A Year After Publishing, What Has Changed?

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.

A rough, rough draft

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.
Laszlo (Laci) Orban, the Hungarian violinist who played at my book launch

Spiritual Survival as a Writer

Recently a discouraged writer asked me how I cope with the depression that comes with writing. This woman, whom I’ll call Mary, wasn’t talking about dealing with rejection; she meant the endless self-doubt. She has spent probably four or five years writing and revising a middle-grade novel, and it isn’t finished yet. She feels stalemated. I won’t say that the story has lost all of its appeal for her, but she has lost her joy in writing it. This past year Mary went through deep discouragement, unconvinced that she should continue writing this novel, perhaps even unconvinced that she should be writing at all.

I know what Mary was talking about, because I spent six or seven years lugging around similar doubts. I was in the midst of long research, difficult writing, and grinding revision. I worked without confidence, and it didn’t help that I kept hearing how dim the prospects were for new writers. Was I just wasting my time? Should I quit writing? These doubts kept nagging me, but I told myself, “I have to keep going.”

But wait a minute . . . did I really have to? Would the world come to a screeching halt if I stopped writing? No. Was there a gun to my head? No. (I was writing about people who might end up with a gun to their head, but fortunately there was none to mine.) Was writing a moral imperative? No, I believe a writer who chooses to stop does no wrong. Would I be letting anyone down if I didn’t finish this novel? Not really. A few people hoped I’d finish it, but if I didn’t, they’d understand. I didn’t have to go on.

I had a choice. With this free understanding, I realized my choice all along had been yes. I had been writing because I wanted to. But there had also been a previous “yes,” although for a long time I doubted it.

I am a Christian, and early on in this process I sent up many frustrated prayers–“Why am I doing this? It’s all going to come to nothing, etc., etc.” One day these frustrations were running through my mind yet again. Then, though this hardly ever happens to me, words entered my heart, as though a divine voice had spoken them:  Will you trust Me on this?”

I stopped. I could only answer yes. I knew the words were not a promise of success; they were strength for the journey. Many times I would look back on this moment, often doubting if I’d heard right. But somehow in the many dark months, I kept writing, and the struggle taught me to write from the heart.

I have a finished, published book now (The Songs We Hide), and another novel is in process. My writing will never make me rich or famous. It won’t even make me well-known in my own community. But my work is being read, and I hope–I believe–that it is bringing a small glimmer of light into this dark world.

I wish I could say that depression is no longer an issue for me as a writer. That simply isn’t the case. But I have seen that it’s possible to write through the depression, and there is light on the other side–for the writer and, God willing, for readers as well.