I was a writer, a traditionally published one at that, long before social media. In the 1990’s, writing was all about working quietly on your own, sending work in hardcopy format via snail mail with the appropriately sized SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), not having any “followers” to share with what your WIP was about or how many words you wrote that day. Pinterest had yet to be invented so only you knew (and cared) what your MC looked like. The word selfie had yet to be invented. Back then, writers spent nearly 100% of their time writing and 0% of their time taking photos of themselves, instead they dilgently wrote and sent out work and eagerly checked their mailbox (not their inbox because email didn’t yet exist) for an acceptance letter. Self-published was a dirty, shameful word back then, used only sparingly and as a last resort for the truly desperate. It meant spending a ton of money on shoddily printed copies that had to be purchased in large volume and then having to peddle them at malls or trade fairs or to libraries or schools, hoping to get in the black eventually. For most self-published writers, however, their work generally stayed packed up in the dozen or so boxes they came in, destined for a dusty life in the garage or basement.
Writing was a whole other monster back then. It was lonely and quiet – and so were the writers.
In order to connect with other writers, you had to leave your house – not always an easy thing for introverted artists to do, but before social media came along, you actually had to be social – like, in the flesh. To meet this need, I joined my local Canadian Author’s Association branch as a teenager. All the other writers were adults and didn’t quite know what to do with me. At first, they let me be the doorperson for their monthly meetings and I got to lurk in the back of the room and listen to them talk – not about how many followers they had on Instagram or their latest reviews on Amazon, because none of that existed – instead they simply talked about writing, about the process, the struggle, but most of all, they were there to support each other (and that included me) and they never looked for anything to come back. Not a review of their work or a purchase of their book or a follow on their social media. They helped one another honestly, genuinely and selflessly.
Being a writer was a struggle and we were all in it together.
To me, they were the real deal. They were all published – not self-published, because that was NOT as accessible or acceptable then like it is now – but published, as in they had queried and submitted for years, recieved dozens and dozens of rejections until finally, FINALLY they received that holy grail of a yes from an agent, a publisher and their efforts resulted in books on the shelves at bookstores at the mall and in libraries. They were the epitome of what I aspired to be. They were authors.
I looked up to them because although by that point I had had dozens of poems and short stories published in literary magazines and newspapers across North America and Australia, my real goal, which I had yet to achieve, was to have a book published and on the shelves just like them. I wanted to call myself an author, just like them – but I couldn’t. At that point, not having a book out meant I was a writer, not an author. There was a real and genuine distinction between the two and it was respected.
Fast-forward too many years and I found myself joining Instagram last summer – always a late and somewhat reluctant bloomer to anything new or trendy. Indie writer / indie author was a foreign concept to me until then. Amazon’s KDP platform and it’s ease, accessiblity and affordability for self-publishing was an eye-opener. Of course, I had to try it out. That novel that had been in my head for twenty-plus years (which had already spent a year being rejected by agents) was just begging to be self-published.
I had no dreams of instant celebrity or even minor success.
In fact, even after it came out and I held that first paperback in my hands, I struggled with labelling myself as an author. It just felt too easy somehow. The work, the years that went into writing and re-writing and editing the book and the year spent querying and being rejected over and over was NOT easy, but the process of self-publishing it was and for me, it didn’t and I still didn’t feel like the real deal.
I see so many writers on Instagram, mostly young and especially new, readily bestowing the title of author upon themselves yet most have never had a single piece, never mind a book, published. Some haven’t even finished their first piece of writing. Even with now two self-published books out in the world, I struggle to refer to myself outloud as an author.
I like to tell my kids, “keep your head in the clouds, but keep your feet on the ground.” It’s so important to stay humble, keep things in perspective and not let our egos drive our lives.
Social media is all about ego. Writing is all about letting go of that ego.
Do the work (and don’t always post about).