“Be where your feet are.”– Jesse Itzler
A Beer-Napkin Primer on Country Mardi Gras + A Complicated Story on Blackface – New Bayou Books
Earlier in the year, when I was still wearing the rose colored glasses that comes with catching the entrepreneurship bug, whatever that means, I came across Jesse Itzler on YouTube. If you don’t know him, Jesse’s worth checking out . . . and not just because he’s married to the chick that started Spanx.
Anyway, this isn’t a blog about Jesse Itzler, or even his wife, who’s a titan in her own right (I was going to edit “chick that started Spanx”, but I like the sound of the phrase too much). I only bring him up because the quote about being “where your feet are” is as perfect a summation of what I’m about to write as anything, and secondly, I realize now that if I’d been paying close attention earlier in the year when I stumbled on his wisdom, I might’ve saved myself a lot of trouble.
See, the thing is, I’ve been pressing. Pressing for months. And by pressing I mean forcing my books and my new brand down people’s throats. Damn the torpedoes and all that. I had been fairly hung up on this sense of prelude that’s permeating my writing career and New Bayou Books. A vague fantasy about some future group of readers who can’t wait for my next book, who write reviews, tell their friends, even watch my fairly lame videos of me talking . . . an image of a future reality in which I have readers who like my work and think I’m cool. You could’ve called it an obsession and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
To be clear, this is exactly what I am working towards (though I’m not sure “cool” is still within my grasp). I want to find my audience, for sure. But the thing I realized earlier this week was, right now things are pretty good for me. If the final edits and art go as planned, my second book will be out by the end of next week, and that’s pretty rad. That’s two books published in less than a year.
Of course it’s been a lot of work just getting here, and of course there’s still a lot of work to be done. But the thing that changed the mental equation for me was one, realizing that there’s only so much I can do on the readership front, and more importantly, that I have gained that critical sense of traction on the writing front. That is, I kind of know how to go about writing books now.
Not that there isn’t still lots to learn, and not that there won’t be obstacles going forward. Of course there will be. But never mind those things, because I’m prepared for the kinks and the hard work . . . as best I can be, anyway. The real source of peace I found this week was in knowing that, now that I understand, at a basic level, my own process for writing new books, there’s no reason to be stressing over the fact that, for right now, not a lot of folks are reading the books.
I feel like I’m doing a bad job of explaining this, but perhaps there’s not really a better way. So let me just try to lay it out as plainly as I can, in terms of advice to myself. If you’re reading this, take it for what it’s worth . . . take it from someone who has spent perhaps too much intellectual and emotional energy fantasizing about a future state that will certainly never happen (at least not in the way I liked to envision it).
The writing of the books has to be enough for you. If you can’t be satisfied with your own work, with the process of writing new material, polishing it as best you can, and putting it out for others to discover, then you will never be satisfied. Yes, of course, you want people to read your stuff. But that’s serenity prayer territory. All you can do is put yourself into the writing and, only after that’s done, do some outreach and marketing in a way that feels right for you. That is all.
The only other thing to do is to get on with the rest of your life. For me that means spending time outside my office, participating in the lives of the people I love. And also, frankly, just doing other shit. Refinishing old tools I get cheap at the local flea markets. Practicing my French. Getting my scales down on the guitar. Running in the woods.
The sustainable path for a writer, I finally understand, is one in which the writing is just a component of the overall life. So instead of worrying about shit I don’t control, the trick now is to do other stuff I enjoy with people I love. In the end it might not be a recipe for a sustainable writing career, but then again, it might just be the perfect formula.