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.
If you build it, they will come. That’s been my motto over the past 10 plus years as an author of young adult fiction. When I couldn’t find a publisher for my first book, My Sister’s Wedding, I did it myself and promptly won a pretty sweet award that led me to my first agent. When I graduated from the Solstice Program and couldn’t find someone to publish my collection of short stories, I created Sucker Literary, and BAM, landed in Publishers Weekly. Cool. Very Cool.
But it has not been peaches and unicorns. (I will discuss this further in my first official post as the founder and regular contributor to this blog next week or so).
So how and why did I create All The Way? I was feeling really depressed a few months back (okay…REALLY depressed. Read more about that here), and I started to feel the itch of needing something more for my writing. Not so much needing more regarding my craft but more regarding my writer’s soul. I carried inside a feeling of not being heard. A feeling of not saying what I needed to. A feeling of “am I truly alone in this feeling?”
So I reached out to my sister in writing, Kacey. We talked….and talked…and then I realized what I wanted and needed. A group of people, brothers and sisters, who were going through the Artist’s Crisis and who wanted to TALK ABOUT it!
Therefore, I created All The Way YA. The place to share the experiences and emotions writers may talk to each other about but hesitate to write about (publicly).
I want this blog to “talk shop” about what we do and what we go through as writers and authors…I think of the “all the way” to mean that we bloggers on this blog will go all the way to share with you our experiences, advice, stories about the realities of having an agent and not having an agent but having a book deal or having an agent and no book deal. The realities of almost “making it” so many times but ultimately failing, over and over. The truth about the solitary confinement of working on your Masterpiece. The truth about getting a book deal FINALLY but realizing that there is still a mountain to climb. All the different scenarios that can occur on the road to “making it” as an author, including defining “making it”.
The YA aspect of our blog really is more because that is where I started, that’s the bulk of my work, though I’ve begun to branch out to New Adult and Middle Grade. Also, authors of YA fiction are generous with their support for one another, and quite frankly, I need more and more of that in my life.
Let’s talk about the emotional turmoil and torture… and the peaches and unicorns.
Why This Blog? (Please “like” us on Facebook.)
Sometimes it seems like all we hear about as writers are the successes. “Hey, I got an agent!” or maybe “Hey, I got a book deal!” I love reading about other author’s successes–it spurs me on and makes me want to work harder. The challenge though, is that writing is, for the most part, a solitary art. So when all you read about are other people’s successes and you’re still plugging away…well you get the idea. I think it’s important that, as writers, we recognize that we’ve chosen a difficult path. Heck, we chosen to ride on a rode with a million and one potholes (that’s the state flower here in Pennsylvania, by the way). Still, there’s value in knowing you’re not alone. That’s why I’m here.
I’ve been fortunate to have met some a-m-a-z-i-n-g members of the writer community and learned a ton as a result. It’s time to pay that forward.
More About Me
Where am I in my writing career…
- I have five publications released as part of The Star Child series.
- I am waiting to hear from agents and editors on a YA Magical Realism that I’m querying, set here in Pittsburgh.
- I’m in the process of editing one YA manuscript, a Middle Grade Sci-fi manuscript, and a YA novella.
- I’m co-writing a New Adult manuscript with local writer Melissa Englesberg and having a blast.
Follow me on twitter at @StephanieKeyes