I began writing my novel Ash Wednesday back in 2004. At the time I had no idea I was writing a novel. Nor did I realize that the short story I had tentatively titled “Body of Christ” would consume most of my creative and psychic energy for the next 7 years. It’s been a long road to publication. Friends who know how hard I have worked ask me, “How do you feel now that you have finally achieved your goal?”
The first answers that come to my mind are “vulnerable,” and “a bit sad.”
Oh, I’m certainly excited and proud yet there’s a part of me that’s hesitant to celebrate. I may be experiencing what author and literary agent Jeff Herman calls “Post Publication Depression Syndrome.” He writes that, “People who reach the pinnacle of success in any field of endeavor will often feel an emotional letdown in the wake of their accomplishment. The feelings can be comparable to a state of mourning, as the thrill of chasing the goal instantly evaporates and is replaced by nothing. Writers are especially prone to wallowing alone, as theirs is a solitary process by design …”
So allow me to wallow.
By January 2005 I realized that my short story was on its way to becoming something much longer. New characters kept showing up and refused to leave. I made a commitment to complete my novel and finished my 120,000-word first draft by spring 2007. I sent it off to my good friend Karen who said it didn’t suck and was definitely publishable. Buoyed by her encouraging words, I determined that I would do everything within my means to find a reputable traditional publisher.
I won’t bore you with the details of the 4 years that followed. Let’s just say there were countless rejections, many revisions, a few bouts of indulgent self-pity, some close calls, and a bull-headed determination to never, ever give up (must be the Taurus in me). Finding a publisher for Ash Wednesday became my obsession. My wife, a writer herself, said sometimes it felt like I had another lover. But why put all that effort into something just to have it gather dust in my closet?
(Attention all Blog readers: please re-read that last paragraph carefully. I did not actually have another lover. I have taken the Newt Gingrich fidelity pledge. It’s a metaphor!)
Before I found my publisher, only a half dozen people read my novel in its entirety. I chose those people carefully. I knew they would not say mean things to me. Now that my novel has been released to the world, I’m feeling vulnerable because I know what happens to it from this day forward is mostly beyond my control. Some will praise it and others will pan it. More than 99.99999 percent of the world will never read it. I know that I’m a better person for having written it and for having persisted at getting it published. My name is on the cover and yet my self worth will not be determined by the fate of my book.
Maybe it’s just a little bit like sending your children off to college or out into the real world. You do your best all those years, you spend all that time molding and shaping. You try to get it right. But ultimately you have to let go. You feel vulnerable and stay up at night thinking about all the horrible things that could happen to them.
Still you let go. And get on with your life. Stop wallowing. Find a new hobby, cuddle with your spouse, adopt a few foster children, write another book . . .