The Other Side of Writing

I wrote this blog post a few months ago. It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not easy for me to read now. But I think it’s an important topic, and one we don’t like to talk about simply because it’s not easy to discuss. There’s a chance, though, that my words may speak to someone else, that I may help someone who is struggling. And if there is a chance, and if my words reach someone who needs to hear them, it’s worth a few minutes of vulnerability. For those having a hard time, remember this: you’re not alone.

I want to talk some truth here today, dear readers.

I haven’t been around much lately, have I? I started a new job, I’ve been through a lot of changes in both my personal and professional life, and I’ve been trying to find my feet again. But that’s not all.

I’ve honestly been wondering whether or not this whole writing life thing is meant to be for me.

This is not the pretty side of the writing life. This won’t be a happy, reach for the stars kind of post. I want to talk honestly about just how difficult this business can be, and I don’t want to sugarcoat issues that real people struggle with every day: depression, anxiety, fear, stress, heartbreak.

Writing is hard. The act of writing itself is difficult, and the process of getting published can be nightmarish. No writer enters this field without considering these things. We all know that every writer will deal with rejection, that you have to develop a thick skin before you even try to submit. And we all know that persistence is often the key to getting published. “A writer writes!” they say. That’s how you can tell a real writer: she writes. She keeps going. She does the damn work, even when the work is damning her right back.

But what happens when the stress gets so intense that the act of putting one’s butt in the chair and hands on the keys causes physical symptoms of anxiety? What about when the depression is so intense that looking at one’s email is a crushing burden? How about when the sadness cuts so deep that the thought of bleeding onto the page makes a writer feel like she just might shrivel up and die from the loss?

Does it mean, if she doesn’t have the psychological energy to continue, that she’s not a real writer? If she needs to take a break from the persistence, from the constant effort that is the only thing that will get her published, does that mean she doesn’t deserve to one day see a reader enjoy her work? Have we even thought about what we’re telling writers who are suffering from depression?

We offer pep talks and butt-kickings, but we don’t always think about the circumstances of the person listening to our words. When we say, “You have to keep going,” we might just be saying to some suffering artist, “Taking a break means you’re failing.”

Depression is not an excuse. Depression is a real disorder, a whale of a disease that can swallow a writer whole. Acting tough is not a cure. Brazening it out is not always an option. Sometimes our suffering is so real that we cannot fake it until we make it—sometimes there is no “making it” beyond getting out of bed in the morning and continuing to function as a human being. And when that struggle goes unacknowledged, and the other struggle, the struggle to stay tough in a business that rewards tenacity, is emphasized by the people around you, it’s not easy to win the Battle of Getting Out of Bed.

As a whole, the writing support network I’ve built for myself is amazing. I have talented, compassionate friends who get up every morning and work harder than anyone else I know, all in pursuit of a dream that just doesn’t always come true, at least not when we need it the most. For some it will never come true.

I might be one of those.

I might not be.

Either way, I’m struggling.

All around me, writers keep writing. They produce thousands of words every day—amazing words—and I stand by, helpless and completely unable to write. I’m petrified by fear and anxiety, and when I see others continuing to fight while I cradle my bleeding heart in my ragged hands, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I don’t deserve to ride into battle at their sides.

I am not alone. Hundreds, thousands, millions of others suffer just like I do, though I’ll probably never know their stories.

Few people talk about this side of writing. We glory in the knowledge that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and a hundred other best-selling, award-winning authors could have papered their office walls with rejections before they even got a second glance—but when we do that, we fail to acknowledge the painful truths that our bravado often hides. Commiserating over shared rejection does not equal true acknowledgement of the emotional struggles artists face.

That’s especially true because no writer’s path or process is the same as any other writer’s. My process is not your process. And my path to publishing may very well involve taking a break, giving my heart and my mind a breather. Just because J.K. and Stephen and all the others kept running even when their soles were ragged, that does not mean I must follow in their bloody footsteps.

Even though it feels like saying, “I am not okay, I need some time to nurse my wounds!” is really saying, “I am weak, and I cannot make it,” I am not admitting failure. I am not admitting weakness. I am acknowledging an actual struggle, one I cannot hope to win without taking care of myself.

But it doesn’t feel that way.

Maybe tomorrow, when I win the Battle of the Bed again, and I drag myself home, exhausted, at the end of another day, I’ll feel like writing. Maybe I won’t. In the mean time, though, I will give myself permission to take another step down my very own path.

And if your path looks a little like mine right now, and it leads off the battlefield and into a safe, quiet space in your mind, know that it’s okay. Or maybe it’s not okay, but that’s okay, too. We can sit here, together, and let our wounds start to heal.

5 thoughts on “The Other Side of Writing

  1. Thank you so much for saying this, Kristin. I’m with you in so much of this. Broken pieces and struggling for every day things. And every step forward is interspersed with so many back. And no matter what anyone says, it IS okay to take a break. It has to be, because when something you loved is only hurting you this much, then continuing can’t be a requirement. We’re human beings (yes, I’m reminding myself of this), not machines. I refuse to believe that it makes me less of a writer though. *hugs* You know where to find me if you need to talk, especially about this. ❤

  2. Oh my dear, *big hugs*. First of all, YES YOU ARE STILL A REAL WRITER. You are not weak for needing to take a break. Better you find this out now then when you are on deadline for a contract.

    I know how hard this industry can be, especially when things don’t go the way you expected. Obviously, I don’t know what your personal things were, but writing-wise, we’ve had similar years. I think after a period like that, doubt is natural. I’ve had it myself, especially when the rejections roll in.

    I know it can be hard watching people continue on around you when you just can’t. We have some mutual writer friends, and I just shake my head in amazement at how prolific of some of them are. I honestly don’t know how they do it. I burned out earlier this year and took two months off, every moment of which I felt like I should be writing like they were. But I finally made an agreement with myself and gave myself permission to just be. Best thing I could have done.

    Writing shouldn’t trigger anxiety, but can see where that might develop, especially when you have a lot going on. Maybe you just need a break, and by that I mean more than a few weeks. Take six months or a year or more if you need to. See if the anxiety goes away and if the muse beats you over the head with a story you just HAVE to write. Maybe, maybe not. Nothing says you have to be a full-time writer. Maybe you only write a book or novella or whatever every few years. And that’s okay.

    As for depression, if it’s bothering you a lot, don’t hesitate to seek medical or professional help. I speak from experience, but mine is with crippling anxiety. Medication can do wonders, even if you have to try a few before you find one that quells your demons but still lets you feel the rest of life. (Therapy didn’t work for me, but you may have a different experience.)

    I commend you for your courage in speaking out about the ugly side of being a writer. Not many people (myself included) would have to guts to do so, but it needs to be said so that others realize they aren’t alone.

    You know you can email me any time if you want to talk. I’m pretty much an open book with you privately. No matter what, remember you have friends who love you and are behind you no matter what conclusion you come to. Even if you decide to never write another word, we won’t think any differently of you.

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