Taking Care

Elizabeth Gilbert said in a podcast I listened to recently that when she was a teen with aspirations to be a writer she decided that she would make a pact, that she would not ask her creativity to take care of her. Instead, she would take care of it.

I like that a lot. When I introduce myself as a writer, often one of the first questions asked is, “How are your books selling?” “How many books have you sold?” or something else along that line. The clear implication is that commerce is the measure of success or worth. I’m almost never asked if people enjoy what I have written, or any other question that references anything but success as defined monetarily.

It’s hard not to fall into that trap, partly because it’s a very easy measuring tool. By that method, a book that has sold a thousand copies is clearly better than a book that has sold thirty. An author who makes $50,000 a year from his or her writing is a better author than one who can barely cover their expenses. And so on. The concept is not limited to books, of course; when I mentioned at a gathering of friends that I had started a podcast of the first book in my Boone series, releasing a chapter a week, one person at the table immediately asked if there was any way I could “monetize that.”

The idea to make myself the caretaker of my creativity instead of the other way around is a liberating one, and it ripples out in a number of ways. Website hits, Facebook likes, number of sales at an event (especially compared to the next booth or table), all shrink in importance if I remember that I’m creating for the joy of it, recognizing that what I’m doing is more a part of who I am and less a way to produce something that I can count and measure against last week’s or last month’s totals or a famous author’s output or sales figures.

Kurt Vonnegut said,“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can.You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” That has the ring of truth about it and, when I can remember it, reminds me to stop counting things and get on with creating. After all, that’s where the good stuff is.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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