Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Lesson In Humility

Sunset over the field

I'm on another three-week vacation from church work, which allows me to focus on other writing projects. The "secret" summer book project is coming along nicely, and I might be able to reveal what it is in September. A friend wants to give it as Christmas gifts so it's good to have a deadline. 

My other not-a-secret book project is getting The Alphabet of Faith (TAOF) -- as a collection of 26 essays -- ready to pitch to a publisher. I decided to spend Friday working on the book proposal and expected to have a lot to show for the effort.

I hit a wall almost immediately, and it flattened me. Even the emergency ice cream cone at two in the afternoon couldn't pull me out the downward spiral. The kind of spiral that has me almost frantic about what I'm going to do if I can't be a writer. 

For some reason, I starting working on the book proposal for TAOF ass-backwards. Perhaps because the book feels ready to go -- there's a title and the essays only need to be edited -- I thought I could just skip the whole "What is the book about?" and start in with "Who is the target audience/market for this book?"

Thinking it would give me good guidance, I looked up the guru of non-fiction book proposals and her suggestions for statistics about my intended audience and analysis of what the market is looking for ended up overwhelmed and discouraged, to the point of despair.

I'm not the kind of writer who things like a business person. Book proposals are hard enough -- self-promotion is hard enough! -- without adding in market analysis and statistical representation.  

Part of the problem is something that has dogged me for years: The demand a writer have a brand, a platform, and now, since social media, tens of thousands of followers. 

This is not me, never has been, never will be. I'm a writer, not a YouTuber; when I post on social media, I'm posting prose, not videos. It's my instincts, to write, not to pick up my phone and record myself talking. 

I don't have a brand; I'm not one thing, and I don't have only one interest. Sure, the whole city girl/country girl is one angle I write from, but I also write about faith, and dying/death (funeral service). Here's the thing: when I pitched a second Field Notes book and the Field Notes cookbook, I mentioned my "Field Notes brand" and was told, "You don't have a brand." 

It could be my great life flaw that I've never landed on one interest, one topic and made that my entire life's work; a lot of people do it, but it's not me. That's just the way I'm wired, unfortunately

It's not unfortunate. It's just who I am. I'm trying to accept that instead of letting it discourage me and make me feel like a failure. A failure because I don't have a brand or a platform or ten thousand followers.

Be true to yourself. That phrase is a life raft I cling to. Sure, everybody needs a bit of tweaking, but if sharing my thoughts via video is not my instinctive activity, then doing it will look and sound awkward and fake. 

What pulled me out of my funk was humility.

Rick Warren says, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It's thinking of yourself less." 

I sat in the gazebo and thought about the publishers I was thinking of pitching, and the faith-based writers I read, and realized 1) I don't have the chops to play with those big girls of Christian publishing, and 2) there's nothing wrong with a small publisher who probably will recognize my name and snap this book right up. I won't gain ten thousand followers with this publisher, but I'll reach a lot of people, and a lot of people who know me and like my writing will support this book. 

Humility. It took hitting that wall to make me put aside my ego and truly look at the situation I created. It's not wrong to aim high, but I was not being realistic, or sensible. I don't have a brand or a platform or a specific angle. That's not who I am. I've always believed the right book at the right time would open up a path for me. Field Notes was not that book; perhaps The Alphabet of Faith will be, perhaps The Funeral Director's Daughter will be. 

Who knows? The point is to to pick myself up off the ground, put a Bandaid on that big scrape on my nose (and ego), and find a way around that wall. And find a way to live through the uncertainty.

Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed posted this quote by author James Baldwin on her Facebook page: "Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but above all, endurance."

Humility AND persistence. I can do both.

So how do I get around the wall? Simple: Start with editing the essays for a wider audience than my congregation/Facebook friends, and figure out what the book is about. It really is simple; why didn't I do that in the first place? 

Ah, yes: Ego.  

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