Writers and Depression

The Mermaid’s Madness comes out in 12 days.  I should be in a great mood.  I should be bouncing around like a ferret on Pixie Stix.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that emotions rarely worry about things like “should.”

It started with an e-mail from my editor letting me know we might not be able to get the same cover artist for my third princess book.  A short time later, I received a second e-mail, this one from my German editor.  He’s a great guy, and I love working with him, but he mentioned in passing that he didn’t expect my new series to do as well over there as my goblin books did.

Combine that with the fact that my current work in progress has hit the familiar stage where my plot falls apart, my outline gets trashed, and I’ve lost any thread of coherent story, and you’ve got a recipe for one Very Depressing Day.

This isn’t how it was supposed to work.  I spent years struggling to break in, forcing myself past the frustration, the envy, the despair, and the depression.  But I’m a published author now.  This was supposed to be the payoff!  These are supposed to be my years of joy and excitement, dammit!

I love writing, and I love the fact that my books are in print.  It’s a high like nothing else, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  But it’s not all cupcakes and parties.

Note: this is what goes on my head, and may or may not have any bearing on reality.

I never know what to do with the depression.  Complaining feels wrong.  Partly because we’re taught not to complain, right?  Nobody likes a whiner.  And partly because I can already imagine the response from struggling writers.  “Dude, what are you complaining about?  If that writing gig and your foreign sales are such a burden, I’ll happily take them for you!”  As if, because I’ve had some success as a writer, I’ve given up the right to feel depressed.

Screw that.  I know a different cover artist isn’t going to ruin the series.  Heck, the new art could be even better!  And so what if my German sales take a dip?  Every career has its ups and downs, and I should be grateful that I’m getting any foreign attention at all for my books.  It’s not like my publisher cancelled my contract, or my agent let me go, or any of the other “real” problems authors run into.

If only it were so easy to out-think the depression.  Given the size of the Authorly Ego I’ve built up over the past few years, it’s surprising how easily this stuff can ruin my mood.  But it happens.  There are good days and bad, and keeping quiet about the bad ones doesn’t make ‘em go away.

I know it’s not permanent, but I don’t know how to fix it.  I don’t know how to get back to the excitement of a new book coming out and a new story in the works.  I wouldn’t trade my writing career for anything, but it doesn’t change the fact that I get depressed sometimes.

To paraphrase Viorst, some days are like that.  Even for a writer.

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  1. 1. Laura Reeve

    Thanks, Jim, for this post. You’re not the only published author that gets down or has bad days, and can’t talk about them. I love your line about losing “any thread of coherent story” (just went through _weeks_ of that).

    I don’t know what to do about those sort of days, either. I wish I did.

  2. 2. Graham

    I believe the word you are looking for is … r e s i l i e n c e.

    :-)

    Best Regards

  3. 3. Rachel Heston Davis

    I don’t know if this will help, Jim, but it’s something that often helps me when I’m depressed about–well–anything, really.

    No matter what you do in life, or what career path you take, there will be good things about it and bad things about it.

    So it’s okay to get depressed–because everyone, no matter what they choose to do, is going to feel the bad side of things once in awhile, and why should you be any different?

    I’ve noticed that this sentiment often de-fangs my depression, because I can think to myself “Okay, I haven’t totally screwed up my life by getting into something that has drawbacks like this. EVERYTHING has drawbacks.”

    The good news is that, just like every other endeavor in life, the bad things won’t last forever. Good luck in this “down” day.

    Rachel Heston Davis
    Up and Writing

  4. 4. Liane Merciel

    It’s a little terrifying that the author of something as brilliant as Slush-Pile Seuss goes through this too, but I guess it really is that universal.

    I pretty much just put my head down and try to work through it. Or read someone else’s work, and either get inspired anew by the possibilities of language and story, or consoled that however awful my stuff may be, “at least it’s better than Twilight.” ;)

  5. 5. Kate

    No matter where you are or what you do, little troubles can pile up and wear you down. Of course that’s on top of some anxiety you probably already have about the next book release, AND having to work through the challenging parts of the next novel. Hearing bits of unwelcome news along the way, however “small,” doesn’t help! And it’s ok to be upset about those things. It’s easy to feel like you shouldn’t be and try to reason it out but it’s ok to say “But I LIKE my cover artist!” heh.

    I hope the would-be published authors out there (and I’m allowed to say it because I am one) realize that no job is perfect, even if it’s their (and your) dream job. The journey is never over and you don’t have to be happy every day just because some people out there haven’t made it quite as far as you have (yet). It’s a challenging profession. But your books rock!

    Venting is good for the soul. I do hope you feel better though!

  6. 6. Mindy Klasky

    Jim, sorry to hear you’ve hit a rough patch. Alas, been there, done that. ::wry grin::

    I find that the worst part of the dark bits is your first point: I don’t feel like I can complain about them publicly, lest I be taken for a whining, annoying, sniveling noun-of-your-choice.

    My solution is to whine about them privately. I have a small group of “venting” friends. Most of them are *not* authors. I find that I, like many authors, have too much pride to vent to my fellow scribblers. That hang-up is all tied in to the Jealousy Monster, one of my great concerns in this field…

    In any case – good luck moving past these temporary hiccups. And if you want to vent, you know where to reach me. I’ll lock up the Jealousy Monster, for the occasion :-)

  7. 7. Janci

    I try really hard not to be the unpublished writer who makes crappy one-upping comments. When I lost my agent last month, one of my other unpublished writer friends said to me

    “I wish I had an agent to lose.”

    And I thought, what is THAT supposed to mean?

    So obnoxious. It’s hard to be a fiction writer at every stage. I think it’s bad karma to refuse to be sympathetic to people who happen to be a little farther up the chain than you.

  8. 8. Asakiyume

    It’s generous of you to share this, because it reminds us of the truth that *everyone* feels depressed sometimes. And lots of us also berate ourselves for feeling depressed. The scolding you were giving yourself (or imagining others giving you) for complaining even though you’re a published author is the same sort of scolding I give myself if I complain about my work, my health–anything–because I always am so aware that there are a thousand and one people out there with more to complain about. It **is** good to remember about people who have it worse… but by that logic, the only person who’d ever have a right to complain would be the person in the most misery and at death’s door, at the very bottom of the great Spectrum of Misery.

    In your case, I think you’ve got a good solution in complaining to your non-writer friends (but I still appreciate your sharing here, too, this once). And then, telling yourself the possible upsides the way you did, even if it doesn’t dispel the bad feelings right away. Like you said: the new cover art might be better. It really might! Some lucky artist has been given a break and gets to do your next cover. Maybe they’ll do you proud. And your German editor may be wrong about sales. But if he’s right, never mind: fantasize about how your sales will do in the Czech Republic, or Turkey :-) And remind yourself that your mad ninja skills have gotten you this far and will take you farther still–no one can stop you!

  9. 9. Joshua

    Great post, thanks Jim. I’ve been a bit down myself lately.

  10. 10. Alma Alexander

    Oh, so been there done that and know how it feels – and you’re right, it’s the little secret that is supposed to be kept swept up and out of the way in dark corners and under carpets. The thing about THIS, at this stage of a writer’s career, is that it’s a realisation that it *wasn’t* about achieving publication success – the story doesn’t end with the writer triumphantly boarding a ship and sailing off into the golden sunset. Beyond that golden sunset… there’s nothing but open ocean. And storms. And glimpses of exotic shores maybe – but they’re places where a writer visits, perhaps lingers, and then it’s back to the ship and onwards ever onwards. TO borrow a metaphor from Tolkien, it’s like the elven ships – for most of us it’s a human enough ship, and it follows the curvature of the earth, and we’re still planet-bound and of this world and bear all of this world’s burdens. But we know that there are ships – there MUST be! – which can sail on straight when the earth curves away from them, straight on into the sky and the stars, and eventually you get to glimpse Valinor of the Gods. THAT’s the shore we’re all aiming at. The dream. And sometimes, no matter how wonderful or exotic our current port of call, we remember the dream, and know that where we are now isn’t the end of our journey, and that we must go on. And it’s that “going on”, the constant travelling, the winds of the high seas in our hair often with nary another sail in sight for as far as you can see.. that’s when you get caught out by feeling low…

    But it IS a beautiful ocean. And there ARE others out there. Keep an eye on that horizon.

    Thanks for this post.

  11. 11. Alma Alexander

    Oh, so been there done that and know how it feels – and you’re right, it’s the little secret that is supposed to be kept swept up and out of the way in dark corners and under carpets. The thing about THIS, at this stage of a writer’s career, is that it’s a realisation that it *wasn’t* about achieving publication success – the story doesn’t end with the writer triumphantly boarding a ship and sailing off into the golden sunset. Beyond that golden sunset… there’s nothing but open ocean. And storms. And glimpses of exotic shores maybe – but they’re places where a writer visits, perhaps lingers, and then it’s back to the ship and onwards ever onwards. TO borrow a metaphor from Tolkien, it’s like the elven ships – for most of us it’s a human enough ship, and it follows the curvature of the earth, and we’re still planet-bound and of this world and bear all of this world’s burdens. But we know that there are ships – there MUST be! – which can sail on straight when the earth curves away from them, straight on into the sky and the stars, and eventually you get to glimpse Valinor of the Gods. THAT’s the shore we’re all aiming at. The dream. And sometimes, no matter how wonderful or exotic our current port of call, we remember the dream, and know that where we are now isn’t the end of our journey, and that we must go on. And it’s that “going on”, the constant travelling, the winds of the high seas in our hair often with nary another sail in sight for as far as you can see.. that’s when you get caught out by feeling low…

    But it IS a beautiful ocean. And there ARE others out there. Keep an eye on that horizon.

    Thanks for this post.
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  12. 12. Anton Strout

    I get that. I really do. It happens to me as well. Right now I’m in the middle of everything, perfectly right between two books coming out so nothing is going on NOW… and then I’m in the middle of plotting the fourth book while proofing the third and well it hits.

    And naturally, I will loathe you when your book comes out in a few weeks to lift you up and I sit in the quicksand of book four.. Damn you, Hines!

  13. 13. Jim C. Hines

    @Anton – Thank you! Your loathing always helps cheer me up :-)

    @Janci – That’s exactly it! On the one hand, I do understand where the other person is coming from. I still get the envy and such. But come on — someone tells you they’re bummed, and your response is to imply they’re ungrateful for daring to feel that way? Pbbt.

  14. 14. jeff vandermeer

    It’s a good point. We’re expected not to show weakness. Being a writer is considered a privilege, but you don’t stop being a human being, and you *earned* the book sales through talent and hard work. It’s also interesting who is allowed to get away with showing weakness and who doesn’t. I am fairly sure I’d be torn to pieces if I did so on my blog, which makes things difficult re having an outlet. Other people actively engage in whining–not you–and do it repeatedly and never suffer for it. Well, that’s not true in a way–do it too much for stupid reasons and eventually you cast yourself as victim and people begin not to take you seriously.

    I wonder if your German editor is related to mine. I’ve never met an upbeat German editor.

    As for the downs…I tend to see it now as part of the process and part of the life. I try to just ride it out. I think of it like the flu–it will pass. But it isn’t pleasant, and writers spend enough time alone with themselves that it magnifies these types of things.

  15. 15. Rabia

    Would it help to know that I read The Stepsister Scheme this month and enjoyed it a whole lot? (I’m also jealous that I didn’t come up with the idea–I love fairy tales with a twist ;) ). I’m looking forward to the sequel.

  16. 16. Steve Buchheit

    Wait a sec, you mean once we become published writers we don’t get a pony that farts rainbows? What a gyp.

    So basically, on the other side of “published author” you’re just the same person, but with a publishing contract. I’ll bet you still put your pants on one leg at a time.

    Good thing there’s the love of the writing part.

  17. 17. Jim C. Hines

    @Steve – as a published author, I’m no longer required to wear pants. But otherwise, yes.

    @Rabia – it certainly doesn’t hurt :-) Thank you!

    @Jeff – I wonder why that is. Is it the audience? I.e., people who talk more about being depressed attract readers who are more sympathetic to such? I know in my own online reading I react differently depending on *how* people express this stuff, and how often. Hm … this requires more thought once my brain is up and awake.

  18. 18. Kristan

    Hmm, I don’t know what to say — I imagine there isn’t a lot that could help, especially since I’m a stranger — but as an aspiring writer, one who would love to be in your shoes (in terms of publication, etc.) I just wanted to let you know that I think everything you’re feeling is fair. You didn’t give up your write to feel sad about things just because you’ve had success. So I just hope things turn out well and you can start feeling better. :)

  19. 19. Kelly McCullough

    Sorry you’re having one of those moments, Jim. I very much empathize.

    One of things I’m glad I learned before I ever got published was not to expect the fundamental emotional dynamic to change when I started seeing my name on book spines. I think it was Dean Smith who pointed out that all the things that bummed me out as an aspiring writer had their analogs for the published writer. The phrase that I had drummed into my head was “same game, bigger stakes.” It didn’t make the down days any easier, but it gave me warning that selling a book wasn’t going to make everything go rainbows and puppies forevermore.

    I like Alma’s imagery above, though I’d say I never went into this for the thought of far shores, but rather for a strong wind at my back and full sails. I’ve always been more of journey oriented traveler than a destination oriented one.

  20. 20. Kelly McCullough

    Looking at my note again now I realize it doesn’t really convey what I wanted it to, sigh. This writing stuff is hard and all too often requires rewriting. What I was hoping to get at was that it’s really okay to complain about the down days in places where aspiring writers can hear it. In fact, it’s a real service because it helps folks to better prepare for the published life. What you’re doing here is exactly the kind of thing that Dean and some other folks did for me early on, and that helped me to better cope with the letdowns that have come later in my career.

  21. 21. Jim C. Hines

    No, that makes sense. I think in part we get such a delusional idea of what life will be like as a published writer (thanks a lot, Castle!), so when we finally get here and still have down days, it must mean something is horribly wrong. I can understand how it would be helpful to get the reality check up front.

  22. 22. Doug HUlick

    It must be something going around for writers. I was in the same boat today as well.

    As you say, emotions don’t give two figs for reason. If you feel blue, then feel blue, dammit. If anything, being in a creative field, you ought to be entitled to it, no? ;)

  23. 23. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Had unencouraging news today from my agent and boy, hit the depression coaster with a vengeance. Dammit.

  24. 24. Jim C. Hines

    Di,

    I’m sorry to hear about the bad agent news. Feel free to e-mail me if you need to vent, okay?

  25. 25. Elias McClellan

    Mr. Hines, I’m one of the haters. That aside, I’m also the pest-wanna-be, that haunts this site and thanks you for sharing this lesson. All contributing authors on this site have provided indispensible information here for the aspiring writer.

    I’ve mined this site for the bricks and mortar of writing but I’ve also gotten some grown-up tools as well. Mr McCullough’s advice will probably save me a great deal of embarassment. Your advice, (I sincerely mean this respectfully) should I become blessed with your good-problem, helps me see that all situations have downsides like all dogs have fleas.

    I type this in gratitute for your generousity. You kindly encouraged me some weeks back, as one state-worker to another. This is just as helpful and I am just as grateful.

    E.

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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