All my life, I’ve yearned to be a writer; more specifically, to be a novelist. But I learned pretty early on that it’s tough to make a living in the Arts. Lots of artists suffer and some even believe it’s a prerequisite for holding the job. Wanting to be a writer is not rational. Writers spend countless hours alone and afraid, worried that they won’t bring their vision to life on the page. Writing a novel is a long and arduous haul. It’s tedious and confusing, especially when your characters don’t cooperate. I tried to turn my back on this so-called career. The agents said no. The publishers said no. My bank account said no. I said no.
But my writing self would not take no for an answer. It was always tenaciously nagging at me, whispering in my ear or sulking patiently in the corner, wondering when I was going to come to my senses and embrace the gift. It didn’t feel like a gift. It felt like a burden. Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else? Why do these characters run around in my head? Why do I feel so incomplete? Eventually that writing self wore me down. It laid siege until I finally gave in and opened the castle gate. I relented and embraced the gift.
With determination, I left my well-paying job to write the novel that I had wanted to write since I was twelve. I needed to get that story out of my head and onto the page. My only goal at the time was to finish. When a story has been kicking around in your head for that long, you need to liberate it, and more importantly, you need to liberate yourself from it.
And I did it. I finished it. Because this event coincided with rapid changes in the publishing industry, I had a choice. I could continue to submit my work to agents and publishers and wait for their validation. Or I could continue to say yes to myself, self-publish, and let the market decide. I didn’t have anything to lose but time, so I took a chance on myself and published the novel on Amazon Kindle. I entered the marketplace as a writer and started receiving reviews and royalty checks. Unbelievable!
See, said my writing self, I told you we could do it.
So you know what happens when you finally achieve a lifelong dream?
You celebrate. And then you begin to feel an unsettling void. You get cranky and slightly depressed. All your life, you have sought the Holy Grail and now you finally have it, and it’s for sale on Amazon and generating royalties for you. Gulp.
So what do you do next? You write another one. Now that the last cast of characters has cleared out, a new set has moved in and they are hankering to have their story told. So you write it. And you publish it too.
It wasn’t until after the second book that I realized I experience a kind of postpartum depression after giving birth to a novel. Ideas and stories and characters that formerly took up bandwidth inside my head now roam freely in the minds of others who read my books. They don’t speak to me anymore. I am no longer the sole carrier of life for them. And it felt empty and slightly scary now that they had grown up and left me. My constant state of striving for fulfillment had been replaced with a vacuum of possibility. This caught me by surprise. No one ever told me what it feels like after you achieve your dream. Because it had been so out of reach before, I never really considered what it would be like to achieve it. And now what would I do? How would I fill up the empty space? I never thought I would get this far, much less what I would do next.
So what do you do once you’ve succeeded in doing the thing you wanted to accomplish your whole life? You do the same thing you would do if you had failed. You start again. Because like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Accomplishing your dream is a bit like travelling to a foreign country after you’ve spent years reading travel guide books. It’s never exactly what you expected. The layout isn’t how you visualized it. It’s three-dimensional and real. Most people are friendly, but some are rude. You struggle with the language, but it’s still like music to your ears. You are out of your comfort zone in brand new territory, yet you feel invigorated by all the new stimuli. And just as you are starting to feel comfortable because you know your way around, it’s time to move on to the next place where you have to find your bearings all over again. When you return home, you know you are somehow different, changed forever by the experience. You see the world through different eyes that look toward new horizons.
I’m on my next journey. I’m chasing new dreams, heading to new destinations. A third novel is in the works. I’m eager to keep going, to see what else I can do, to see how good I can get at this thing called writing. I embraced the gift, but I know now it is just one of many gifts that I possess. I’m not putting limits on myself. I’m looking forward to the next adventure. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I know that all I need to do is put one foot in front of the other, day by day, and move forward, step by step. Do a little research, but keep an open mind and leave room for spontaneity.
Wish me well on the journey. I promise to send postcards.