It used to be enough to write hundreds of pages, see a story through to completion and have the satisfaction of knowing I did it. "The Lighthouse Keeper", "Ryan Havens", "A Shattered Mirror", "A Fading Smile", and in more recent years, "The Emblem", "Swiftwater' and "Ryan Havens" (again).
Midway through my 30's, that fleeting feeling of finishing no longer satisfies. The pouring out of my imagination and the deep honing of my characters' flaws, driving forces and motivations don't cut it. When all is said and done, the metaphorical shoving the novel in the bedside drawer leaves me with almost more nervous energy than when I began. If my novel doesn't see the light of day and the only one savoring the experience is me, my writing process hasn't been meaningless, but it falls short of satisfying. When God gives you a drive to create, I think you're more often than not meant to bring that to the light and expose it to others.
Throwing open the drawer and dusting off the pages isn't as easy as it seems. Edit your words a second or third time, and you'll find embarrassing glitches you thought you'd polished over. Have a few readers take a stab at it, and if they're friends and family, you'll most likely hear the most promising aspects of your project. Perhaps one or two readers will be honest enough to tell you what wasn't working for them and kindly suggest you fix it (did you realize how often so-and-so was 'biting her nails to the quick'? or "stop qualifying your characters' actions. Just make it happen). Then there's the professional editing, the deeper observations of writing mentors, and the stretching that comes with each "final" draft.
I'd be fibbing to you if I told you that the "is this worth it?" question hasn't crossed my mind at least once or twice. The vulnerability starts creeping in, and you start wondering how your readers, who are spending their hard-earned dollars to read what you wrote, will interpret your words. Will your characters make them contemplate how they would respond in a similar situation? Or will they come away wondering why you took that angle to begin with?
I'm reminded by the words of my writing mentor/author Douglas Bond, "write for the audience of One." Though it might seem impossible not to care about the ending result of this entire process-when "Swiftwater" is bound and no longer there for me to tamper with-the truth is that the publishing process is teaching me to let go in a beautiful way. Taking my novel out of its metaphorical drawer means less of me (and my hang ups) and more of how my readers will experience the story I've given them. While I can hope they get the redemptive themes I've woven in and come away with a greater sense of God's grace, it's time to drop the pen and let the rest fall into place. The outcome isn't mine to determine.