Everyone's mind is on the New Year, on the new hopes and plans we love to make this time of year. I admit I love it, and I don't care if half the goals I make go unaccomplished. Having this time to review where I am, where I've been, and where I want to go it always exciting to me. A fresh start. A new thing to tackle.
But this New Year I have been in a state of deep reflection on 2015, even on the years before. The future is quite blank with plans for me for once. Maybe this is what happens as you age. Maybe it's just another way my life is forcing me to slow down.
You see, I spent much of 2015 sick. The first six months were not only plagued by one of my worst depression periods in a long time, but I also got shingles (super painful, don't recommend it). I spent the summer adjusting to new medications and worked very hard to be gentle with myself while I recovered. Just as my mental health was finally getting to a strong enough place that I could write again, I began getting strep throat. It doesn't sound so bad—we've all had it—but, let me tell you, having it every month for now four months is horrible. And it has completely killed any hope of productivity, and also my health in general. I'm so weak. So tired. So frustrated that I can't do anything without coming home spent and sick.
So this is my voice of warning here.
This year of sickness and struggle and almost no writing? It started long before 2015 was even a thought in my mind. Really it started in 2011, when I sold my first two novels to HarperTeen. That was so wonderful and exciting, but it also came with pressure. With stress. My goals shifted from just "selling a book." Now I wanted to succeed at being a writer, not just publish a book. I wanted my books to be well known, not just on a shelf. I hoped for lists and awards and tours like all debuts do.
None of that stuff really happened. But I kept trying to make it happen. I rolled up my sleeves and got out the elbow grease. More books. As many events as would take me. Paying for my own tour with a friend. Being on countless failed subs. Indie publishing in the meantime. Promoting. Tweeting. Whatever. I tried very hard to become important and to keep believing I was.
I failed on both accounts.
And this year has not just brought the acceptance of that (which I'm immensely grateful for), but the consequences for driving myself into the ground during my debut and the year after. I'm paying the piper, so to speak, for borrowing from my future health to survive the overloaded plate I gave myself for much of 2011-2014.
What do I have to show for my blitz of work? I have 8 novels, which I'm proud of. But that's about it. No mountain of money (or even a modest stack). No awards. No conferences asking me to come back. Effectively, I've been forgotten by the industry for the most part. This isn't all that bad—a lot less stressfull—but it's not where I expected to be or where all my lofty goals were supposed to take me.
It's funny, how you can accomplish all your goals…and yet not have any of the expected results.
Because I accomplished SO MUCH. Who publishes 8 novels within 2 years of their debut? Not many people. I'm proud of that, regardless of continued lack of "success" in a worldly measure. I've learned a lot and I love what I write, though at times I've been super depressed about how few people seem to share my affection for my writing.
But sometimes it's hard to feel proud when you're lying in bed with stress-induced shingles wishing the pain would go away. And it's hard to feel like you did the right thing when you're so depressed and anxious you can't even stand to read or write for months on end. And it's hard to feel like you'll ever do anything of note when you can't swallow or keep your head up long enough to write even when you want to. I've wondered a lot this last year why I've killed myself over publishing. Why I'm now paying for it with my own health. I don't have answers. I'm not sure I ever will.
Lots of writers have health problems. Often from stress. So I guess I'm just saying be careful out there. It's easy to be like "Oh, I can handle all this it'll be fine." And it's super easy to be all "I'll sleep later and I'll deal with that later and I'll put everything aside for this deadline and it'll be fine."
But you're gonna pay for it.
I'm sorry, but you will. In one way or another, that stress will compound and you will break. We aren't superhuman, despite writing about character who may defy all odds.
Maybe you don't even think you're running that hard. Maybe you think you're handling it all fine. But stress and publishing are sneaky like that. And all the writers around you are in the same boat. So it can feel like this is normal and everyone else is getting on just fine.
Then an author might disappear for awhile, and no one notices she or he is gone for a year or more. They don't know why, but you'd be shocked how often it is health or breakdown related. Then one day it'll be one of your own writer friends, or maybe even you. And it'll be jarring and scary and you might not even know what to do.
So this is what you do: You slow the hell down. You might even stop writing and it actually feels amazing not to write. You get your shit together, slowly but surely. And you vow never to kill yourself over this business again.
That's my goal for 2016, I suppose. Don't bend over backwards for publishing. It's just not worth snapping in two and putting yourself back together over and over again. I never would have thought so before I sold that first book—when I was happy to bend and contort myself to fit in any box they demanded I be in—but that's what I've learned this year.
No more sprinting life marathons for me. Peaceful strolls from here on out.