envelopeIn the last two weeks I’ve received a number of affirming and kind messages from readers I don’t know, all of whom have been reading Flunking Sainthood in their church study groups or book groups.

It blows me away that this little project I thought was such a failure has found an audience precisely because it was a failure and I had the courage to share it.

I never dreamed that the book would give Christians permission to talk about failure, and I’m humbled if doing so draws them closer to God and each other. We need more vulnerability, candor, and compassion in the Christian family.

And humor. Lord, do we need to laugh at ourselves more.

As a writer, here is the grand, if hackneyed, truth I have discovered in the last two years: having readers is awesome. Writers work so hard, and their work is often so darn lonely, that they should never take readers or their feedback for granted.

I didn’t have readers for a very long time. As in, I didn’t have readers for years. (I just received the fall royalty statement for one of my earliest books, a twice-annual experience of humiliation, so this truth is very fresh in my mind.)

Writers sometimes like to say that they write because they love to, or because they have to, or because something inside them needs to come out. Bully for them, but I don’t write for any of those reasons. I write for readers — to make you laugh, to make you think, or even both at the same time if I’ve had a particularly good day.

I appreciate all the feedback I get from readers, even the critical or negative comments, which teach me what I might do better next time.

But of course the letters I cherish are from the people that “got” the book, the kindred spirits who saw their own story in my struggles. So when the discouraging days come in the writing life — and do they ever come! — I might take out their notes to bask in a little love.

Like this one, from a Baptist church in Kentucky:

We laughed, wept, and opened up our own lives with each other. Your writing style won us over and made what you wrote even more meaningful. If ever you travel down to Louisville we would love to meet you. Thank you for your success. You can only “flunk” if you never try. We (8 of us) love your words, love you, and love each other even more. God’s love is beautiful.

Or this from an Episcopal church in Pennsylvania:

So in September, 25 people signed up to commit to practice a particular spiritual discipline for one month at a time from October through June.  Your book was recommended to the group as the backdrop for what we are doing.  There is a once a month gathering (which is optional) at the beginning of the month – to process what we’ve done and to look ahead at what’s upcoming.  Suggested readings about the practice are offered.  The way we are staying connected is on a ‘secret’ private Facebook chat room. . . . So, thanks to you – we are all engaging to deepen our spiritual life in new ways. Your sense of humor and the insights you shared in your book inspired us. I wanted to let you know, one of the ripple effects from your sharing your story.

So, to readers: thank you for spending time with my book, and for being kind enough to let me know about it. I appreciate you more than I can say.

And I am going to write to some of my favorite authors to pay your kindness forward.

 

3 Comments

  1. Jana,
    I look forward to reading your latest book. I read “What Would Buffy Do” years ago and found it intriguing.

    As a writer (formerly newspaper, now more blogging) I find that I write because I need to do it for me, as an outlet, as catharsis, but I also desire, no, I need readers. Strangely, it’s not that I write so much for the readers’ enjoyment, though I hope somebody likes my words and maybe even takes away something.

    If I were writing just because I need to, I’d simply journal. But that’s not enough. Maybe it’s narcissistic, but I need to know, or at least think, that I’ve been read.

    Anyway, just sharing. Happy to read of your experience and success.

    • Jana Riess

      Rob, thanks for this. I like your distinction between writing for readers and journaling. I think that journaling is great and it’s a beautiful spiritual practice, but speaking for myself, I’ve never been able to sustain a journal for very long.

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Darn it, Jana, I have been buying as many of your books as I can, but I guess my little contribution to your royalties is inadequate. I love how you can write with such unexpected yet insightful humor about such serious topics. Please keep slogging along, for my sake. Don’t think of yourself!

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