It’s an epidemic, I tell you.
I’ve been seeing something a lot lately, especially on Twitter:
“I’m thinking of quitting NaNoWriMo.”
“Discouraged and stressed. Is this even worth it?”
“I forgot what a writing high feels like.”
“I’m never going to succeed at this.”
“I’m thinking of giving up writing completely.”
It’s a familiar feeling if you’re an artist. A few hours ago, I was crying to my mother on the phone about this very same feeling (because I can admit to needing Mom to make it better): the one where you’re so discouraged and immobilized by it that you can’t do anything, but not doing anything makes things worse.
Before anyone starts lecturing me on how I picked this for myself and if I can’t live with it I should get a real job, yes, I’ve considered it. I went into writing knowing for a fact that it was going to be an uphill battle at best. That I will literally never be J.K. Rowling. That, depending on which statistics you look at, I literally have better odds of getting struck by lightning than ever seeing my name in print, let alone making money. That the bulk of the voices (and not even including your inner critic yet!) are going to be telling you that no one’s listening, no one cares, you’re not good enough, and that you’re crazy to try. Just because you accept these things and aren’t surprised by them doesn’t mean that it’s not going to hurt, though. My cycle of discouragement (which I don’t claim is the way anyone else’s works, because we’re all different) starts one of two ways: I either look for something that pays actual money for writing, or I submit a project to a new place.
In the case of the former, the deadline is usually fairly soon, because I seem to have a way of finding anthologies whose deadlines are within 48 hours of me discovering them and then deciding that I’m going to try for them anyway (not a kind of stubborn that anyone should strive for, by the way). What ends up happening here, because I never learn, is that I struggle to get out 3,000 coherent words in response to a prompt or theme, get frustrated, and scrap the entire thing. Possibly a million much better, much more responsible writers are going to have already written and submitted something, so why should I try to put something together that I know for a fact is going to get rejected that might not fit anywhere else?
The latter case doesn’t make sense because it’s a fresh start, but this how I wound up in my current situation. I send out a submission, and then I go to my submissions spreadsheet to update it and make sure everything else is in order. That’s when I look—really look—at the ever-increasing volume of color-coded lines of names, dates, and the word “rejected.” And then I wonder what I’m even doing and start sending résumés out in an attempt to get one of these “real jobs.”
It’s hard, especially for someone who’s always been a storyteller. I preferred imaginary worlds to real ones from a young age, and books and writing were always my refuge when bullies or life in general got rough. No matter how many times I swear that I’ll quit, the telling of stories is so integral to my identity that I literally can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried: I spent a great deal of my childhood convinced that, while writing was fun, I’d ultimately end up doing something in the sciences because that’s where the money was. I dabbled in other identities that didn’t pan out. When my first NaNoWriMo, combined with a stressful full-time job, was floundering, I decided to let it fail, and it only made my mental health worse. Going back to it gave me the familiar, safe place that helped me get through another day.
It’s not just that the lack of writing was so bad for me, though. I love writing more than I’ve ever loved anything else. Stringing a plot or sentence together and being able to say “Yes, I created that, and wow is it good,” is empowering. I have a history of being shy about my work, but it’s slowly getting better (thank my husband for that one, which I’ll probably do in detail in another post): I can share things with people, have them like it, and actually believe it when they say so. All I’ve ever really wanted with my writing was to be able to share things with people that get as excited about them as I do and maybe even touch some lives along the way.
Again, I’m not naïve and idealistic enough to think that warm and fuzzy feelings are enough to sustain a career or that money doesn’t matter. I’m also not here to offer inspirational messages or encouraging quotes, because I tried to write this post with that frame of mind and it didn’t sound genuine because I’m there right now. But I guess that’s what I’m saying: If you’re here right now, believe me, I’m right there with you, and that’s ok. Do what you need to in order to take care of yourself. The words, ideas, images, or whatever medium you work in will still be there when you come back.
In light of all of this thinking, I realized that I’m stretched a little thin. Effective immediately, I’m downsizing to one post a week (Wednesdays) so that I can focus on what really matters, keep the quality more consistent than it has been, and remember why I was doing this in the first place. Heroes & Villains has hit the submission circuit, but there’s a transman with lycanthropy and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (from two different stories) waiting in the wings wondering when we’re going to get back to work. I owe it to them—and really, to you, if you’ve read this far—to come in fighting fit.