Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference this weekend. “Know” may be putting it lightly. “Bombarded with evidence” might be the more appropriate term. This was my third time attending the conference in four years, and before I get to the real reason for my post, I just want to say that if you’re looking for an amazing writing conference experience, be sure to check this one out. RMFW is an incredibly welcoming group of writers with a vast amount of knowledge that is so graciously shared. Over a hundred members volunteer each year to put this event together, which just goes to show you how much we love being a part of this organization and how dedicated we are to seeing it thrive.
This year was an especially exciting year for me because I was acknowledged as a published author and awarded the RMFW PEN Award, alongside my critique partner and amazing friend, Aimie K. Runyan, who I met at the same conference four years ago when we were both aspiring authors with little more than a hoard of toddlers between us and a dream. What a life-changing four years it’s been!
Why Promoting is so Hard
This year I also had the added pleasure of befriending some of the people I’ve looked up to and admired for years, one of whom is Aaron Michael Ritchey. Over the course of the 3-day conference, I attended two of his workshops, which are always entertaining, informative, and inspiring. My goal this year, with a book coming out next year, was to soak in as much knowledge about promotion as possible, and Aaron offered a workshop on Hand Selling Your Book, and Sharing, Not Selling. Both of these topics spoke to me because there was a personal element to them. In this day and age, I think we are all sick to death of being “sold” to and we are looking for genuine connections–even when we are buying products. While promotion comes easier to me than most writers, even I feel skeezy sometimes about putting myself out there. And near the end of Aaron’s second workshop, I think he hit the nail on the head about why.
This idea hit me on more levels than one, since not only do I love to write, I love to speak too, which can also be an ego-centered pursuit, putting myself in front of a crowd with the presumption I have something to offer them. After I left the workshop, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I’m so passionate about what I do, but I worry that it’s not for the right reasons. This has been a topic I’ve run circles around for months (years, really, but more so lately) and something I fear it keeps me holding myself back from what I could be accomplishing.
Is it really selfish?
I couldn’t just leave it at that. I hunted Aaron down later to delve deeper into the subject with the hope that I could wrap my mind around it once and for all–to put the worry to bed and move forward with my career without this nagging restriction. I wanted to get his opinion on a theory I’ve been developing, which is this:
Maybe we were created this way, to do exactly this kind of work, so that we could fulfill a need within this universe. No, this isn’t a new theory. Anyone who believes in God or a higher power often believes that we were put on this earth for a reason–that there is a purpose for each and every one of us. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I think we all want to believe there is a point to this life. Especially writers, who tend to ponder the great questions more than most. But in addition to this, I wondered if it feels so good, so selfish, so ego-stroking because it is designed that way to encourage us to keep doing it. In the way that nature encourages us to procreate, it (*ahem*) feels good so that we fulfill our divine duty to contribute to the delicate balance that keeps the universe growing and thriving.
Aaron found some validity in my theory (either that or he was just being nice). During his workshop he had offered up the point that stories changes lives, because they do. Everyone in that room had no choice but to raise their hand when the question was posed because that is the nature of stories. We learn from them, and grow from them, and process life through them, whether or not that is the intention of the story. At minimum, we are swept away by them when we need a break from the oftentimes harsh reality, which is a beautiful consequence in itself.
An Equal Exchange
Recently, I’ve been reading the book The Value Factor by Dr. John DeMartini, in which he addresses this issue of selfishness vs. selflessness and I find great merit in his take on the subject. He says that the best relationships (and all human interaction is relationship-building) are formed when there is an equal exchange of energy–when both parties are benefiting from the interaction. Our society places a high value on selflessness but does anyone really benefit when we play the martyr? When giving is done resentfully? When we deplete ourselves to the point that we have nothing left to give because we take nothing in return?
Or maybe, as Phoebe argues in the infamous Friends episode, there is no such thing as a selfless act. Giving to others will always fulfill us in one way or another.
What Aaron and I ultimately ended our conversation on was this: even if it feels selfish, that doesn’t mean people aren’t benefiting from it. J.K. Rowling may not have set out to impact millions of people all over the world (including the millions in the future who aren’t even born yet!) but that’s exactly what she did. Maybe, like us, she wrote the Harry Potter books simply because they entertained her and gave her solace during a hard period in her life. Maybe, like us, she published them because she wanted to make enough money to provide for her child and because she wanted some recognition for her hard work. Maybe, like us, she just wanted to carve her name into the world to say, “I was here.”
Regardless of her reasons, that doesn’t change the fact that she created a community, inspired readers with her timeless characters, and gave people a place to escape to during an time when we could all use a little magic.
Do you struggle with this idea of selfishness in creating and sharing your work? Do you think it holds you back in pursuing your goals? Which books and stories have changed your life?