New Writing, the Old Way

My novel, The Songs We Hide, has now been “out in public” for almost seven months. I worked long and hard to get to this point, and certainly I’m glad to be here. What I hadn’t counted on, though, is how much of my time would be consumed in publicizing the book (or trying to, anyway). These seven months, plus the three or four that preceded them, have been full of emailing, driving, making phone calls, arranging presentations, giving the presentations, and figuring out things I didn’t know how to do, like setting up online author pages and operating a Square Reader. These things were all stuffed in around being available to my family.

And what about writing the next novel, which people keep asking me about? Well, it’s frustrating how often that’s been set aside. In these busy months, when I’ve been able to carve out a little time, I’ve revised chapters I’d written previously. But I didn’t have the mental bandwidth for new writing.

Until a few weeks ago, when I suddenly found myself with open days. Having finished revising and editing the existing sixteen chapters of the new novel, it was now time to tackle Chapter Seventeen. I sat down at a coffee shop with a capuccino, a lot of paper, and a pencil. I made notes and formed somewhat of an outline. Over the next two weeks, I wrote the whole chapter the way I used to: longhand, crossing out countless phrases or whole paragraphs, scribbling corrections in the margins. There is something humanizing about the patience of longhand and the absence of electronics. Often I took the pile of papers to a cafe where I could look out the window at the bay or autumn trees. When I finished drafting out the chapter, I typed it neatly (and electronically) into Word. But after these months of emails and social media, it was good to have done the first-draft creativity simply with my hands and a pen.

A few days ago I sat down by a sunlit window with a glass of wine, and I hand-wrote the notes for Chapter Eighteen. It felt right. My husband, who is an architect, tries out every idea with a pencil in his hand: that is what feels natural to him. I get it. Tomorrow I’ll probably go back to efficiency and draft out Chapter Eighteen on my laptop. But I’m glad I wrote Chapter Seventeen the messy, quiet way, the way I worked when I first fell in love with writing.



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.