Monday, February 21, 2011

Dealing With The Demons

There have been a few posts around blogland talking about jealousy and such lately, and I must admit I appreciate it. You know me—honesty fan. The Rejectionist's post in particular made me stand up and cry "Amen!" a few times (language warning if that bothers you).

These feelings of jealousy, frustration, self-doubt, resentment, etc. are more part of the journey than many of us like to admit. Heck, I don't like telling people I can be petty at times, but the fact is it happens. It happens to everyone.

There are books I have icky feelings towards, not because of the actual story but because of my own personal demons. That's what sucks about knowing more about publishing—knowing the stories behind books. As a writer who has spent a lot of time on sub without selling, I can't tell you how hard it is to see certain books coming out: books that got agents, deals, covers, and are now hitting shelves all within the time I've been on sub.

It shouldn't hurt—I feel monumentally stupid for letting it get to me—but sometimes it makes me think I'm a huge failure.

And every time I hear a "I just got an agent and my book sold in a week!" story I basically want to rip my hair out. And sometimes I can't bear to click on another link to a cover reveal. And sometimes I rage over some random person's starred review—a person who I am certain is very nice and talented but that's why I'm so mad because WHY CAN'T IT BE ME FOR ONCE I AM NICE AND TALENTED TOO?

The most annoying is when I'm STILL all ooky feeling inside over writers I know have hard journeys—harder journeys than me. Sure, they got that one-week deal, but before that they toiled for years and years with nothing. They lost books to submission. They wondered if it would ever happen. They struggled just like I do. Why does that not compute? Seriously, why won't my emotions acknowledge that even when logically I can recognize it? Gah.

So yes, we feel it. We even know it's stupid to feel it, which is why I want to take this to a happier place today—how to deal with these feelings. Because the important thing is not that you feel it, but how you deal with it.

I spent a lot of time last year dealing with the demons. Sometimes I was more successful in fighting them than others, but I learned a lot about my own issues and how to minimize their impact.

1. Identify Your Triggers
When you're not feeling great about your writing or situation, there are usually things that can make it worse. For example, at times Twitter can make me fall into a death spiral within minutes if I'm feeling sorry for myself. Also, editing can make me feel horrible about my writing. And for some reason, cover reveals get me down sometimes.

So figure out what makes the demons come out for you. It's different for everyone. Some people kill themselves over first drafting. Others can't read books when they're down. So once you identify your triggers, it's simple:

2. Avoid The Triggers
You have to avoid your triggers when you can. Last year, I couldn't avoid editing, and it took a serious toll on me. Instead, I had to turn off most everything else.

I stopped reading a lot of blogs. I stopped trolling Twitter. I got rid of my Facebook account entirely. I had to—there were just too many ways to trigger my demons. I didn't go completely dark, obviously, but there were days I knew I shouldn't even open my computer. The absolute dumbest things could make me feel like crap, and I hated that I was at one point so fragile.

I also didn't do a lot of reading last year, mostly because I knew I was taking my ugly feelings to books that didn't deserve it. You know what I'm talking about—the book that got a huge deal and everyone is buzzing about, or the one up for awards, or the one some big time author raved about on their blog/vlog/etc. If you have bitter feelings towards a book, I highly recommend holding off on reading. Every time I've read one of those books with bad feelings, I don't enjoy it because I'm purposely looking for its flaws, which is so not fair OR enjoyable. Now, I wait until those feelings are gone before I read.

Gosh, at one point I even stopped going to writing events—conferences, signings, outings with writer friends. I was such a mess that everything just seemed too hard to face.

It's okay to avoid stuff. Your wellbeing is more important than knowing every piece of publishing news, finishing that edit, writing that new book, reading everything ever printed, etc.

3. Do Stuff That Makes You Happy
When I suffer from the demons, that happy stuff is usually NOT writing related. I played a lot of World of Warcraft. I watched hours of anime. I did yoga. I went for long walks. I cooked. I slept. I lived my life outside of writing, and it honestly made me happier than I would have been. Did it fix everything? No. But it helped a lot.

I think sometimes we forget that our lives outside writing are pretty wonderful. For me, focusing on what I have, rather than what I want, helps stave off the demons more than anything. My life is already great.

4. Talk It Out
Strangely enough, the one thing I needed from my writing life was my friends. Writers are the only ones who can really understand the struggle, and talking about my issues with friends played a big part in keeping me sane. There is nothing like a well-placed "I understand" to make everything seem bearable.

Essentially, all of this boils down to:

5. Acknowledge And Move On
There's a big difference between bottling up your feelings and not letting them rule your life. Bottling? Not good. That lets them build up and get worse. If you start feeling like crap, acknowledge it, identify why, recognize that your feelings are valid and yet may be false at the same time, and then work to overcome them through positive means.

I wish you all a victorious battle with your demons. If you need extra weapons, I have like a full armory. *hands out nunchucks*


  1. Wow - this is so what I needed to read today, thanks for the fantastic post, Natalie! I'm dealing with the editing demon right now and am convinced I am the worst writer ever. It's so reassuring to know that other writers feel this too - sometimes you feel like you're the only one with these negative feelings.

    I think I'll go log into my Worgen and kill some Naga, that always makes me feel better :) Then I can tackle those adverbs!

  2. I not only love your honesty, but I appreciate it. Thank you.

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  4. Ok, I'll follow your advice for those who have struggled. But I will continue to dislike those who "know someone" and never even write a query letter! You can't make me give up that hostility.

  5. It's so hard to stop yourself from thinking, "How did THIS get published and I can't?"

    At least you've cleared the all-important first hurdle of getting an agent. I'm nowhere near the finish line on that one. Still hoping we all see each other on the other side of the wall some day!

  6. I love your honesty in this post. This is all part of being human, isn't it? The emotion is an honest response and there's nothing wrong with it, but it's what we do with that emotion that matters. Thank you for outlining your strategy to deal with the darker side we all have. I think you've hit on some great points here and we'd be wise to really consider your suggestions.

  7. I think this something all writers deal with from time to time. I know I do...more than I'd care to admit. Hugs

  8. You're not alone! Love the entire post, but I can relate to the part about forgetting to enjoy your life outside of writing the most. I've recently started querying and that's all I can think about, when, really, I should be doing other things to keep my mind off the rejections and the frustration of waiting. Then I read all these great success stories on Query Tracker and the successful ones are all like, "Oh, persist on! It'll happen for you, too! That perfect agent is right around the corner!" But then I can't help but think that can't possibly be true for everyone, because then EVERYONE who writes a book would find an agent. What if I'm that one who never does?

    You said it best: sometimes we need to take a break to focus on what we HAVE instead of focusing so heavily on what we WANT--or we'll go crazy. Our dreams are important to us, but ultimately our well-being (and that of our loved ones) should take priority above all else.

  9. I've never tried warcraft, but video games definitely give me a bit of a break from it all. Sometimes just plain necessary!

    Great post. :)

  10. Good coping tips, and necessary, because let's be honest: everyone feels it. This person got an agent. Or a deal. Or a multi-book deal. And I am still sitting here staring at my word doc. ARGH.

    Seriously, so many ways writing can make you less than human. I started writing to stay sane, and now I've got coping strategies so writing doesn't make me crazy. Maybe I should rethink my decision making process...

  11. You're just being real - you wouldn't be human if you didn't feel these emotions. Seeing others achieve what you also want has never been easy. Keep the faith - though I know from my own experience how hard it is!

  12. This was a great honest blog post, and I really appreciate it. It makes me feel better about acknowledging my own demons!

    On a completely different note, I think you're my husband's dream girl. He has an ongoing sad that I won't play World of Warcraft with him. :)

  13. Thanks for this post. I need to do more of the stuff that makes me happy.

    I've had a decade of frustration that seems only to grow with each year. I'm wound tighter than a banjo string — and that's when I'm having a good day.

    This past week I discovered a series called "The Books of Elsewhere," the first of which was published in 2010. The story contains most of the same elements of my book (11-year-old female protagonist, science genius, strange/odd house, portal to other worlds, mystery to solve, trio of talking cats, etc.). Unbelievable, eh? What are the odds?

    I self-published my story in 2009, but this author got a traditional publisher first - so she wins - and now I have to start from scratch with a whole new story and characters.

    That's hard since I've been working on this story since 2000.

    I know a publisher is NOT going to invest money to publish a book that has "essentially" already been published. Been there, done that. I couldn't blame them. Why would they even bother?

    What this means for me is scrapping my characters and their world, then starting over. That's the tough part. These kids have lived in my head since I first conceived of them in the mid-90s. They are quite real to me, although no one else really knows who they are. Now, I have to turn my back on them. Sad, sad times.

    Yep, I need to do some happy stuff for a while.


  14. Acknowledge and move on is always the best. You can't ignore it so just deal with it and move on :) And hey if they screw you around too long you could always self-publish :)

    The Arrival, only .99c on Amazon

  15. Another great post.

    I've decided I need to make a sign to stick on my monitor that says, "Stop whining. Keep writing."


  16. I've often been tempted to write a post called Your Good News Is Depressing Me. It's true that it's hard to follow writers who seem to post success after success. I know it's not all happy all the time for them either, but that's not what it looks like. They don't talk about the tough stuff. We at least are still at a stage where it's okay (more or less) to talk about what hurts in this industry. Thanks for putting the truth out there.

  17. Maybe it's because I'm older or because I'm at a different point in my writing journey, but my demons are different from yours. I tend to struggle against myself. I can appreciate where you're coming from though and your strategies for coping can apply to my demons as well. Thanks for the good advice. I think of you often and wish there were something I could do to help. If you can think of anything, let me know.

  18. My demons definitely come with comparing myself to other writers, whether published or unpublished. Mostly, it comes with me always struggling to finish a first draft and then wondering how anyone can write more than one first draft in a year. I know every writer is different but I realize that sometimes, that's where my jealousy comes from--feeling inadequate and that I'm not a true writer because I can't make myself get a silly draft done.

    Of course I know that's silly, but I think that's where my demons come from right now. Most of the time I'm OK, but then some days, the jealousy and feeling of inadequacy rears its ugly head.

    Thanks for posting about this--it's definitley something many of us writers struggle with. But we are human so it's expected...unfortunately :P

  19. Thanks for that. The coping advice was great. And I'll definitely use it. But I especially appreciate knowing that I'm not alone in the ugly jealousy club.

  20. You know, Natalie, when your day comes, (and I am POSITIVE it will) I will be jumping for joy as high as anyone. I have been reading your blog for years (although I don't always comment because of that whole "time" thing) and your honesty and tenacious refusal to give up are inspiring.

    It is hard not to get jealous from time to time....and it is foolish to kid ourselves into thinking that WE never do. Yeah. WE ALL DO.

    What is my biggest demon? Huge inadequacy issues.

    Take care and keep plugging away. I am rooting for you.


  21. Thank you for this honest post.

    Envy is something that hits all of us. It creeps up on me too - and I'm faaaaaar from submission.

    But I somehow manage to remind myself that the only story that matters is mine. My time will come when it comes.

    On the other hand. I'm sure it gets harder once you submitted.

    Either way. I hope that your dreams come true soon.



  22. I recently deleted my entire Twitter account to assist with my own personal sanity. Sometimes I miss chatting with people, but overall I feel SO much better this way...

    Love this post. Thank you.

  23. I was about to suggest yoga and then I read that you already practice. Yay!

    My trigger is when well-meaning friends ask if I have an agent yet. That makes me all mopey and sad. So I've decided that I'm not going to discuss my writing or its progress/non-progress until the day I can say someone is gonna publish the damned thing. That way, no triggers for me.

    I always have the writing, which makes me ridiculously happy some days, and that's a great hobby to have. I really mean that.

  24. Thanks for your honesty, Natalie! I appreciate your post and the Rejectionist's. I once blogged about this and basically the only response I got was, "No, I never have that problem." :\

    It's good to know that not only am I not the only one, but I can try to do something about it.

  25. Now that's exactly the post I needed to read on a return-to-ice-and-cold gray Monday morning!!

    Thanks for your honesty, which added a needed dose of sunshine to the day!

  26. This really was a great post. Envy is one of the worst things ever. I hate it when I start getting envious, especially because my triggers are so small and commonplace. :/ I've been working on it, and it's getting easier to deal with the demons. Or, easier to ignore their deadly whispers.

    I know you'll succeed soon! You'll be published and it'll be amazing.

  27. I really like #5. I believe it's so important to acknowledge and allow yourself to have feelings. We are all human and those feelings are going to happen, so sometimes you just have to let them. I think they pass faster that way and we can move on more quickly than when we try to stop them all together.

  28. Excellent post, Natalie!

    Thank you.

  29. Such a great post, Natalie! And one I needed to hear.

    I try to be really positive and supportive about the whole publishing thing (which is hard because I'm naturally inclined to cynicism)but sometimes it is literally impossible to leave that "CONGRATS!!!" comment. Most of the time I'm fine & generally excited for the person, but then there are other days when I turn radioactive with envy. Which is quickly followed by guilt.

    It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one that struggles with this.

  30. Great advice, both yours and The Rejectionist's. I don't find the demons at my door all that often... I think I inherited a sort of "dumb-happy" even emotional keel from my dad... but they still find me sometimes. And I will say that #3 is what helped me the most: living life outside of writing.

    Sometimes people look at my choices (traveling, reading a lot, walking my dog) and say, But couldn't you be using that time to write? Or to keep up on the biz? Why, yes I could! But that would also mean giving up some of my sanity.

    It's important for writers to know that we are not ONLY writers. We are people too, with a full set of needs just like anyone else. Thanks for the reminder that it's okay. :)

  31. Great post Natalie, and one I definitely needed to read today <-- me in slump!

    It's good to know I'm not alone!! And I can't wait to celebrate with you when your book does sell.

  32. I believe the source of these feelings are the direct result of the internet and social networking. People know every move someone makes. Most people can't resist posting good news and if they get a lot of good news, they talk about it. It's hard for folks to keep it to themselves.

    If they can't let everyone know how "great" they are, there's no fun in it. This is what happens when a society is driven by people comparing themselves to others and determining where they fit on the hierarchy.

    The internet is a great invention, but progress has it's price and the consequences of all this "advancement" is not often considered or spoken of.

    Your time will come and when it does, you'll determine how balanced you'll be able to be in spreading YOUR good news. Will you be able to contain your "exuberance" or will you feel compelled to spill all to make up for your dry spell?

    I wish you well. I'm sure success for you in being a published author is only a matter of time.

  33. Thanks for sharing this and being honest enough to. I have similar feelings sometimes as I'm sure everyone does. And your suggestions are so much better than mine for handling them, which is to consider giving up. Thanks.

  34. This is a classic quote from one of the comments above:

    "I started writing to stay sane, and now I've got coping strategies so writing doesn't make me crazy."

    So true!

  35. It takes a lot of guts to be so openly honest, fair play.

    I've been so very guilty of jealousy so many times, but in a lot of those cases I'd just been horribly lazy about writing and sending queries.

  36. Natalie, by discussing these feelings openly on your blog you are doing a huge thing for writers. We need to believe in the fairytales, but we need to be prepared for when we get the first bit of our fairytale and it stalls.

    I believe the fairytale will happen for you. Thanks for sharing so much of your journey. It's a wonderful thing to do.

  37. This is great, and true for EVERYONE! I also have to stop crawling the net sometimes. For every ounce of joy the internet has brought to my life it has brought a half ounce of depression and self doubt. Oh, and my husband would throw in that it's made our house messier. True dat!

  38. I wish I'd read this before reading Jody Hedlund's post on first novels being garbage. Hers was a great post with some good points, but it just set my demons to raging. Thanks for your honesty and wonderful ideas.

  39. Thanks for this was awesome (and I admit to feeling this way sometimes too). I'm a long time follower of your blog and fellow YA writer on submission (nice to meet you formally!).

    If you like YA, I'm giving away an arc of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT. The book is awesome!

  40. I love this line in particular,
    "It's okay to avoid stuff. Your wellbeing is more important than knowing every piece of publishing news, finishing that edit, writing that new book, reading everything ever printed, etc."
    Thank you!

  41. I'm so far behind on my blog reading, but I still wanted to chime in and say that this is GREAT post. Thank you. <3