Okay. Last week, we talked a little about the depression I’ve been battling for a couple of months. Not a new thing for me, not the worst fight I’ve faced with it, but a seriously shit situation for a person to be in. We talked about some of the things that I, personally, have been doing to fight back, and I said we’d talk a bit about how I’m climbing out of the pit.
I made it clear that I think it’s important to talk about this stuff. If it’s in the dark, it feels shameful. And the stigma re: mental health issues is stupid. So we’re talking. I also made it clear that anything I say about my approach to feeling better is my approach, and is not intended to be advice. My hope is that sharing my experiences will help someone else feel okay about doing what he/she needs to do to get help and feel better.
So, self-therapy… sort of.
I don’t have a psychiatrist here in town. I don’t have a psychologist or a therapist. But I do have a brain that knows how to be curious if I can catch its attention, and I remember how to ask questions. So a few weeks ago when I had the energy and a little break from the mental fog that I constantly find myself lost in, I sat myself down and asked hard questions.*
Step one was to name what I was feeling beyond depressed. Low and flat were a good place to start. So was anxious. But guys, I’m a writer. I knew I could do better than that. So defeated followed them onto the list. Overwhelmed. Pressured. Afraid. Ashamed. Not good enough.
Okay. But I can’t argue with feelings. I can’t just “be positive” to counteract the negative. I needed to dig deeper, to find the thoughts that were leading to those feelings. Those I can argue with. (BTW, I learned this while getting outpatient therapy during rounds one and two with depression. I highly recommend professional medical help. And I think they should teach this stuff in school).
It took me five pages (double-sided) of asking myself questions, each one digging deeper into the answer to the last, to get to the bottom of things. And it all came back to one issue.
My work as a writer.
Oof. That was tough for me, because writing is one of my top weapons in my everyday fight against depression. I feel good when I’m using my imagination, working through story problems, getting to know characters. But I couldn’t deny that the business side of writing (the publishing schedule, the pressure to get the next thing out, the very helpful advice at every turn on How To Be A Successful Indie Author, the numbers, the sales, the marketing)… those things were wearing me down. Enough so that when a trigger came in the form of a drug that screwed with my brain chemistry, I couldn’t pull out of that nosedive.
Chemistry, thought patterns, habits, attitudes… it all matters.
What I realized is that I’ve been feeling like I should follow a path that isn’t meant for me. I’ve been comparing myself to people who aren’t chasing the goals that I am, who have different opportunities and needs in their lives. I’ve known it felt wrong for me, but never questioned the assumption that I should want what’s held up as the ideal in this career. I was applying other people’s standards of success to my own journey, and I was falling short.
And it was seriously stressing me out.
^ That answer there is the rope I’ve been using to pull myself out of the pit. I’m adjusting my thoughts and my attitudes to point me toward daylight instead of deeper into the dark.
I’m working on figuring out what my journey should entail, and it’s not what I’ve been told success looks like. It’s not chasing sales and bestsellerdom. It’s not doing whatever it takes to get 20,000 newsletter subscribers. It’s not churning out a book a month and trying to be the #1 ranked author on Amazon. It’s not working 12 hours a day and neglecting my family so I can maintain my momentum.
Those might be wonderful choices for other people who have different goals. They’re not for me. I can’t do those things and maintain my mental health or be happy with the work I still rely on to keep me level.
While I’m still working out what is for me, it looks a lot more like this: Balance between home and work, even if that means I can’t produce books at a rate that’s considered effective for an indie author. It looks like my books getting as much time and work as they need to be the best they can be, not just good enough to publish and move on to the next thing. It’s fewer books than I’m technically capable of shooting out, but better ones than I’d create at top speed. Writing the stories that I want to read, not writing in a genre because it sells a lot of books. Leaving room in my schedule for opportunities that pop up, but choosing to say “yes” based on whether they further my creative goals rather than whether they might boost sales.
This is all scarier than it might look. Everything I read about being a successful author talks about tracking effectiveness of Facebook ads, A/B testing, giving away Kindles to get people onto your mailing list regardless of whether they want to read your books, blogging with a focus on SEO, figuring out Amazon’s algorithms, targeting popular genres, writing for the market.
And I’m turning my back on those things with the understanding that while they might be very good for other authors, they’re not good for me.
I have to define success on my own terms, but I still have to make a living while I do it. It’s a scary tightrope to be standing on.
Now that I’m aware of that problem, I can spot the negative thoughts when they creep in, and I can answer them. Not with anger. I don’t need to be mad at any part of myself right now. But with reason and gentle reminders.
Other authors sell more books than me.
Other authors write in genres that sell more books, or have larger backlists, or are more marketing oriented (which is not even a little difficult). Sales are not a measure of quality, and they’re not how I’m measuring my success. Even if they were, I do very well, all things considered.
You have to put out a book every few months, or readers will forget about you.
It’s true that frequent releases help an author’s work stay visible on Amazon. There’s no getting around the fact that I lose momentum between books. But readers didn’t forget about me during the 8 months between Bound and Torn, or the 9 months between Torn and Sworn. Traditionally published authors who produce solid, well-crafted work might go a year between releases and not be forgotten. Give readers a little credit. They’ll remember quality.
Other authors spend way less on editing.
Other authors aren’t writing my books, and aren’t necessarily writing for the same audience. My first audience is me, and I require that this work be done to the highest possible standard before I’m satisfied. Other authors and their approaches aren’t my business. My books and my readers are.
You could be writing right now.
I could. But I choose to do homework with the kids and walk the dog because having a life outside of work makes me a better writer and a healthier me, even when my obsessive mind wants to be working all the time. I do better work when my brain gets a break. And my family needs me.
Get the idea? It’s a constant struggle. Honestly, sometimes I don’t have the energy to stay on top of it. Negativity and comparisons are easy, just like junk food is easier than roasting a chicken and putting a salad together. But I’m trying. I’m fighting.
And I’m changing my attitudes, and pulling myself out of the pit a little at a time.
INTERESTING NOTE: After I’d figured all of this out and after I’d drafted this post, I listened to Self-Publishing Podcast episode 198, The Future of Publishing. At about 30 minutes in, they started talking about EXACTLY what I’d decided for myself: a focus on quality, competing on that instead of price, writing with the goal of producing work that will still hold up in ten or twenty years rather than whatever is selling this week. They even used the analogy I’d come up with for myself (the coffee one, if you’re listening), right down to the “there’s nothing wrong with cheap coffee, but it’s not what I’m working on” angle. It’s interesting, and worth a listen. And it was a really cool kind of confirmation that I’m not alone, and maybe I’m not crazy here.
*See, depression is a weird illness. It’s physical, a chemical imbalance that I inherited from one of my parents. But just like heart disease is both hereditary and affected by lifestyle choices, so is depression. Instead of watching my diet,** I have to examine what I’m feeding my brain: what I’m paying attention to, what attitudes and ideas I’m ruminating on that are turning my brain into a ticking time bomb.
And judging my the difficulty I was having dragging myself out of the pit after I got off of those pills, I guessed that I’d let my diet go bad. I just didn’t know exactly where.
**Okay, so I have to watch that as well