Walking Naked

I don’t plan to blog only about my experiences as an aspiring author; that’s only one facet of my life. But I’ve had a lot of questions about what the experience has been like. And I’m not sure if people want me to answer them honestly. But here it is.

My best analogy to what it’s been like writing and independently publishing a novel is that it’s been like walking naked. Slowly. All around town. Some people call your name enthusiastically, then once they see that you are naked they whisk away, not to be heard from again. Others avert their eyes from the start. And some people shout as you walk by, “Your butt is huge.” As if I didn’t already know. You keep waiting for someone to join you, unashamed to walk with you for a while, to say, “I see how you really are, and it’s ok with me.” But instead, you remind yourself to keep smiling, and just keep walking.

So why did I do it, then? Perhaps only those who have experienced that inner fire of creativity could understand, though I’d venture to say that’s everyone at some point in their lives. There is that moment when you see something else – something different – that you can potentially share with others. And when that moment happens and you say, “I have to try,” then you know that you do. And it has been much different than I expected. In many ways more difficult, and in other ways more rewarding.

First, the disregard for independent publishing is stronger than I expected. I’ve spent a lot of time approaching book stores, small businesses, and reviewers, just to get the, “another of you people” expression, or a hasty response of, “come back when you actually get published.” I do understand, of course. Traditional publishing requires exhaustive effort, and requires an author to pass a series of hurdles that provide more consistent vetting over the end product. But times are changing. Social media is powerful, and I’ve spent my whole life working for the Man. In a superstore kind of world, I’m a boutique kind of girl. I believe in the power of an independent artist; the ability to see a vision and construct it the way in which it speaks to you as an individual. You always pay your dues; it’s just how you pay them. So no thanks, system. My passion for independence is a fire that can’t be doused, despite your tittering.

It’s also challenging working within the “like” culture. Just as it’s easy to like a status about someone’s book without actually intending to read it, I am met every day with congratulations from people telling me they are so happy my dream is coming true, or that they can’t wait to read the book. And then in most cases they don’t. Or they say they are reading it, then never follow up, leaving you to presume they didn’t care for it so much, but don’t want to say anything. Someone recently told me that they didn’t need to read the book to know that it’s great. But people reading it is why I wrote it. To share something with you, something that came from my heart, and something that carries with it a piece of who I am.

You learn quickly that everyone’s a critic. It’s hard to listen to someone make jokes about your story, or calmly list all the deficiencies of your plot, your writing, and your characters, as if you created the art to be critiqued rather than enjoyed. Or as if I didn’t already know the book’s weaknesses much better than they did. Either that or they’re offended. If your characters talk about issues, and explore their own identities, then you have violated something sacred. Talking about issues raises those issues, and people were clearly more comfortable when you left the boat un-rocked.

But I’ll tell you what. There is something else I’ve found through this process, and that is discovering a core of people who really do care about you, about your feelings, and about what you tried to do, whether you succeeded or not. People who are willing to stand by you, and say – you’re not embarrassing. Not to me. You’re my friend. And finding those people—and drawing from their strength—has been better than anything I could have hoped to experience. Like my boss, who submitted the book to the company newsletter because, whether he liked or agreed with it or not, he was proud of my accomplishment. Or like the family and colleagues who showed up to my book signing, despite it being in the middle of a blizzard, just to make sure I wasn’t there alone. Or the friend that let me name a magical creature after her, believing that the dream was magical, whether the final story was or not. Or my mother-in-law, who took it door-to-door at her office. Or my mom, who when people say, “it’s just not my sort of thing,” looks them in the eye and says without qualification, “I liked it.”

By now, I thought I’d have more feedback on the story. I thought someone would want to discuss the characters, think about the issues I raised, or even be inspired to share their own story. But, really, the most frequent positive feedback I’ve had is people telling me they admire my balls. “You have huge balls,” they say. Balls? You mean—? Oh.

See, and that’s the best part about realizing that you are walking naked. It’s that liberating moment when you realize that your self-doubt and apprehension are no longer relevant. You are already naked. Whatever it is that makes people uncomfortable, it’s out there now. So what, then, is left to protect? Yep, I’m here, I’m kind of strange, I write about things you think are weird, and I might even believe differently than you do. But I’m fueled by the fires of creative passion and I’m not ready to give up yet. And maybe—just maybe—some of you will join me along the way.

E.D.E. Bell – 11 January, 2014