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  • Writer's pictureL. M. Poplin

The Gift of Not Choosing

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Nobody warned me when I set out to become a writer that the job would require self-promotion. Not even in grad school, when I first discovered the terrors of querying, did I realize how often I would need to put myself on display. Sharing my words, I was okay with. I knew that my thoughts would go out to the world to be met with scathing criticism or praise, but I didn’t yet understand that I would need to go with them.

It doesn’t help that I abhor social media. I would blame my age, but there are literally millions of people older than I am who have taken to Facebook like the proverbial duck. Only it’s an ocean, not a pond, and I think they’re drowning. We all are. Me especially, because I only ever agreed to get my toes wet, but there’s a flock of people surrounding me, pushing me, pulling me, saying they won’t talk to me anymore or pay attention to my book unless I submerge myself.

I don’t want to be on display. I became a writer because I loved to read. To engage in intimate conversations with the greatest minds of our world. I thought I could spend my days and nights siting at a desk or in a window seat, MUJI pen in hand, writing novels not to be famous or rich, but simply to be read. If I had wanted to learn about self-promotion, I would have majored in marketing communications or business, not French literature, and I would be making hundreds of thousands of dollars in a shiny corner office instead of schlepping my office on my back, cobbling together a six-course teaching load so I can afford to live in Boston on an adjunct’s salary.

If I had known how hard self-promotion would be, I never would have chosen to become a writer. But that’s implying I had a choice. I don’t think I had a choice. I think writing chose me, which is why I’m drafting this blog post that most likely no one will read instead of sitting in a bath with a mask on my face to erase the wrinkles that insist on forming despite my best attempts to coax them into hiding. The comparison is an apt one, by the way. Tweeting my writerly angst (or faux brags depending) to the larger #WritingCommuity in the hopes of generating an expanded readership is not unlike wearing a cellulose sheet mask infused with plant collagen to combat the inevitability of time. It might feel good for a day. But the wrinkles still come.

I’m not complaining. I like wrinkles. Not because I want to look old, but because I want the luxury of becoming old. And I really, truly don’t want the world to know my business. But writing is business, and I love writing, so I try to play the game regardless.

The game is not all bad either. Books, especially undefined MG/YA hybrids like mine, need book trailers. Book trailers count as self-promotion. And so I’ve begun to wade voluntarily into the waters of filmmaking—welcoming, warm, Caribbean Sea waters—where storytelling becomes multidimensional and I can swim in all directions. Now, I storyboard with abandon and call it marketing. Now, I ride the T all over town, filming my favorite places in Boston and call it work. Now I listen obsessively to the music of Dexter Britain and call it research. Now, I ask my brilliant puppeteer friend, Bonnie Duncan, to teach me iMovie (because puppeteers must also become marketing gurus and filmmakers) and bask in a sense of accomplishment.

I became a writer so I could hibernate within my comfort zone of books and ideas and words and solitude. And MUJI pens. Such was my idealism. Such was my ignorance. Becoming a writer has been the single most uncomfortable experience of my life—a life, incidentally, that includes nannying for four children under the age of ten in Belgium, and serving a Mormon mission in France. Oh, and birthing a child. Becoming a writer has stretched my understanding of the world, mostly through disillusionment. But as I am forced to expand, so does my capacity for living. I have traveled to distant places. I have engaged in real-life conversations with contemporary greatness. I have become a better, more complete version of myself.

And so, even though I still would not have chosen to become a writer, I’m increasingly grateful I didn’t have a choice.

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