#181: On Independence, Part 1

View of valley from trail, white mottled clouds.
Bonnieville, KY

I’ve tried to write this letter several times in the past, but I’ve never been able to fully capture what I’ve wanted to say in the usual four or five paragraphs. So tonight I decided just to start it …

A few years ago I gave a talk at XOXO conference in Portland. The theme of the conference is independence, and speakers are encouraged to tell their origin stories – how they got to where they are. I’d just wrapped up These Days in the months before, and I spoke about the book and the reasons I wrote and continued to write, even if, unlike some of the other speakers, I still had to take on paid design work in order to survive. That, for me at the time, was my definition of independence.

Today I’m a full-time writer. I have been officially full-time since my agent and I first sold See You in the Cosmos to publishers spring of last year. By self-publishing my first book, I’d learned a great deal about which parts of the process I enjoyed handling myself (mostly writing and the occasional thinking about design) and which aspects I either dreaded or was ambivalent toward (pretty much everything else). Naturally, I was curious to see what it was like to be published in the more traditional way; I didn’t want to rule out that possibility without having gone through it at least once.

What was surprising, perhaps, was how compatible and comfortable I was with this established process. And something I’ve wrestled with quietly by myself in the last year and a half is this: Was I selling out?

There are days when it seems like that’s the wrong question to be asking. There are others when it seems like the exact right question, or if not the right question than camouflage for the right question. Because what’s underneath that binary question is, I think, a non-binary and much more productive question: What is independence?

Or to put it slightly differently: What does it really mean to be independent?