I've been pretty open about my whole mental breakdown surrounding publishing. It's crazy to think it's been four years since then, and even crazier to realize that I'm still digging myself out of that hole in a lot of aspects. But I've come a long way, and I'm definitely in a really good mental space right now, all things considered. There's just this one thing that I'm still struggling with:
I can't read books without feeling like a terrible author, without thinking every book is better than mine, without having significant anxiety attacks about how insufficient I am. It doesn't matter the book. This is true for my friends' novels, for bestsellers, for indies, for debuts across genres and age groups.
It's really annoying.
I actually remember the exact moment this became an issue for me. It was the summer of 2011, and I was at a writer's retreat with a bunch of friends. We'd done this retreat two years prior, and in 2009 we had these story times where we'd read from our WIPs for fun. It was my favorite part in 2009…in 2011, something changed.
I don't know what it was. I mean, in 2011 I had sold my first two novels. I was going to be a published author like I had dreamed about for so long. I was recovering from the intense panic attacks of fall 2010 pretty well. Or so I thought.
But as we began story time, as I listened to my closest friends read their awesome stories…I grew horribly self-conscious. To the point that I really didn't want to read my WIP at all. Awful thoughts blossomed in my head: "Your stories aren't that good. Their stories are all better than yours. Why are you even getting published? You suck in comparison to your friends and now everyone will be able to read your book and know that. Your friends must pity you and aren't telling you how much lower and suckier you are. You're really pathetic."
My head is not a nice place to be sometimes. Lots of the time, I guess. Thank you, social anxiety.
I bought into these negative thoughts at the time, though I didn't realize it then. I let them sink in deep—I know this because three years later I STILL feel like that whenever I pick up a book to read. First, I started avoiding the books everyone said were amazing, because I knew I would be crippled in my writing for weeks if I read them (which I couldn't afford when I was on deadline). Then it spread to books by my favorite authors. While I knew I'd love them, I also knew they'd make me feel completely lacking. So I stopped reading those. After that I started to avoid almost everything—debuts, books people criticized, indies, out of genre—I would just get so worked up and full of anxiety it wasn't worth it.
It got so bad I had to stop critting for many of my friends, because I would read their work and cry and panic because it was just so good and I would never measure up. Then I began to worry that they would HATE ME for not critting for them when they always helped me so much. So now I'm in this horrible cycle of having anxiety over books to the point I can't read, but then also having anxiety about people finding out I'm an author who can't read and also worrying my friends will hate me… *sigh*
This whole not-reading-because-it-hurts thing has been like my dirty little secret. I suppose I'm writing about it today because usually the first step to healing is acknowledging a problem. So here I am. Acknowledging.
I feel like this is one of my last hurdles in my long road to getting better. My heart is racing just typing this, just thinking about trying to fix it. But I miss books. I miss being able to enjoy reading—or at least not feeling like I suck when I read other authors' books. I miss the worlds of my favorite authors, where I used to find comfort but have now avoided because of my own insecurities.
I don't really know how to fix this weird problem of mine. But more and more I am getting the feeling there's only one way: To READ. To read until I don't feel like that anymore. To face the books I know I will love but will also make me feel like I shouldn't be writing.
It's ridiculous how scared I am.
But I'm going to try. I'm starting this weekend with a HUGE book from an author I practically idolize. I'm afraid I will never write again after because I'll be a puddle of "why do I suck so much?" But I'm going to do it anyway. Because I can't keep going like this, avoiding my fears.
Wish me luck.