’re writing a memoir about your life and your feelings. If “writing memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist,” as Mary Karr also says, then rejection feels like a stranger knocking you out with their fist! If I had known the punch was coming, I may have avoided writing all together!
- A writing life is uncertain. I don’t mind not knowing what the future holds exactly, but I often feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. Writing requires discipline, without obvious structure, deadlines, or direction. Sometimes, I just want to quit and give up. I know this is part of engaging in creative work. You make the hours, you set your goals, you promote yourself, and you are accountable to yourself. But I am a novice entrepreneur, blindly navigating my way around the writing and publishing world. Feeling lost is something I have had to get used to. A predictable job with set hours would have been easier than this!
So Why Write?
Why do I write knowing the things I know now? I still enjoy writing, and want to be engaged with my audience. Writing has always been a calling, and I feel I have a story to tell that might help others better understand themselves and their place in the world. As my writing friend Lisa Manterfield said so eloquently in a recent webinar, the goal of writing is to “build a community of readers” and “establish points of connectivity.” She asks herself “what can I give that people want?” If you “come from a place of serving rather than selling,” it gives you the encouragement to go forward.
In order to become a better writer, I too have come to think of writing as coming from a place of serving my readers. Instead of writing just to get published, I want to write to help readers feel connected. In my post about Finding Balance after my son left for college, one reader said she got choked up because she felt that moment was coming too soon for her. Another reader said she could relate to my story and that being an empty-nester “sucked.” And someone else said she is inspired to research her own family history by reading an excerpt of my book. It felt so satisfying to be able to connect to my readers in these ways.
I would still like to find a way to get my book into the world. I am taking query and writing workshops, consulting with professional editors, and tightening my manuscript. There are so many ways to publish now, such as hybrid publishing and self-publishing. But now in the back of mind, I know that my goal for writing is to write honestly and with emotion so readers feel something.
I want others to say “me too,” and recognize that our struggles and hopes are universal. If I can help someone reflect on their own lives and expand their viewpoints on the world, I will be a very happy writer. I hope you will continue to share in my writing journey, even if it takes longer than I thought!
Have you engaged in a creative activity where you’ve learned something about yourself or others in the process? Please share your thoughts by commenting here.