This post is the fourth in a series I’m going about how I see the writer’s process. You can read the previous steps at these links:
- Give In and Sit Down: The Beginning of the Writer’s Journey
- Listen Deep. Listen Wide: The Second Step of the Writer’s Journey
- Finish Something: A Writer’s Most Important Step
I still remember the day. I was at my future husband’s apartment, and I’d had it shipped over. When it came, I ripped open the cardboard wrapper (okay, “ripped” may not be the right expression. “Labored” to pull back the cardboard tab is better.), and there it was: the proof of The Slaves Have Names, my first print book. I cried. I held it to my nose and smelled it. I laid it against my cheek.
Then, I got nervous. Very nervous.
Someone I don’t know might read this book. Someone I don’t know might criticize it. Someone I know might attack me for something I said. The panic rose quickly.
But then I looked at that beautiful set of bound pages. I ran my fingers over the soft cover, and I took a breath. I had done it. I had published a book, and I could see that book. It was real. That was solace.
Soon, I got reviews, mostly good ones, one terrible one that I can, sadly, almost quote from memory now. Most people were kind and generous with their responses, and the ones who weren’t, well, I finally have come to believe that the mean-spirited reviews are about the people who write them, not about me.
Then, people started to reach out to me directly, people who thought they might be descended from the enslaved people I wrote about in this pages, people who were looking for their family stories, for the people who led through blood and years to them.
It was those emails and conversations after I gave book talks that quieted the fear to a very, very soft murmur because it was for these people I had written the book. Well, to be truthful, it was for their ancestors and mine, my mother specifically, that I had written it, but they were – as I am – a lingering of those people in the world. I was – and still am – profoundly grateful to know that what I had written mattered, mattered in a real way, to someone.
If you’ve sat down to write, if you’ve listened long and true, if you’ve finished your project, the next thing to do with it is send it into the world. Many a writer has faltered at this step because it is, of course, scary, very scary.
So let me speak plain to this fear. People will say mean things. People will also say reasonable things that will feel mean because, of course, this work is precious to you. People will be apathetic, too, which hurts, sometimes, more than critique.
But more people will say kind things. More people will throw all the weight of their selves behind your work. More people will write you notes to say they needed what you had to say, that they found some answers in your words, that they laughed while they spent time with your characters, that they lost their breath when they read the last line of your poem.
We cannot control anything people do with our work once it leaves our hands, but there is grace and gift in that. So much gift.
So be brave, my friends. Be brave beyond your own measure and let your work go into the world. Submit to literary journals. Post to your own blog. Send your work off to agents or publishers. Publish your own work. Put it out into the world because someone else may need it and because, listen hard here, you need that, too.
I’m waiting to read what you have to say. Let that precious pile of words go and do what it needs to do.
What keeps you from sharing your work?
Spaces are filling quickly for the Writer’s Retreat here at God’s Whisper Farm. Be sure to reserve yours soon. It’s going to be an amazing time of rest and learning. Plus, have I mentioned that my mamas are cooking all the food. 🙂 More information and registration here – http://andilit.com/writers-retreat-at-gods-whisper-farm/