The Bellingwood Facebook page crossed another milestone the other day and so, of course, because I like round numbers, we’re celebrating a little. You know, I can easily get all caught up in numbers. Metrics make the left side of my brain purr. And trust me, I have numerical goals spinning around in my brain all the time. I got all of that from my dad. No matter what he had going on, Dad had a way to measure it. He taught me that there was no such thing as too much information.
But as fun as it is to see numbers increase … and as programmed as I am (we are) to set goals and try to achieve them, one thing I worry about is that goals like that don’t have any reality attached to them. I’m always terrified that my focus on being successful at what I’m doing will subvert the original fun and joy that I found in simply writing stories.
Now, here is me being completely honest with you. In July of 2012, I looked out one year and realized that when my Master’s Degree was complete, I was going to have to be prepared for the next step. There were a few things I did not want to do. I didn’t want to enter the corporate world, I didn’t want to run a business where I had to deal with employees and customers (again) and I didn’t want to go back to work in an institutional church. I considered looking for online teaching positions … anything so I could have freedom and independence.
Then one night, I thought about the huge number of stories I had on hard drives and in notebooks. I did a little research and realized that self-publishing was a much more realistic possibility than ever before. I was still working intensely to finish the Master’s Degree and creative writing wasn’t something I had the energy for with the papers I had to complete each week. However, if I wanted to maintain my independence and freedom, I couldn’t simply hope for the best, I had to actively get busy.
I fought with myself, cried a lot, panicked some more and knew I had to do something so that my dreams were financially feasible. That November, while the rest of the world focused on Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), even though I thought it was ridiculous and that I could never pull off a full-blown novel, much less one that would interest anyone other than my sister and a few friends, I wrote … and I wrote and wrote and wrote. By the end of the month, I’d written well over 110,000 words and for the first time in my life, I’d actually completed something that looked like a book. It was rough, but I’d done it. I started through the editing process, found a cover photo that would work, came up with a title and thrust myself into the learning process of self-publishing. I was still writing papers each week for the Master’s Degree, but that month I was right in the middle of a wonderful course on leadership and everything was focused on the possibilities a person had in their life. The learning was right up my alley, the papers made sense, and I managed to pull it all off.
All Roads Lead Home was published in January and I was writing Book 2. My time frame was tightening up. The degree would be finished at the end of May and I needed income to show up. I was running out of time. A Big Life in a Small Town was published in April and I started writing Book 3. By now I was in the middle of some of the worst classes I’d ever taken. Terrible professors who didn’t know how to work with students in an online environment … I had to fight with the powers-that-be to get out of a second class with one woman and this was some of the toughest stuff I’d had to learn. But, I kept writing papers and kept writing stories.
June arrived. My classes were finished and it was do or die time. Could I do it? Book 3 – Treasure Uncovered was released. Marketing became easier once I had a few titles in the hopper. I was still uncomfortable about giving my books away, but with two others out, I felt that I could make Book 1 free every once in a while and hope that people would give it a shot. Having more readers was more important than the dollars I would lose when I made it free.
That summer, I cried a lot. I was still fearful of failure. Would my books hold people’s interest long enough for them to continue to read the series? By this point, I had re-edited Book 1 a couple of times. I learned so much about writing, editing and publishing (I’m still learning). There were days I was certain my head would explode. I needed this to work. Desperately needed this to work.
Those who tell authors how to do what they’re doing (and there are plenty who believe their opinions are golden) insist that if it’s about the money, the author has lost sight of themselves. That’s not true. For me to continue to do what I love, I need to make a living. The money is always part of it. My books need to sell. Numbers need to increase – whether it’s Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, or email newsletter signups. That’s a reality I can’t get around, so I’ll own it.
But it truly is only a small part of my reality. When I see the numbers increase (especially on Facebook), that means something completely different to the part of me that isn’t ruled by the left side of my brain.
It means that the community of people who are drawn together because they enjoy the crazy characters in Bellingwood is growing.
I constantly hear that you appreciate how I communicate regularly with people here. I understand that’s different than many other authors, but it’s hard for me to even use that term (author) to describe myself. Oh, I know that I am … I ‘author’ books. But that’s not who I am … it’s what I do. As wonderful as it is to have an income so that I can maintain freedom and independence and continue to write, it is just as amazing to encounter so many interesting people. And you are!
You come from places I’ve never seen. You work in (have worked in) jobs that I didn’t even realize existed. You have backgrounds that are interesting, your names are often unique and your interests are fascinating. It’s fun to make connections – to find that we sometimes know the same places or have experienced the same things. How can I not communicate with you?
I will continue to celebrate the milestone moments … not just because it’s about success, but because it means that I have a chance to get to know more delightful people. When I consider how many of you I would have missed had I not pushed myself to sit down and write that first book, it’s almost painful.
C.S. Lewis spoke about friendship after one of the Inklings (his writing cohorts / friends. The group included some amazing authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien) had died. He recognized that the death didn’t mean he would have more time with his other friends. The loss of that friend meant that each of them was missing a part of themselves – the part that Charles brought out of them.
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out,” Lewis wrote. “By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth … each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”
Christian History Magazine-Issue 88: C.S. Lewis: Pointing People to Reality. 2005. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.
That’s how I feel about this community. You each bring out a part of me … of each other … that wouldn’t have existed without you. While my left brain purrs about metrics, I prefer to push it aside and let the rest of me be thankful that each of you has chosen to be part of Bellingwood. Thanks for being here!