When I first saw this week’s topic–finding support as a writer– I figured I’d discuss writer’s groups. But then my debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, was released last week, and I realized I have a new perspective on a new phase of this writing journey: the publication period.
I’ve had some intense weeks in my life. I’m an ER doctor and a mother, so I’m often surrounded by literal carnage and mayhem. I trained in an era when there were no limits on work hours, so there have been times when I’ve stayed awake for 40 straight hours, trying to patch broken people back together. Even worse, my first child was a high-maintenance insomniac as an infant, and she didn’t seem to comprehend work-hour limits any better than the hospital people. So I know what it means to be tired.
But nothing prepared me for last week. I’m a reasonably social person—I like interacting with other humans on a one-to-one level—but I’ve ever before experienced a situation where I was required to be “on” for so many days at a time with so many people watching me. Like many writers, I’m a lot better on paper than I am in person. I’m used to rearranging my words until they look the way I want them to. I’m not used to opening my mouth and producing coherent and likable sound bites all day long. Also, I have this thing where my face goes twitchy if I’m expected to hold a pose for more than a second, which isn’t currently helped by the fact that I have a horrendous virus and can’t breathe through my nose.
Now that we’ve established that I’m a twitchy socially awkward incoherent mouth-breather, you can see why last week was challenging for me. Each day presented a different and terrifying form of public speaking. They were very long days, too: I started super-early each morning with local morning shows and stayed up late each evening at events or traveling. I was nervous and sick and embarrassed by a few of the dumb things I said. (The best one: I was on a TV news show in another city, and after the hosts introduced me, I held out my hand to one of them and said, “Welcome.”)
But here’s the beautiful thing: I had help. It’s always been one of my favorite things about humanity: the way people are eager to laud each other’s successes when things go well and to assuage each other’s sorrow when they don’t. There is no logical reason for this. There is—there must be— some fundamental element of kindness at the core of most human beings that spurs them to reach out to others when they perceive a need. And if that is true for human beings in general, it is doubly true for writers, who are the most supportive profession on earth. Writers rally around each other, offering congratulations and help and encouragement on a nonstop basis. It’s an embarrassment of riches when your longed-for book finally makes it into the world after years of effort and your fellow writers respond by celebrating like they just won the lottery.
Here’s a small sampling of the things people did for me this week: my best friend took time off and flew in from Texas to attend all my launch events in North Carolina and Kentucky. My medical school girlfriends showed up to my book signing in Louisville with chocolates and food and bourbon for the crowd. (Side note for writers: it turns out the key to selling books is free bourbon.) A friend of a friend in Charlotte with PR experience set up a bunch of local interviews for me and accompanied me to each one of them so I’d be less scared. My fellow Debs took the time during their own phenomenally busy launch seasons to read my book, write about it, and help promote it. A friend in radio allowed me to record a podcast with her and shared it with her zillion listeners, even though I was about as exciting as a visit to the DMV. My house filled up with so many flowers it looked like I died. The library system in my city hosted a party. Total strangers sent me messages of congratulations, filling up my Facebook and Instagram and Twitter feeds with more comments and pictures than I could possibly read. Friends from high school drove hours out of their way to come to a signing. And, the best one of all, a woman hand-wrote me a letter telling me she and her husband were driving into the city to buy my book the day it went on sale, because I’d saved her husband’s life years ago in the Emergency Department. “You see,” the letter read, “You are our real-life Queen.”
I look back on this outpouring of kindness and feel completely undeserving that so many people took a minute or an hour or a day—or even a week—- out of their busy lives to care about something so silly as my book. But I also feel inspired and grateful and amazed that people love it so much when something good happens for someone else. To aspiring authors, I’d pass this on: no matter which path you take to publishing, someone is going to appreciate and love what you wrote, and someone is going to appreciate and love you for writing it. People will want to help you. Accept their assistance with grace and gratitude. The world has so much good in it.
And then pass it along to the next author after you.
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