Jayma Anne Montgomery
A REFLECTIVE HIATUS
I didn’t exactly plan to take a hiatus from writing for the past month. It started out as a very busy work stretch at the hospital, including a few sixteen-hour days. I then needed a while to recover from said, near-suicidal stretch and once I did, wanted to catch up on some reading. Several articles and opinion pieces have been put out recently by some of my favorite writers like David French, Jonah Goldberg, and Tish Harrison Warren on topics like the reversal of Roe v Wade and the passing of sensible gun rights legislation. Good writers need to read a lot. It stimulates creative thought and sharpens one’s own perspective on the subject matters at hand. I tend to resist the urge to weigh in on every hot topic just because everyone else is doing so but if I feel I have something to add to the conversation, then I will. On that note, I have a few more things to say about gun violence in the near future. I am now on a family vacation at a VRBO in the mountains so my relaxed brain is beginning to line up additional writing topics.
It’s given me time to ponder more earnestly and concretely the manuscript I started in 2020. In an effort to gain some direction, I spoke to an editor, speaker, and published writer who attends my church. The conversation didn’t quite go the way I expected but I’m glad it didn’t. I went into it not really knowing what I needed to hear. He gave me tips on what the Christian publishing world is looking for and how I can increase my chances of getting picked up by a publisher. He gave me this information with a dose of unabashed honesty. He confirmed that just like every other major Christian industry (Christian Contemporary Music, Gospel, and megachurch formulas for exponential growth) publishers are looking for guaranteed results. They want an established influencer with an established following. If you’re a hardcore blogger with 10,000+ followers or a megachurch pastor who can promise thousands of dollars of sales from his/her attendees then you are set. The quality of the writing or the originality of the material are irrelevant. A no-name burgeoning writer like me with no publications who hates self-promotion and social media doesn’t stand much of a chance. He asked me what I was willing to do to meet a publisher’s likely narrow vision of success. That’s a question that I think every creative person seeking to take their work to the next level has to answer for themselves at some point.
I asked myself a lot of tough questions. Am I willing to spend hours on social media bantering, arguing, and persuading people regarding my point of view? Am I willing to spend a lot of time and effort drumming up traffic to my blog by hounding everyone I know and barely know? Am I willing to rewrite my work beyond recognition to meet what a publisher thinks is most likely to sell? In other words, am I willing to become the very thing that I critique in order to get ahead? It didn’t take long for me to realize that the answer to all of it is a hard ‘no.’ The bedrock of my life and character has always been authenticity and consistency. I don’t know who I am without it. I love my privacy and I am fiercely protective of my family’s privacy. I also have to factor in that my medical organization might not take kindly to some of my content and not want it associated with their brand. For all of these reasons and more, I plan to publish the majority of my non-medical work under a pen name.
I also spent more time thinking about the premise of the book. At its core, it is a non-fiction, immigrant memoir told as a series of short stories; in the same genre as The House on Mango Street and The Joy Luck Club. It speaks to the challenges of identity formation and it does so in light of topics like race, gender, spirituality, and politics. I want to speak primarily to deconstructing Christians and non-Christians who are curious about the Christian faith but confused and disgusted by its many public failings. I want to talk about my unique perspective as a black female immigrant with a decidedly Evangelical upbringing, the ways in which that culture has departed from the teachings of the Bible, and how I can still see Jesus in the midst of all of it. That’s not something I think most Christian publishers are interested in taking on; self-publishing is likely my best bet.
My hope is to one day land a part-time freelance job writing regularly for a newspaper, newsletter, or a magazine. I would even consider ghostwriting. Book sales were never meant to be the main thing and I have no intention of leaving medicine altogether anytime soon. And so, I am very thankful for the forthcoming wisdom of my brother-in-Christ. I believe I am being called on to be courageous in a way that I have never been before. The courage that is required of me is to trust in the quality of my work regardless of typical performance metrics. I believe that the Lord is preparing a small, but devoted audience of readers that my work will speak to. I think He is preparing the opportunities, venues, and platforms that will not require me to sacrifice my integrity and principles in the process. Success is deceptive. Influence is powerful. I don’t think that I am immune to the common pitfalls of becoming prideful and self-important. I think I need to have certain safeguards in place to keep me honest and grounded otherwise I will eventually fall, very low and very publicly, like so many before me have done.
18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. 19 Better it is to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. 20 He that handles a matter wisely shall find good: and he who trusts in the Lord, happy is he. (Prov 16: 18-20)