Post-Publication Syndrome

Writing about your successes can sometimes make you feel like a braggart. But anybody who knows that a writer can work for years on that one story, can spend months sending and sending and sending that story, revising and re-sending that same story, only to rack up a three page contact list of places that have rejected your work, will understand that we need to brag and promote a little, just to keep ourselves in a place where we actually want to continue doing this.

I am very grateful to be able to say that I’ve been published four times. This is a great honor and I am, by no means, complaining. As a matter of fact, I have high hopes of maintaining this trend. I hope to keep posting about successes. I hope to remain as excited about those as I am about these.

Still, despite the exhilarating feeling of getting that acceptance letter, the space after the publication can be a weird place in a writer’s life. Here are the two strange post-publication experiences I have had.

1 – Sudden Stroke of Genius! You’ve opened the same word document for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. You’ve read, made changes, asked other people to read, made edits, reread, put it aside, reread, until you are honestly too sick of the document’s name to ever consider opening it again. That’s when you know it’s time to send it out. It goes out over and over and over and suddenly someone opts to publish it. They read your work and say “I appreciate this vision, I like the way this person sees the world and I think it should be put out there for the world to see. I think this signal should be amplified.”

They publish it. And there, in the print of another person’s website, on a printed page, in a strange land, you see it.

NO! That isn’t what I was trying to SAY! That wasn’t my message! That character would have said that differently! That word choice is just…UGH!

Suddenly, you are a literary genius who could have done this story a million times better, all because it is now immortalized elsewhere and you can no longer change it, can no longer better it.

Artistry can sometimes have the unexpected twists of a Twilight Zone episode. Very funny, universe.

2 – You’re An Alcoholic! And other such musings: When Tunneling was published, I was on cloud 9…for about five minutes. And then, instead, I got sorely depressed. Why? Writing triumphs are few and far between, right?

Right. But I was battening down the hatches for a shit storm. Tunneling is about a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon. I’ve known three alcoholics in my life, two of which are still either a part of my life, or tangentially related to my life. I’m also very close to all three families. I had initially felt that the piece was a sympathetically painted picture I’ve seen many times, painted in colors that I hoped people who generally hold contempt for addicts could better understand. Suddenly, I felt like what I was actually doing was profiting off of a lot of pain and I felt horrible. I knew that hadn’t been my intention, but how could people affected by it not see me that way after reading it?

It turned out, that was not a problem at all. Instead, my problem came from a much weirder place. Many people – MANY PEOPLE – pulled me aside or messaged me online and asked me if I had struggled with addiction in my life. I could say this was a testament to my writing skill, but I give much more credit to the depth of my experience with the subject.

Then, the questions got a little weirder. A few people started playing an odd sort of ‘Pin the Tail on the Alcoholic’ game with the list of people they knew were important in my life. I understood what these people were doing – they were trying to understand the nature of creativity. But it’s a strange thing to put somebody’s life and thought process under a microscope. Despite having less than a millionth of her popularity, I got what it must feel like for Taylor Swift when In Touch magazine tries to dissect her latest song to see who it is about.

Art is art. Yes there are many personal threads in every story I write. But for every “Grayson is an alcoholic,” there is also a “Jacklyn is a monster hunter”. The beautiful thing about storytelling is that it allows you to take what you know about the world and spin it out into something else – maybe the way you wish it would have been, maybe the way you’re glad it didn’t go.

That’s the beauty of creativity.

Either way, being published is a blessing. I’m mostly stating these things because I think it’s funny what our writer brains do to themselves after we finally succeed. Can we never be completely happy? If you have experienced this or anything like this, please share in the comments below so people know that they are not alone in their weirdness.

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