Friday, January 1, 2016

Paying The Piper

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.


  1. Oh, my friend, you know I'm with you on this, and we sort of broke down one after the other, didn't we? Oy. I have certainly slowed down, and the lovely thing is that I'm not anxious over slowing down. It feels so good to just do what I want and not care much about how things are going to turn out on the writing front. Because I finally realized the most important thing I could have ever learned from any of this: all that really matters is that I enjoy doing what I'm doing. Whether that's writing or cooking or whatever, and that success with any of it is only based on how much I'm enjoying it. Period. Once I realized that, so many other things melted away. I hope this year is a great one for you ... not in the world's measures of success, but in the fact that you truly enjoy what you decide to do.

  2. I hope this year is better for you.

    I had the shingles when I was in grade seven. Mostly I remember the pain.

  3. I absolutely love this! I'm not a serious writer, meaning I refuse to work hard at it because writing causes too much chaos in my life (long story), but I have felt all these pitfalls. Even in other areas of my life I've felt this. Well done.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. I once read in a book about running (I'm a marathoner sometimes), and it said something like, "The hardest thing in the world is for a runner to run her own pace when she knows someone is watching." That's always stuck in my mind as relevant to all aspects of life. I've never been a particularly fast runner, but in this post, I feel that quote come back to me and give me permission to run my pace... Sometimes it seems like I need permission.

  5. Hugs, Natalie.
    We've only met in person once, but you are one of my favorite online voices. You are brave and honest and talented and real. You speak about many of the things that writers hide away, thinking they're all alone.
    I'm sorry you've been so ill and hope you find healing in 2016. Healing, peace, and happiness.

  6. I'm sorry the past year has been such a struggle for you. Thank you for sharing, and for the good advice. I hope your 2016 brings many blessings!

  7. Your story is my story right up to the 8 published books and it all starting with the year you had 2 books out at once -- except that you did in 2 years what I did in 7, and I've struggled with depression and anxiety but not with severe physical illness on top of it as you have. If I feel spent, I can't even imagine how much more exhausted you must be.

    I'm so sorry about the sickness. I hope this year is for you what I hope it will be for me -- a time of rest and refreshment, of refilling the well and rebooting with a new and healthier perspective. Thanks so much for this candid post.

  8. I'm sorry about all the sickness and sadness, Natalie. I've been a fan of your blog since you started writing it and it's been such a great resource for me, to not feel so alone on this twisty writing path. 2015 was a big year for me; I started graduate school and I also left my agent. Now I'm querying again and it feels weird but I have a good feeling about 2016. Here's to a better year - one full of acceptance and patience and hopefulness, whether that's getting better after being sick for so long or just enjoying life in general.

  9. I wish you all the best in 2016. Recovery in your health and a clear vision of how you want to go forward! Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. Writing, for me, has been such a difficult endeavor at times for exactly the reasons you stated. When I feel the pressure of the world choking me, I like to sit and focus on my breathing, take a walk, or do some (very light) yoga. Whatever puts me in a peaceful frame of mind is what I stick with at the time.

    May you have a great 2016, and know that this writing reader will be there reading alongside you.


  11. The publishing business treats its writers like crap. There. I said it. I've heard so many horror stories.

    I'm glad to hear that you are focusing on your health. I do hope you will be indie publishing in the future. You have a unique voice. You are a natural storyteller and you have a good heart.

  12. I can empathize with you, mostly watching my wife go through the depression and the shingles. I saw you at LTUE (probably last year) and loved the title of your Ninja books. I didn't buy them then, but I probably should have. To put my money where my mouth is, I just went out and bought both of them for my Kindle. I realize it isn't much, but hopefully it helps. Get well.

  13. Sometimes I feel like I'm living your journey, just a few years later (only without all the published books). My only goal for 2016 is not to let publishing break me, so I get where you're coming from. Good luck.

  14. You are amazing, and you have a fan (and a friend) in me, always. I may not have the publishing journey you do, but I understand life being too much and needing to take care of yourself before killing yourself over the writing. I get that. It's why I only got to send out a batch or two of queries and then took time off writing altogether. Life is fun that way. But I sincerely hope you get to feeling better, and I hope that one day I'll have more books of yours to put on my shelves. <3