Post #8: Totally Uncool
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
The great Frank Peretti was the keynote at the 2021 Realm Makers conference. One session was just a Q&A, in which Frank shared something very personal: that all his life, he's been tormented by thoughts of embarrassing or humiliating things that happened to him (or worse yet, that he brought on himself.) He'd done a lot of psychotherapy to overcome the problem, and it still sometimes hit him unexpectedly.
I was floored.
I went up to him after the Q&A, meaning only to tell him how much I appreciated his honesty and how his story resonated with me. That's not what happened, of course. No, what I actually said was, "I didn't know you would be telling my story." And then I sobbed on his shoulder. Which does, in case you wondered, fit into the category of "things I now feel ashamed of."
If you haven't heard Brene Brown's TED talks on shame, I recommend them. The main takeaway is this: we all feel shame a lot, and it's a hard feeling to shake. I grew up in a pretty nasty household. I learned shame early and well. I even feel shame about things I get praised for. It's a gift.
For many, the toughest thing about writing is the feeling that nobody will like the book. I take it one step further: I am afraid nobody will care about my book. It will just be me and my book over there in the corner, wearing our dunce hats. Good? Not good? Doesn't matter. A book can only be good or bad if someone reads it, and it looks like... Yeah, no takers.
This is where the shame thing comes in. The established wisdom out there is that authors can't assume that publishers will also handle marketing; that's the author's job. We're supposed to have the social media accounts and do book signings (that maybe nobody will attend) and talk about our books to strangers in elevators and grocery checkout lines. The worst outcome in each of these scenarios isn't rejection - it's indifference. Not just "that story isn't my taste," but "don't involve me." Sort of the literary equivalent of speed dating, with the same success rate. I think. I've never tried speed dating; it isn't something a person with a perennial shame problem can tackle, even with the help of narcotics.
I don't have a permanent solution for my shame problem; "tough it out" is the best I've ever come up with. You know. Wait until everybody but you has forgotten that stupid thing you said or did, and hope it stays forgotten. For example, I recently sent an email to a few people, asking them to read a short story I'd written. One person did. Nobody else even replied. And suddenly, subsequent emails - about different topics - also weren't getting replies.
"Don't involve me." If that's their wish, I intend to honor it. But it does mean my book will remain neither good nor bad, and that the best I can hope for is that they will all forget I mentioned it. Ahem. Sorry. If you need us, my book and I will be over here in the corner. Sitting quietly.
The really hard thing (okay, one of the really hard things) is that I am certain there are people out there who are naturally cool. Who know how to talk their books up in elevators. Who can naturally insert themselves into conversations and shortly have everyone laughing and saying, "tell me when it comes out, I can't wait to read it!"
I don't know why I thought that writing a book would grant me coolness by proxy. I don't think you can learn to be cool. I don't think you can get cool if you try really hard. Cool is something you are, or are not. I'm pretty sure Yoda said that.
Oh, well. Maybe a miracle will happen, and people will settle for "real." I can be real. Look, everybody, this is me.
Yep. This is about it.
Please read my stories.