This weekend I saw more than the usual number of pictures of writer friends at fabulous book festivals. I was happy for them, of course. But I caught myself feeling some agitation. What was it? At first I couldn’t figure it out.
After I sat with it for a bit, I realized that one set of pictures was from a book festival that’s by invitation only and to which I’ve yet to be invited. As I saw my friend smiling on a panel (and without meaning to be a jealous ninny) I let myself fast-forward to an uncertain future: would my next publicist be able to get me in? Will my next book even merit it? Will it get any good reviews? Will this be the one to at least get one starred review? Never mind that, will it sell? Will I ever get the courage to scrape the latest draft out of my backpack and edit it enough to even send it to my agent?
Anxiety. Sadness. Unworthiness. Close Facebook and brood.
There is nothing logical about any of this, of course. I have been invited to some of the most prestigious book festivals in the country. I’ve sat on panels with writers who are at the top of my field. I was very kindly reviewed for my debut book.
But it goes even beyond that. Even if none of the things in the paragraph above had happened, there is still no reason to stress. All of the things by which I’m measuring my happiness – reviews and invitations and book sales – are about being chosen. By others. Not by me.
It is hard in this society to get away from the idea that our worth comes from how others perceive us or whether they choose us. The young woman in the romantic comedy “wins” when the guy finally asks her to marry him. The writer finally “wins” when she gets the nod for a big award or some other accomplishment. I sobbed like an infant during the Lifetime movie about J.K. Rowling when she was finally at the movie premiere of the first Harry Potter film after having struggled so mightily to get published. A publisher had finally chosen her, then fans had chosen her, and finally she was worth something.
Living the writing life can’t be bundled up with the need to be chosen. I mean, it can be, but that’s not the path either to consistent writing or to happiness. Like any job in which authenticity and truth are key, playing to an audience is withering. It’s hard to get away from it, but it’s absolutely crucial.
So I sit. I acknowledge it. I let it wash over me. I want to be invited to all the book festivals ever. No, more than that, I want to keynote them. I want “New York Times best selling” before my name. I want “over 4 million copies sold” on my next book jacket. I want to be chosen. There is no question that it’s one of my deepest needs. It runs like a gushing river that seems to have no bottom. Books are just one way I try to find bedrock.
Deep breath and feel it. Okay, good. Now off to be the one that does the choosing.