A few months ago I read a blog post by a woman trying to become a professional writer. The post is funny yet communicates the frustration and embarrassment of the not-yet stage. The blogger, Sandra Ebijer, describes how you feel reluctant to tell people what you do (write), because they’ll ask if you’ve been published, paid, etc. It gets old, saying no. When I read the post, I had to nod in recognition. I’ve been there. And I know the feeling . . . if only I could get published.
But now that my novel is, in fact, published, I’ve also seen the truth of what experienced writers say: publication doesn’t change your life. Some aspects of it will change somewhat, but you are still the same person. My novel set in Hungary, The Songs We Hide, was published by an independent press a little more than a year ago, and here is what I’ve noticed about what it’s done (or not done) within me:
- Confidence: I no longer question whether I can pull off writing a difficult novel. I did it, and now I’m writing an even more difficult novel. There’s been little room for my ego in this. Sometimes people say to me, “You must be proud of yourself.” Not especially. I’ve had to correct my own mistakes so often that the word “pride” seems irrelevant. Last night a woman told me she was amazed by people like me who could write a novel. But this woman has run marathons and hiked up Macchu Pichu—in her seventies. Now that’s impressive.
- Fear: I used to dread the rejection that comes with writing. I hated the self-doubt and the fear that I was spending hundreds and maybe even thousands of hours on a project that would come to nothing. Post-publication, those feelings are still part of me. Fortunately, they aren’t as big a part. Maybe it’s like being a musician that never stops getting nervous but never gives up playing, either. Fear is a fact of the artistic life, but no way is it the whole of it.
- Expectations: I never expected my writing to “make it big,” and I still don’t. I expected I would have to do a lot of my own marketing, and that has turned out to be very true. So I guess things haven’t been too different from what I expected. Except . . . I didn’t know how much it would mean to me to see readers touched by my book. Or to hear Hungarians thank me for writing it. I didn’t expect such satisfaction to come from my book events, with readers asking perceptive questions, wanting to know more about Hungary, more about the Cold War, more about music, more about my characters, more about the writing process, more about how writing affects the writer. I could not have foreseen how these book talks would become an opportunity for growth and caring. That’s been a great gift, one I didn’t expect.