Mikhail Bulgakov was a 20th century Russian writer who trained as a doctor but left medicine to write. His work fell afoul of the Russian censors, and he struggled to publish. His masterpiece—the whimsical, surreal, and philosophical Master and Margarita—was not published during his lifetime.

I have just finished his selected letters and journals and two passages struck me:

When I’m ill and alone I give in to sad and envious thoughts. I bitterly regret that I gave up medicine, thereby condemning myself to an uncertain existence. But, as God is my witness, I only did this because of my love of writing.

Writing is difficult at the moment. With my views, expressed as they are voluntarily or involuntarily in my works, it is difficult to get published and earn a living.

And being ill under such circumstances is extremely unfortunate.

But I must not get depressed. Have just finished The Last of the Mohicans, which I recently bought for my library. What old-world charm this sentimental Cooper possesses! Just like a David singing and singing his psalms and inspiring in me thoughts of God.

Strong, courageous people may well not need him, but the thought of him makes life easier for people such as myself. My illness is complicated and prolonged. I’m a completely broken man. And that can prevent me from working—that’s why I’m afraid, and that’s why my hope is in God.

* * *

One would have to be exceptionally heroic to remain silent for four years, to remain silent without a hope of ever being able to open one’s mouth in the future. And, sadly, I am not a hero.

And a few days later:

My voice may sometimes trouble me, but it cannot be anything other than prophetic. Quite impossible. And I cannot be anything other than a writer.

Let’s wait and see, learn and be silent.

It’s hard not to love a man like Bulgakov—broken but confident, full of hope and regret, committed to writing for writing but frustrated and angry at the lack of publishing opportunities, and aware of the limits of his control and objectivity.

Writing advice abounds online. It is mostly either stylistic or professional—how to express yourself and how to get published.  Better advice, I think: be like Bulgakov—committed to writing first, humble and honest.