It’s been a while since I’ve written a more personal journal entry. I’ve had a lot going on, but the truth is I have had a lot of ideas for new journals. I wanted to write a piece on Midnight Mass. Or Chapelwaite. Or Foundation. Maybe those will happen. I can give you my long-form cold takes on those shows at some point. But the one that has been eating at me the most is a blog about something I didn’t particularly want to write. But I think I should. Mostly because I think it might help other people going through something similar.
This is Very Exciting; I Need to Go Lie Down For A Very Long Time
At the end of October, my first not-published-by-me book, In the Dark of the Grove, came out. This is, of course, an amazing accomplishment. I wrote a book, the fine folks at Gurt Dog Press liked it, and they packaged it and put it out for the world. So, how did I find myself crying, trying to explain to my partner why I was having a mini emotional breakdown?
So, a little background. I do have a history of depression. A virtual buffet of mental health issues runs through my family. And, right after I got out of high school, I went through a major depression. In 2017, I was let go from a job for the first time in my entire career and started having anxiety attacks. A tiny bit wiser than I was when I was going through my depression, I actually sought out a doctor and got some medication.
Flash forward. I have a new job I love. I realized that my last job was a slow-motion exercise in psychological and emotional abuse and losing that job was the best thing that happened to me. Thanks to the meds and some lifestyle changes, I haven’t had an anxiety attack in years. And, I have a new book coming out. That’s when I started to feel the old strains of depression. I felt my heart racing again a couple times. It was so frustrating. Why now, of all times, when things are going so well?
Explaining Through Tears
One of the most annoying things about depression and anxiety is that it often makes no sense. At least, not at first. When I was growing up, I was a big Star Trek fan (I still am) and characters like Spock and Data spoke to me. Because I longed to tame my emotion with logic. I was what was known as “an emotional kid.” At one point, my teacher even wanted to hold me back a year fearing I was not mature enough emotionally. My mom, quite rightly, realized that was bullshit and fought it. But, look, I was sensitive. I wore my heart on my sleeve. I didn’t understand unmotivated unkindness. I was a raw little nerve that hadn’t really learned how to develop an armor. In logic, in the attempt to understand why I was the way I was (and why other people were the way they were) I found a lot of solace. Depression and anxiety can be anti-logical. They are like a child who has a temper tantrum seemingly out of nowhere. In the midst of it, logic isn’t going to get you anywhere.
So, I’m annoyed at myself as I’m crying, a couple months of slowly creeping dread and depression suddenly pouncing on me. To clarify, I’m not annoyed because I’m crying. It’s not something I do a lot of, but I don’t think there’s shame in it. I just hate when it surprises me. Especially when I’m trying to explain why I’m suddenly having this meltdown, in the middle of the meltdown.
The Time Limit of Dreams
So why was I upset? I’m still working through the layers. But I can tell you one of the reasons very clearly: I needed this book to work. I couldn’t handle another creative failure. I couldn’t handle putting another thing out into the world only to have no one pay attention to it. And, frankly, no matter how many tweets there are about all the writers who find success later in life, there’s always this very real sense that time is running out. I mean, just biologically if not from a marketing perspective. It’s very hard to deny that the publishing world doesn’t fetishize youth. I don’t have a Damocles sword over my head. I have a razor-sharp pendulum, attached to a giant clock.
Self-publishing is hard. I tried it a couple times, and it’s just so hard to get anyone to pay attention to you. This time, I’m not self-publishing. But it’s a small publishers, so most of the marketing still falls to me, realistically. I said it in a recent post on my Newsletter, that I’m still learning how to self-promote. I can market for other people all day. In fact, that’s what I do for my day job! But when it’s time for me to market myself, my natural people-pleasing, don’t-want-to-annoy-people self is in full effect. I’m getting better at it. But it’s one thing to make positive changes toward a goal. It’s often hard to forget or re-learn the old ways of thinking that fill one with doubt. In some ways, being a salesperson for myself is running directly against my nature.
Redefining Success, Slowly
So, I’ve been doing some work. I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental reaction to the book release, and all those fears and doubts rearing their ugly heads—a scaly hydra hoping to sink it’s teeth in just as I was so near to such an important milestone. Some of it, as with many things in life, was resolved by time. The book came out. My family and friends have started reading it and have given me genuinely fantastic feedback. I cherish all of this. The word is still out on the general public. We’ll see what happens if/when people outside of that group discover the book. I’ll only know what sales on the book were like every quarter. So I’m in the dark as far as whether sales have been good or bad or in between. Certainly, with a small press book, the measure of success and failure is different than a large publisher. But, part of what I’ve been working on is really defining what success actually means to me.
- Making a living from writing. You know what I realized? I can check this box already. I already make a living from writing (well, in addition to design, illustration, and video-work) in my day job. I work at a job that I find hugely rewarding. So, mission accomplished! Now, okay, the truth is I’d love to make my living from writing fiction full time. Will I get there? Not sure. Writers making a living that way is getting rarer and rarer. So, this is an adjustment I had to make inside. Writing fiction full time—being able to devote my mental energy and time to building worlds and telling stories—that’s the dream. But if it’s only part time, and my full time job is what I’m currently doing… I can live very happily with that already.
- Readers who care. My partner, very sweetly, tried to suggest that I could write purely for my own pleasure. I think I answered this by looking at him as if he’d grown a second head. To me, part of writing is the feedback. When I write, I’m sharing. I’m sharing ideas and thoughts. I’m sharing myself. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like people understood. I want to feel like I’ve entertained people. Maybe even moved them. Or, in the case of In the Dark of the Grove specifically, I want to creep them out!
What Success Is Not:
- Making millions. Look, I’m not going to say I wouldn’t enjoy this, to a certain extent. Although I do think that there’s a limit to how much money you can have and still be happy. Honestly, just being financially secure, paying off my damned student loans, and being able to help out my family would be a success to me. So, it’d be nice if my writing could provide some influx of income so I could have a savings, save for retirement, and travel more. The truth, though, is none of those things are dependent on my writing being a success.
- Fame. This, I have never ever wanted. As much as I want to be seen and heard, I do not want to be famous. This is part of the appeal of being a writer. I’d love for people to know my name but barely have an idea about what I look like.
Thinking about success this way, I’ve gained an appreciation for what I have already, and have appreciated the reactions I’ve gotten to In the Dark of the Grove even more than I would have, I think. I’ve only just begun promoting the book, really. Everything takes longer to get done these days, it seems. But stuff is slowly percolating. So, instead of concentrating on grabbing a brass ring that’s based on an outdated conception of what success as a writer is— one that I’m not necessarily even striving for—I’m trying to forge a new one for myself. One that is still just out of reach, but that still feels accomplishable.
I’ve felt really happy since the book was released. I’ve been enjoying the new short fiction I’ve been putting out via Psychochronograph. While it’s true my audience isn’t huge at the moment, it’s building. And I’ll have a little treasure trove for them to read when they do find me. There are some exciting possibilities coming up, too. I’ve written another book. I’ve got some older books I’m thinking about releasing in a new way, and I’ve got some projects I’m working on that I can’t say much about now.
It’s not that all the doubts and fears and worries aren’t there any more. But this new relationship with success, and this new way of thinking about desire and ambition, is helping. Part of writing this out is to make it more concrete for myself. So that when I’m feeling shaky or unsure I can return to this journal post. I hope you might have found it a little helpful, too.