I had a rather brutal realization this weekend, sparked by a couple of interactions on Facebook that really made me think about what people associate with me, in particular.
To shorten up a lot of possibly boring philosophical rambling, I realized this: non-writers online tend to associate me with tea, crochet, and Halloween. Occasionally Smurfs. And I’m sure if you asked anyone who’s been reading my FB posts for any length of time, they could probably tell you I have a deep, abiding hatred of bindweed.
All of which makes perfect sense, because those are all things I talk about or post pictures of on a regular basis. They’re things I enjoy doing/experiencing, and I tend to share those freely because there’s no pressure for them to be any particular way – it’s all just for fun and my particular enjoyment. When I post about one of those subjects, I expect some people to be completely uninterested, some people to roll their eyes, and others to engage and be interested as well. My point being, I don’t expect everyone to like every topic I post about, or agree with my subjective assessments, or whatever, but I’m generally confident that at least a few of the people I associate with will be interested in that particular topic.
Given that oh-so-logical thinking, one would think my writing projects would be the same way. After all, it’s just another creative endeavor, right? Some people will ignore it, some will roll their eyes, and others will be interested. No big deal, because it’s all subjective to personal tastes, right? But non-writerly people rarely seem to associate me with writing and it’s my own fault, because I rarely talk about writing on social media, or my writing in particular.
It’s easy enough to share stories here on the blog, where I hardly ever look at visitor stats so I don’t know exactly how many people are reading along. And easy enough to publish a book, because even a bad review is from someone off in the ether somewhere – I don’t know them, so it’s easy to distance myself from their opinion (incidentally, one of my favorite reviews of all time is a negative one – so thoughtful and well-stated that I really just loved/appreciated it).
But with people I see in real life, even if just occasionally…it’s a whole ‘nuther story, so to speak. Friends and family *want* to be supportive. I’ll hear, “Oh, I’ll buy your book!” or “I just bought your book!” and then…nothing. Which generally means one of three things: they never actually bought it, they bought it and never read it, or they bought it and didn’t like it, so decided not to say anything.
That silence after someone says they’ve bought or are reading one of my books? Those are the worst reviews I’ve ever gotten. Even a simple, “well, it wasn’t really my thing” or “it was okay, but not something I’d normally read” is easier to take – I can respect that, and then have zero expectations that whoever said it will read more of my books. Because it wasn’t his/her thing, which is absolutely fine and expected, in the writing world.
But the silence – that’s harder, because I don’t want to ask and put the person on the spot (how rude), so I’m left to wonder which of the three options is the issue, and of course, being a writer with an overly touchy imagination, I always assume the worst. And then I have to act like they never said anything about my books at all whenever I’m with that person, because anything else would be unprofessional, and perhaps even antagonistic. It would certainly pressure them to be insincere, which is generally pretty transparent.
I actually prefer not to know when people I know in real life are either reading or have read my books. Because then there are no expectations, no waiting anxiously on my part to see if something, anything will be said…or not. No angst while I try to act normal when that all-to-telling silence follows a book mention. I can remain blissfully ignorant, and everyone is happy either reading along as I go, or tossing my books against the proverbial wall and laughing with friends about how terribly bad it was. As people do.
Why does it bother me more with people I know than people I don’t know? Because writing is actually a very intimate thing for me, and I feel very vulnerable when people I know personally are reading my writing (or say they are). I try to infuse the stories with as much tension and emotion as I possibly can (whether I succeed or not is subjective, of course). The irony there is that I tend not to be very emotionally expressive, personally. I screw up here and there, which is usually rather mortifying, but on the whole, I try to keep my “public/acquaintance persona” on an even, perhaps even boring, emotional plane – something I’ve worked on since I was a teen. But I feel what the characters are feeling as I’m writing, and it’s an extremely vulnerable headspace to be in trying to translate that emotion to the page – emotions I’m perfectly capable of feeling and contend with regularly, but rarely show in public. And when you know that people don’t normally see you as an emotional person, but they’re reading these books that you’ve poured your heart into…it’s an uncomfortable, oddly intimate thing. And I hate being that insecure about anything – it bothers me in a big way, but I can’t seem to shake it (although admittedly, I haven’t tried very hard).
In any case, it’s something I need to work on, despite the risk of being vulnerable. I need to be able to talk about my writing just like any other fun thing in my life, because it’s important to me, and whether or not people like my stories, they should at least be able to associate me with writing as much as crochet and tea. Perhaps I’ll put that on next year’s resolution list.