Eating Peaches and Riding Unicorns
So if you read my first post last week, you know that I’m interested in talking about the guts and the glory of being a writer of YA fiction. Hell, being a writer PERIOD!
I am here this week to talk about the guts…the pain…the struggle. The depression.
Feeling dark about my work is nothing new, but last year my struggle got significantly darker.
It wasn’t one thing, like a particular rejection letter or words of criticism from a critique partner or editor; rather, it was an accumulation of not experiences but feelings I’ve been having about myself as a writer and as a person. Feelings that were triggered by benign events. Friends getting book deals. A rejection of my most recent submission by a favorite publisher. Feedback from my agent. A negative review of one of my newly published short stories. These are normal events in the life of a writer. Sure, they aren’t the easiest moments, per say. But usually any of that stuff would roll over me, wouldn’t set me back, or make me hate myself. In fact, I’ve heard other people get really down on themselves about a rejection, and I always thought, rejection isn’t bad or good; it’s eliminating one person who isn’t a match for my work and therefore, just one more step to a “yes”. Not to mention some rejections are constructive and helpful. I never equated rejection with failure.
Until last year.
The following are excerpts from my journal last year:
…Yet another person has gotten a book deal. Heard about it on Twitter….anger, jealousy, feeling of “it’s not fair”…I’ve worked just as hard, I’ve worked longer, I’ve done just as much, if not more! I’m just as good a writer…why? Despite all I have accomplished…despite all the signs pointing to YES…I’m still a NO and those people out there who are yeses….it’s not fair.
…What have I done wrong? What’s wrong with me?
…Maybe I’m not as good as I’ve lead myself to believe.
…Book deal=validation. Failure to get book deal means I’m a failure….
…Whenever I think about my submissions, all kinds of sadness, frustration, and depression…failure. I have failed. I am a failure. What’s the point?
…Every time I rewrite something for my current manuscript, I feel I’m making it worse. I’m worried I’m going down the rabbit hole.
…With each day that passes and I don’t get a response…I feel worse and worse.
What was starting to happen was that every “no” or “not yet” I heard about my work, no matter if it was from a critique from another writer buddy, my agent, or a flat out “no” from a publisher, I began to internalize the “no” and “not yet” to be about me. And not just about me as a writer, but me as a person. And, the victories of other writers began to feel like rejections of me. Even though I’ve always ascribed to the adage another person’s success is not an indication of my failure, it was almost as if I interpreted events to be evidence that I was a complete and utter failure.
I started to feel stupid. Like, who am I to ever think that I could “make it”? And, how did I ever delude myself into thinking I was good enough?
So you can imagine that at one point, the bough broke. The cradle fell and down came Hannah. With a crash.
What I would like to tell you about is how I’ve come out of the darkness. And it wasn’t one great epiphany or moment out on a unicorn eating peaches. Hells-to-the-no. It was work. Yes. Did you know that not being depressed is the result of hard work? It isn’t the result of a pill you pop or one particular session with a therapist or healer. It is the result of months and months of hard, hard work that really never stops but eventually becomes your new normal.
I could bore you with my self-care routine…because it is REALLY boring. So I will skip that. I will get to the part that might actually be useful to you because now that I’ve come out of the closet about my bout with depression, I have discovered that being depressed is more than common, it is, specifically, very common with writers. Besides the obvious “we’re so isolated” is the less obvious, “no matter how thick your skin is, it’s hard not to take rejection personally when the rejection has been happening for over 10 years.”
Truth–rejection doesn’t get any easier over time. You have to work at NOT taking it personally.
For me, I used to hold on to the “some day”. What I mean is that after the first set of rejections for my first book in my early twenties, I had this thought I held on to, which was, “Oh, I’ve just started. There’s so much time. It’s going to happen. I just have to be patient.” By year 10, in my early to mid-thirties, the fabric of “it’s going to happen” started to wear. By year 15, the fabric tore in half.
What I did to pull myself out of the gutter of self-loathing was…love myself, rejection, self-pity, and all. Every day. Even when I didn’t want to. This was very hard because, truthfully, I’d come to hate who I was.
The day I started therapy was the day I started to become aware of the way I thought about myself and the way those thoughts made me feel. I completed charts about those thoughts and feelings. I journaled about them. I began to separate myself from them, witness them, look at them. The ones that triggered particular sadness or depression or anxiety, I challenged. With hard core evidence. Take the thought of “I’m stupid”. My therapist actually had me challenge this one and the rules was I had to use facts to support it.
Guess what? I couldn’t find any. Not one.
Another thought he had me challenge was, I am a failure.
Same thing, no evidence.
Now that doesn’t mean I went off on a unicorn (let’s say it together now) eating peaches. Once I gathered evidence to challenge my thoughts, I had to look at the facts.
Fact: I have failed to get a book deal…for now.
Fact: I am not where I thought I would be as an author.
Fact: None of those things make me stupid or a failure.