“Asking is, at its core, a collaboration.”
Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking
It only took nine unsubscribes to undo me.
I use some software to manage the subscribers to my blog, and if there’s activity—people signing up (yay!) people un-signing up (sigh!), I get an email.
Lately, I have been sighing more than normal. Even so, the day I had nine unsubscribes caught me off-guard. I was so proud of the posts I’d been running, and they weren’t particularly offensive (like that time I posted about abortion).
I wanted to shake the people who left. Then I felt lame for judging them. I unsubscribe from email lists all the time. There’s a lot of content out there; I get overwhelmed too.
But much as I tried to argue myself out of discontent, I was in a funk.
When I get into these writing funks, I know I need to think about the vision I have for my work, how I’m serving and encouraging my readers, and how I can clarify and hone all those things to make them easy to communicate.
But this clarification feels more fraught lately because I am working on a book proposal. A proposal is basically a business document about why your book is needful, and how you’ll sell it to your thousands and bazillions of subscribers.
On a day where some subscribers exit unceremoniously, the whole dream of publishing feels ridiculous.
What I’ve realized about seriously putting my work out there is that it involves a whole lot of asking.
Asking for readers’ attention.
Asking for their support for my projects.
Asking other writers to read my rough drafts, contribute to my blog, blurb my book.
Asking an agent, and then an editor, to believe in my book.
Asking to guest post to spread the word about my blog.
Asking readers to shell out real money for my books, self- or conventionally published.
Asking for ideas for marketing for friends and (gulp) listening to their critique.
Asking, asking, asking.
Asking makes me want to hurl. Asking makes me feel like a beggar peddling pitiful wares. Asking makes me shiver and curl up into a little ball.
I used to hate calling to order pizza. It made me feel too vulnerable.
How in the hell did I think it was a good idea to market my story?
Right in the middle of my funk this week, a book I’d requested came into the library: The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer.
She’s a musician and artist. She asks at the end of a concert on tour if anyone in the audience will put her up for the night. She asks family and friends to front thousands of dollars for her latest creative project. She asks strangers in a bathroom for a tampon.
Basically, she’s my inverse doppelganger.
The book sounded like an interesting concept back when I requested it. When it arrived in the middle of my funk it made me incredibly itchy. I wanted to run away screaming.
But I was curious enough to open it and start.
About fifty pages in, I liked it, in a this is helpful sort of way. Then I got to the quote I put at the beginning of this piece.
Asking is, at its core, a collaboration.
I burst into tears.
It was that word: collaboration.
Reaching out a hand and expecting, hoping, wishing someone would take it and help you—
That is the fear that undoes me. The fear that I will reach out my trembling hand, and learn that no one is interested in collaborating.
Suddenly, my funk about those nine unsubscribes opened up like a little instruction book.
I was terrified of readers unsubscribing because I don’t trust anyone will be interested in what I have to say.
I don’t trust my own voice to be worth the effort it takes my readers to read, buy, or participate.
I don’t trust that I know how to collaborate with or encourage the incredible people who read my stuff.
I’m afraid of pestering other writers. I’m afraid of seeming needy, desperate, or like I’m using people.
I am afraid of being honest about how bewildered I get sometimes, deciding what to write. I am afraid of writing posts like this one (they terrify me about as much as writing about sexual abuse, ironically enough) where I pull back the curtains on my uncertainty and fear.
Here’s the truth: I need to collaborate with other people. I need feedback, attention, help with marketing and editing, help to understand my own brand, and, that squiggliest of squiggles, money.
I wish I did not.
I wish I could do what I do best: scurry into a room, figure it out on my own, and emerge, confident and collected, my project collated and color-coded, using only my very own hard work.
I want to be Teflon-coated.
Asking for help throws my life into disarray. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know whom I can count on. I don’t know if I’ll be left hanging.
I do not know how to surrender to other people helping me. I do not know how to surrender to the overwhelming reality of my need.
I know I’m not alone in this. I know every other writer and artist and creative person and parent and Jesus-follower and spiritual person struggles with this too.
But that doesn’t make surrendering to collaboration any easier.
After I stopped crying about the Amanda Palmer quote, I realized that this kind of surrender is my next big experiment. A few years ago, it was saying yes to things that scared me. Recently, it’s been accepting an easy-yoke faith that is all about dependence on Jesus and not about my faith looking like I expect it to look. But I think surrendering to help—surrendering to my need—surrendering to communion—
That is where God is leading me. It’s where I need to unfold and practice.
I have this sneaking suspicion, despite my fear, that being faithful in this area will bring joy. Will bring connection. Will bring togetherness.
Will bring my dreams into reality in a way that makes my soul sing.