Late Friday afternoon this arrived.
My brand new book of essays about knitting. Free Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot writes again. I wrote it.
It arrived late enough in the day that I had actually started thinking that it might not come until Monday, and that was fine with me. (I thought.) Then I wouldn’t have to spend the weekend exhausting myself working though my own deeply personal process of accepting that a new book has been published. A new book means swinging alternately back and forth for a few days between total juvenile pride and glee in my accomplishment (I have been known to dance) and a consuming fear and loathing of sending it out into public.
Here’s the thing. Being a writer is a scary job. Every part of it is scary. It is scary to try and say things so that people will understand you, knowing that if they don’t understand you, or if your idea is genuinely stupid, you will have no opportunity to say more about it or correct their ideas, or help them understand what you really meant and that you’re not actually the raving moron that they think you are based on the third sentence of paragraph six.
Once written, it is the book that has the relationship with the reader, not the writer, and it is the minute that I see that actual book… the finished thing – I realize that if I’m holding it in my hands, that more copies of this book are being sent to real people right this minute (and some of them even pre-ordered, and how terrible is that going to be when it sucks) and that from this moment forward – for the rest of my life- this book has made it absolutely certain that some people are going to stand around in yarn shops talking about how I’m a complete moron, I don’t deserve to earn any money (even a fraction of a dollar per book), and that frankly they wish that I wasn’t so full of myself that I thought I was special enough to write books at all. When I hold this book in my hands, that’s what I know.. and since every person has a voice inside them, the voice of their supremely unsuccessful self (a 16 year old short- skinny-bad hair-braces low self-esteem self, in my case) saying that anyway, the fear catches, and coalesces into nausea and a certainty that this can’t end well.
“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
– Groucho Marx
I finished this book in the woods. I finished it sitting alone in the dark winter, snow falling outside, fire crackling near the desk – and when I finished it I pushed back from the desk and went and opened a bottle of my favourite wine, and I poured a pretty big glass and went back and sat there and stared at the computer. I stared and I thought to myself that it was a pretty darn good book – maybe even excellent, and I felt overwhelming pride and the happiness that comes from doing a hard thing as well as you can. I toasted myself, and I may have cried a little.
“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.”
Holding it in my hands today, my trepidation stems from knowing that there is no possible way that every person who reads it (and oddly, some people who don’t read it) will like it. There will be people who say that it’s not good, and I will have to lie in bed at night and try and figure out if that’s true. There will be people who love it, and as happy as I’ll be to hear it, I’ll have to lie in my bed and wonder if that’s true too. There will be the people who misunderstand me… and I won’t be there to correct them or mend my relationship with them. I’ll have to accept that they don’t know me, that the book isn’t me, and that just because they hate and misunderstand the book doesn’t mean that they hate me – that they don’t even know me. This will be extra hard, since these people often don’t say “I hated that book, it bored me to tears” but actually often say “Stephanie Pearl-McPhee? I hate her. She bores me to tears.” You can see how that might take a little self talk to get through. I have to remember it’s the book. It’s the book. It’s the book. They don’t know me. They’ve never met me. It’s the book. That’s their opinion of the book(s).
“From my close observation of writers…they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
Then there are the people who just aren’t going to like my writing.. and that’s totally fair. I don’t enjoy Dostoevsky’s writing, and clearly there a lot of people who disagree with me. I don’t take that too personally (except late at night. I never read reviews after 11pm.) Just because my sister doesn’t like orange and I do, doesn’t mean that orange is a bad colour, ya know? I find a way to love those people anyway. Then there are the people who have expectations I really can’t meet – no matter how hard I try. I still remember lying on my bed with a cool cloth on my forehead the day that I read a review of one of my books that said that it “wasn’t as funny as it could have been” and that the reader “only laughed out loud once or twice per chapter.” I lay there, in the dark with a cool cloth, resisting the urge to write back and say “Do you have any idea how hard it is to make someone laugh out loud once with your writing, never mind once or twice per chapter? How funny do I have to be lady- because that’s pretty damned funny” and realizing, as I lay there in the dark, that I really had to let go.
“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.”
Then there are the people who tell me I’m brilliant, who write reviews that make me glow with pride. (The reviews I show my mother.) People who line up at signings and say the most incredible things to me, compliment me, bring me yarn (I love those people) tell me I’m just so funny, and such a good writer and how much they just really, really love it, and lying in bed in the dark, I realize that as much as I really, really don’t want to…. I have to let that go too. That those people don’t really know me either. That if I can’t accept (and I really- really need not to) that you can hate me based on my writing, that you can’t truly love me based on it either. That neither one is really true… that almost everyone, whether they claim to love or hat me, is talking about the book. This thing that for better or for worse, is a thing separate from me, and then that’s hugely painful too, because really, the essays in this book came from me, and are deeply personal, and they were made by me and from me… but in the end just aren’t me… but are my work, and I can take responsibility for it and enjoy doing it well, but I can’t take it as a personal endorsement either way – just a much appreciated and needed professional one. Every person who comes to a signing moves something in me, and it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t puff me up any more than the criticism rips me up.
“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
I held that book on Friday, and I realized that it wasn’t just a book I wrote (although the thrill of that NEVER, ever gets old) It’s the beginning of a journey that will lead me somewhere. I’m about to get back on being critiqued, analysed, discussed, condemned and praised, and that this is simply part of being a writer. There is absolutely no way to write a book (no matter how silly or mundane) that avoids it. It is impossible to write a book that doesn’t open you up to all of the wonderful things and the hurtful things and the incredible things. It is impossible to do this scary job and say “I would only like the good parts please. I don’t have the self-esteem for the rest. Thanks so much.” I held that book on Friday and I thought “You twit”, and then I thought about the only real reason to write a book.
Every once in a while, I meet or hear from someone other than the people who read my book and love it (though I love those people, and really need them for balance) or people who read my book and hated it (and I try to love those people – and remember that I need them for balance) but someone who for some reason found a connection with the book. Someone who tells me that they read something I wrote that clarified something in them, something that moved them, something that made them laugh out loud, or something that helped them feel a sense of belonging, taught them something, or helped them somehow make a small movement in their life, and they come to me and say ” I wanted you to know that your book meant something to me” and in that moment, were it appropriate, I could leap across the table and kiss them full on the mouth… because what those people are really saying, no matter how they say it, is “I heard you”… and I can’t tell you how good that feels. In that moment, there isn’t any better job in the whole world.
So here we go again. This is my new book. I hope you like it. I do.