I tried to think of softer, more sophisticated title for this post, but the fact is, I’m quitting book writing, and there’s really no other way to say it. Turns out, I wrote a book about the journey toward uncovering your true self, and along the way, I discovered my true self does not align well with my work. This is knowledge I think I’ve understood deep down for a long time, and yet, I’ve held on, clutching and grasping with all my might, unwilling and afraid to let go.
The truth is, working as a traditionally published non-fiction writer is a rough sea to swim in if you wrestle with a desire for success and recognition, if you grapple with a longing for approval and affirmation or if you tend to fixate on outcomes. Plenty of writers are able to navigate a smooth, steady course through these tumultuous waters without losing their whole selves in the process.
As it turns out, I’m not one of those writers.
I’ve learned the hard way over the last ten years of writing and publishing that staying whole and healthy in this vocation is, for me, not a simple matter of willpower, nor is it a simple matter of surrender. It’s not about trying harder or surrendering more. Believe me, I’ve done both. I can muster every ounce of willpower and surrender six ways to Sunday, and the bottom line is still the same: working in traditional publishing is not good for me. My tendency to seek affirmation and validation and my desire for recognition and success can quickly veer toward addictive behavior if I’m not careful. It’s a little like an alcoholic working in a bar. It might be doable for a while, but in the end, it’s probably not a wise choice for a long-term profession.
Last fall, two months before True You released, I stood at the curb with Josie on the leash and gazed up at a large pine tree in my neighbor’s front yard. The tree was wrapped round and round with a thick vine that snaked from the roots up the trunk, fanning out along the limbs and branches. I saw that beneath the lush and vibrant vine, the tree itself was dying, its needles crisped brown, its branches brittle.
Not long after that late autumn walk, as Brad and I sat talking on the living room sofa, he offered a quiet observation. “Your work as an author in Christian publishing has brought you more sorrow than joy,” he said gently, as the snow wisped outside the windowpanes.
I knew the moment the words left his mouth that they were true. I knew I was the pine tree wrapped round by the vine.
In that moment I finally acknowledged that the culture of publishing is not a place I thrive. I can’t separate my self – my whole, true self – from the platform-building, from the push to attract and attain more followers and subscribers, from the Amazon ranks. I can’t separate myself from what often feels like a relentless drive toward bigger, better and more. I can’t separate myself from wanting to be known, affirmed and recognized by the “right” people.
That winter afternoon, sitting on the living room sofa with my husband, I finally understood that I can’t unwind the vine. And honestly, I’m flat-out exhausted from trying.
This has been a hard truth to face. There are the logistics, for one. I was contracted to write another book, which means I’ve had to withdraw from that contract and pay back the advance I had received to write the book. That is hard.
But even harder has been the unexpected grief that’s accompanied this decision. It’s painful to acknowledge that the story I wrote for myself in my mind and in my dreams all those years ago didn’t write itself the same way in real life. There have been joyful chapters, to be sure. But there have also been many, many chapters full of sorrow, disappointment, bitterness, resentment, anger and frustration. There is heartbreak in recognizing and acknowledging that my dream did not turn out as I had imagined and hoped it would. There is grief in letting go of the story I’d hoped would be true.
But there’s also hope in knowing the story is still being written. As Emily Freeman writes in The Next Right Thing: “Just because things change doesn’t mean you chose wrong in the first place. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.”
As Esther de Waal says in her book To Pause at the Threshold, “Our God is a God who moves and he invites us to move with him. We must be ready to disconnect. There comes a time when the things that were undoubtedly good and right in the past must be left behind, for there is always the danger that they might hinder us from moving forward and connecting with the one necessary thing, Christ himself.”
God is moving and he is inviting me to move with him. It’s time.
So I am sad, yes. But I also know, as Emily Freeman says, that I didn’t choose wrong. And I know this because of you. I am full of gratitude for you – the generous readers who have come alongside me – for your kind words, your emails, your comments, your hugs when we’ve met in person. I’m grateful for what you have taught me along the journey. I’m grateful for all the things I’ve learned – about myself, about life, about faith.
And I’m also full of expectant hope for what might be next. I’m confident that even though I can’t clearly see it yet, what’s to come will be different, but it will also be good. I know this because I know God, and I know that he is good.
For now I am content to continue my work at The Salvation Army. I am glad to do my small bit for an organization that does good work. Most of all, it feels good and right to do that work anonymously, without fanfare, without pushing for recognition or readers, without trying to attract attention, without trying to be known.
As Akiko Busch writes in her book How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, it’s time “to reevaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life, to search out some antidote to continuous exposure, and to reconsider the value of going unseen, undetected, or overlooked. Might invisibility be regarded not simply as refuge, but as a condition with its own meaning and power?”
I think it might indeed.
As I walked Josie along our favorite path a few weeks ago, I noticed that the branches of the white swamp oak were bare. The leaves that had held on through the long, hard winter had finally let go. Beneath the tree’s naked limbs lay its desiccated foliage, crumpled, ripped and bedraggled from months of hanging on tight through tossing winds and stinging snow.
Standing beneath the bare tree, I tipped my head back and saw that each branch and twig were crowned with a tightly curled bud. Over the dark days of our long Nebraska winter, the oak tree had been slowly, quietly working undercover, preparing new growth that has, I see now, begun to burst free.
First the letting go, then the unfurling. As is so often the case, the trees have shown me what I needed to see.
I wanted to let you know that though I will not be writing books, I still hope, God willing, to write in this space. After months of discernment I was relieved to realize that writing is still life-giving for me. And so, if you’re still game, I would love to still meet you here from time to time and monthly via The Back Patio newsletter. I am ever grateful for you.