I attended the book launch for the novel Blood, by Jack Remick last week. Jack is among the horde of writers who gather together at a cafe in Seattle to write and share their creations, fresh off the page.
He invited me to come to his book launch on the first day I joined everyone for writing. Jack wrote the book itself during his many sessions writing at the cafe, and from there it had gone from handwritten drafts on notebook paper to a completed, bound, acclaimed piece of published literature.
The experience was…overwhelming. Sangria was offered as the evening’s libation (sangre=blood in Spanish) and I sipped this while I watched many people who I did not know, people who had connections in the writing world, who were old friends of Jack, who were fans of his prose and his poetry, all gathering, chatting, exclaiming how excited they were.
I knew a handful of folks, Jack and a few others who write at the cafe, but I felt small and lost and wide-eyed. I finished my sangria and a friend gave me his, since he wasn’t drinking it. I drank half of that, too. Finally, it was my turn to get a book signed by Jack. He gave me a huge hug, thanked me for coming, and wrote a personal note on the inside pages of my book.
Here, I want to stop and briefly reflect on what writing is and isn’t. It isn’t writing in isolation, somehow honing and polishing your craft by yourself and then emerging as an independent, illustrious writing champion. There is a lot of support, encouragement, criticism (helpful and unhelpful), feedback, recommendation, studying, despairing…There is no way (or shall I say it is extremely rare and exceedingly lonely?) for someone to climb to the top and launch a book successfully, if they plan to do it in isolation. Sure, it can happen, but I’d never want to be that person.
When Jack warmly acknowledged the people who had helped him along the road his process, he included the writers at the cafe. By thanking these writers, he thanked me. I was included, even if it was just for listening to the work of a writer who is more seasoned, practiced, and published than I am. He still thanked me.
I’m pointing this out because I think it’s tempting to see writing as an independent, completely autonomous practice. It isn’t. It also isn’t something you did on your own. You and I owe much of our polish and success to our readers, critiquers, and editors.
These are people spending their precious time on us and our work to help us improve. This is part of what makes writing so beautiful and heartwarming and emotional.
When Jack read an excerpt from his book, the room fell into a hushed, expectant silence. It was a room filled with people who wanted Jack, as a writer, to succeed. That’s an amazing feeling that I’ve felt a few times in my life. It can bring you to tears.
If you’re invited to an author’s book launch, GO. Support them, encourage them, buy their book, and invest in the friendship and in the literary community. Read works by your writer friends and give them honest, supportive feedback. See my post on how to form a critique group for some guidelines.
Remember that writing isn’t a solo act. Your piece always starts in a room with a closed door. It’s just you and the writing. But then you open the door and let a few people in. Then you refine it and show it to a few more. (Thanks to Stephen King for this analogy in his book On Writing.)
What writing have you done recently that’s been massively improved by the help, support, feedback, etc of others?