It's not easy to measure success. And if you do it in terms of could-I-live-off-my-writing, then no, I'm not successful. I'm on this author FB group where people are measuring and advertising and do all these things I've never heard of and it's good because I get ideas, but then I get intimidated too. By their success measured, I don't think I'd be doing so well.
But if you do it in terms of have-I-made-progress and did-this-matter-to-anyone, then yes. I do try the things people on these sites say (some of them anyway.) And sometimes I inch forward.
Here's the progress. I saved enough money and paid for a Kirkus review just before Christmas. They feature less than 10% of their reviews in their print media and mine got picked. That's cool. But not as cool as the did-this-matter-to-anyone category.
Yesterday I talked with parents who had adopted their son years ago and have struggled to figure out his behavior ever since. I gave them some ideas including contacting a lawyer to renegotiate a subsidy to help them pay for the significant amount they're having to come up with to pay for all their son's therapies and for respite care for him when it just gets to be too much. I also encouraged them to find peer connections for him within foster care and post-foster care communities in order to help him see his situation in perspective and potentially see himself become a leader, telling kids how it can be to live. These suggestions were the unique help I got to offer because I wrote this book. (And because of the previous work I've done as a teacher and caseworker.) If I hadn't written it, they would never have known I had this background and would not have asked.
One day, I came into work and saw a colleague I'd given a copy to. I know her to be a reader and that she sits on a committee who recommends books for the college where I work. I was explicit when I told her I wanted to be selected and this was why I was giving her the book. Well, and obviously I thought she'd like it.
That morning she handed me cash and told me she'd finished my book and that it had made her want to be a foster parent and that she'd like to pay for the book so that she could support me as a writer. What better impact could you ask for?
Finally, I sent a copy to Marilyn (Atler) VanDerbur. I loved her book Miss America by Day and read it in one sitting. I wanted to thank her for the bravery it took to tell her story and to convince millions of women and survivors of their worth. She's truly a wonder.
She sent me this after she read it.
"Dear Karin, Thank you for shedding so much light on what happens to too many children.
Especially RTC... so little is understood.
I didn't find it raw or dark - found it so educational.
I have emails from adults who have survived this - I will recommend your book - it is always helpful to have our experiences validated...
Thank you for sharing this..."
So, I'm not a professional writer in that I don't make my money that way. But if I measure success by the impact I'm having, it may not be constant, but it is unique and it matters to me greatly.
What we lack in our society is not training or education or wealth but the mirror that we hold up to each generation that shows them their worth:
the value of youth to bring energy and solutions and push and push until they are realized
the value of middle age to see the value of both sides of the coin: young and old, and keep on in the midst of the storm amid all its fury and whorl to see the simplicity of a single moment of abundance
the value of old age where vanity takes its leave and we are free to help and simply be with our knowledge.
Our youth are without purpose. We don't show them their value and they are left wandering, disconnected from each other and us, without the necessary means to channel their instinct for change. They used to be the risk takers we needed in hunting and battle. Those with the courage to stand up to the group and say "stop." Those who would stand up to a genocide. Those who would encourage us to walk when we're used to driving, or build our homes from something more sustainable. But we discount their ideas and their energies. We tell them they're young and don't know anything. And that's not untrue, they are without wisdom and sometimes without depth, but it's only part of the story. We educate them in pods of 12 months apart that do not teach them to interchange ideas generationally so we know not how to take their ideas. Nor they ours.
Our adult childrearing population is disconnected from the ancient knowledge and following whims of parenting without a network of supports. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we all get overwhelmed and just let them eat nachos and play on a tablet. Sometimes people are so disconnected they do this all the time. Sometimes as we're engaged in this age, we know exactly how valuable it is. I know I do. I know how amazing it is to relearn the world through my children's eyes. I know how infinitely miraculous it is to hear a bird in the quiet of snow-covered forest floor for the first time, or take off in flight in an airplane and watch the world become grids and streams and stacks below. I know how perfect it can be to fall asleep wrapped up in my children and to find the purpose of that swell of plump just below my belt, as it makes the absolute perfect pillow for my five-year-old. I know that the value of marriage is not merely in safety or security but in feeling the beating heart of a person you've loved for 10 years as though it were inside your own chest as you cleave to each other, not out of need or habit, but out of desire and satisfaction.
And though I know these things, I'd say that I still fall into the disconnected category. I hoard these moments close; they are insular, ours alone. We have made and protected a beautiful moment, a perfect connection with the four of us. But it doesn't extend into a multi-generational community. It is a fragile four, and its wonder is protected by small numbers.
When I was a little girl, I connected to a woman in her nineties who lived down the street from me. She was basically homebound. She could not always raise her hands above her shoulders long enough to even brush her hair. I'm not sure exactly what I sought from the relationship but I was about 8 and would go to her house from time to time and sit and wait to see if she'd tell any stories of her life. She rarely did but it was nice to sit quietly with her. Once we made pasta from scratch and I was terrified I'd cut the pasta wrong and she'd have to do it over again. I knew how hard it was for her but she was very patient and calm about the whole thing. I held back in a way that is uncharacteristic of me except when I am around someone very, very old. Then I calm, and quiet, and wait.
Most of the time, I'm pretty high strung. I have trouble with calm and waiting. I need a lot of exercise and if I don't get it (which is often lately,) I struggle with anxiety and worry and rethink things that shouldn't be bothered with much less analyzed and worried about. I can think of a comment in any given interchange to worry may have been taken wrong or that I shouldn't have said. I can snap with my kids in a wayI didn't think I would, getting snippy and bitchy at them when I shouldn't be. And maybe a ninety year old among us would help me. Maybe that generation's value of time and patience would allow my children to calm too.
Maybe the lacking of ego or vanity, the carelessness of age would hold a mirror up to us all and remind us that we are, each of us, are our 3-year-old selves learning the world for the first time; at the same time as we are our 5-year-old helper selves; at the same time as our frustrated, eye-rolling 15 year-old selves; at the same time as our 25-year old adventuring selves; at the same time as our 35-year-old responsible, loving selves. And maybe that age would remind us that we still have selves to find if we just wait...
Those of us who love engaging with young people know something about the value of this particular age. We know how to hear their ideas and engage in the excitement of something new and different with glassy eyes. But maybe it's not simply for us to hear them. Maybe I should take my own advice. Maybe I should teach them to hear an idea, and wait. Maybe teach them to hold up the value of the person providing the idea and consider that that person represents a wealth of ages and experiences and consider those things. Maybe...
I've picked away at the task of networking lately. I fall down a rabbit hole of groups on LinkedIn or I search book lists for similar books. I read reviews and search public profiles and youtube videos to see how people are doing the business of writing. I toss around ideas about redoing the cover, I review other books, I contact folks I think I might connect with. I attempt, again and again, to describe who I am to strangers in the hopes that this will be the right connection to foster good professional development and a network of awesome.
I want a network of awesome. Awesome people, doing work of all shapes and sizes to make the world a better place. Among recent friends I have a woman lawyer who does immigration law and a former race car driver who works to make parenting advice accessible to all. These are mostly mommy or skiing friends though.
I'm looking for the writers and the readers. I find a writing connection because the person writes about marketing or writes about the same topics or lives in my area and I attempt to cultivate a relationship. I usually start off feeling as I imagine many, many young men have over the years, as though I'm outclassed, staring at an attractive woman across the room.
I scratch out a draft of an email. I am blahblah, I did this and that. You should care because we have suchandsuch in common. And I mean these connections as I write them. I feel them. But I also feel like I'm probably going to get an eye roll and she'll turn back to her friend, reject my offer of friendship and I'll try again.
Sometimes I get it just right though. I am who I. I don't try hard to hide anything and the genuine weirdo/mostly nice person that I am comes through. I get a phone call, on an actually phone from someone saying thank you for the book. Sometimes these connections feel divinely inspired and I can hear the fears of the person on the other end of the line wondering how I wrote. I can hear how the other person fears that he or she won't be good enough, even though when I first contacted them, I believed them too good for me. And when I can hear their fears, I am reminded that we are all human, frail and afraid of failing. And yet guaranteed to sometimes do just that.
Most recently, I downloaded a fellow author's book. The author holds many accolades and is well-respected for his work. And I'm SURE he sells a lot of books. But as a reader, as I stared down the page, I was reminded of all that I've learned in recent years about describing a scene.
I was reminded that someone thinks I look good on paper and sometimes other people's work looks so much more accomplished than my own. And yet, at the end of the day, each individual book is judged by a reader, not by what they know about the author or the cover, but by the painstaking detail of showing up, as a writer, to do the work of putting pen to paper and creating in the mind of the reader, a scene. Followed by another scene. Followed by another with dialogue and metaphor and setting and imbued with meaning. And if I make that happen in a reader's mind on any given day, I've won. And if a writer grants that gift to me, I've won again.
Writing is hones that way. You either engage with the page, or you stop. Hope you're finding good reading this January. I know I am.
I am afraid of changing lightbulbs. I HATE feet. I hate condiments. Vinegar is disgusting. I check behind the shower curtain of people's houses because I'm the kind of person who would hide there to scare someone. When I was six I went to school with my coat and no shirt on. When I was 10 I didn't brush my hair for 4 months. My favorite errand is going to the library. I will pull things out of the trash to recycle them. I hate country music and jam bands. I have great aim when throwing things even though I can't play an upperbody sport to save my life. I like dark art. I trust scary looking people almost immediately.