This is what it feels like when people read my book.
Right now, people are reading my book. I know they’re reading it because they are kindly posting pictures of my book on their lap, or on the pool deck, or in their backpack, or on the coffee table next to a cup of tea, tagging the pictures #radiantshimmeringlight.
But I really know because I can feel them. I sense a buzz of consciousness, a feeling of people around me although they are not physically near me. An awareness of something like electricity in the air, if electricity felt like focus, or attention.
It feels the way it does when someone is behind me, staring at me — except they aren’t watching me at all, they’re intently reading a story. A story that is connected to me, but is not me.
Through their focus, perhaps, they create a field. And I can feel it, because I am also in that field.
I feel all sorts of things in that field. I know that many people are reading the book quickly, which is cool, because I wrote it to be read that way. There are some people reading it slowly, which makes me feel seen on a different level, because that’s the way I wrote this book — 1000 words at a time.
I can sense people in this field who are reading it critically, looking for the flaws. I know they will find what they are looking for, and this feels okay.
There are also people reading it who know me, and they’re looking for everything they love about me. Their presence feels sweet and fortifying, like strong black tea.
Some people in the field are wondering how much of it is true and how much is made up. Some readers are offended, and don’t want to finish it.
There are readers who think it’s magical, readers who think it’s nauseating, readers who think it’s funny, readers who think it’s creepy.
It’s all in the field, and I feel it all around me in this invisible way, every day.
I have been reading this poem lately. It reminds me of how it feels to make something and share it, how it feels to live in nature, how it feels to be alive in the world.
Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby —
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.
— Jane Hirschfeld
I am grateful for my readers, for all of them.
My book was written so it could be read. It was a private, mysterious part of my life for so many years (not even Ryan read it until it was finished). But now it gets to be alive outside of me. And the story changes for every single reader. No two books are the same. It belongs to everyone who reads it: their attention makes it their own.
I never assumed publication (I won’t accept a contract for an unwritten book). But I always hoped for at least one reader.
A piece of art isn’t complete until it is received by a witness. Without a reader, our writing can’t land.
This is what happens in the Story Intensive — writers hold that space for each other.
When your writing is witnessed and you receive feedback, it helps you find ground. You feel like a writer, because your writing is finally landing with readers, week after week. This gives you the courage to take much bigger risks.
It also makes you a better writer.
In my “Ask Sarah” call on Tuesday, someone asked about “skewering” criticism as a rite of passage for writers, and I had a lot to say about this. Firstly, I don’t believe it’s true. Secondly, the kind of supportive critique and feedback that my students get in the Story Intensive is unlike anything I’ve found in other writing programs. It is nurturing. It stretches you. Helps you grow as a writer. But it also prepares you to stand in that field with your readers, to have their eyes on your work and to hold space for their reception of it.
The Story Intensive isn’t just a writing program. It’s a community. An experience. It’s here for you.
Are you ready to join us? Go here to register.