…was me having a mental breakdown about two years ago. Why? Because among all the things I had to admit to myself while recovering, one of them was that writing made me miserable.
Which is no surprise since writing can be a seething snake pit of neuroses. If you’re not careful, it turns into an eternal battle of ego fighting with insecurity inside a locked cage. Feeling like your work deserves more reviews or comments than it gets. The gnawing doubt over whether you’ll ever “make it” as a writer, whatever “making it” means to you. The bitterness of believing a bestselling novel isn’t nearly as good as yours, and you deserve to wallow in mounds of cash, not that author.
Really, most writers are hateful little shrews. God knows I was. And it’s only compounded by the weird suffering fetish instilled by traditions like writing 50,000 words in one month just to say that you can write 50,000 words in one month. Most people can’t do that easily. Some can, of course, and have damn good results. But for most, it’s a struggle. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? The perverse pride in writing being a hard thing to do. You suffer for your art. Those fucking Puritans have nothing on you. You’re a goddamn warrior for getting those words out on the page and you deserve to be recognized for it. Reviews! Royalties! An army of fans ready to sing praises of your genius!
And then when you do everything that you’re supposed to, whether it’s dutifully following the advice of “marketing experts” or setting up a giveaway or spending a stupid amount of time networking on social media, and you still find yourself stuck as an unknown author with no sales… well. You begin asking yourself hard questions. And by you, I mean me. I asked myself hard questions.
Were there any signs that I would succeed at a career in writing with the way I was currently doing things? No, there weren’t.
Did I write the kind of stories that would ever appeal to a wide audience? No, I didn’t.
Should I try modifying my ideas into something more marketable?
And I made the worst fucking choice possible and did. Look, I may write cheesy paranormal romance and filthy werewolf erotica, but I have goddamn standards. I’m far from the weirdest writer out there, but none of my stories have been easy fits, and cutting them away to match genre norms was flat-out stupid on my part. Writing became even more of a miserable experience, and eventually I choked on self-loathing and wondered whether to give up entirely.
Now, that’s not what led to my breakdown. A lot of things did, all of them having festered for years before finally becoming too much to ignore. But writing was certainly a part of it, and certainly something I had to look at once I decided I was going to clear the rubble and rebuild myself. More hard questions needed to be asked. What’s my reason for writing? How sad would I be if I stopped? How happy?
It’s not like I ever had an epiphany. Over time, in bits and pieces, I realized that my bitterness was my own fault, because I was looking at others too much. I’d wanted to use writing as a way to gain things, and that’s the surest fucking way to disappointment because I am not entitled to anything just for being a writer. Not readers. Not praise. Not a steady income. And I needed to be okay with this if I wanted to find happiness in writing.
Eventually, I learned how to be.
Please don’t think it was easy to reach this point. I was a fucking brat for the first year, kicking and screaming my way towards change. If it hadn’t been for the patience of dear friends and my ever-steadfast gentleman lover, I’d still be a sullen lump grunting dismissively whenever someone reached out to me. It was slow, hard change, of the type where you trudge in gloom and you still don’t see the point in all this because it’s just as bad as the gloom you were used to.
But the only way out of something is through it, and two years later, I write stories that ooze from the muck of my heart, and that makes me happy. I pull out inner truths and I weave them into bristling, raw stories and I laugh at the absurdity of conducting self-therapy through werewolf smut. My writing is stronger than before. It’s bolder, more confident. It has something to say beyond, “Please buy me.”
Dear friend K.S. Villoso, one of those who saw me through my struggles, likened it to a phoenix rising from the ashes. She’s an epic fantasy writer, so she knows how to say these things and make them work. (She also has really good thoughts about writing and you should be reading her blog.) I will just say that it’s fantastic to no longer take myself seriously as a writer. It’s fantastic to have fun peddling work and knowing that while I’ll probably never gain a wide audience, the readers who do find me will get a good fucking story to read.
That’s no small thing.