Jim C. Hines: Space Janitors Vs. Brain Weasels!

When Jim Hines says, “Can I write something for your blog?” you do not merely say yes, you give him the keys to the establishment and let him run the joint for as long as he likes. Behold, the result of that — as always, he’s funny and wise. Also go read Terminal Alliance.

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To be fair, I’m pretty sure I was crazy before I started writing.*

Looking back, I see swaths of my life where Depression was in full force. As a teenager in junior high school. In my middle years of undergrad. Spending a year in Elko, Nevada… with the nearest real bookstore a two-hour drive away, in another damn state. Seriously, what the hell, Elko?

It wasn’t until about five years ago that I made it official. Drove to the doctor’s office, marched inside, and got my Certification of Depression, complete with a prescription for Zoloft and a referral to a counselor.

Writing didn’t break my brain. But it certainly hasn’t helped.

Take those early years of constant rejection. I’ve got more than five hundred rejection letters saved in a box in the basement. Other authors will tell you rejection isn’t personal, that it’s part of the learning process and we all go through it… I’ve said those same things myself. But when you’re in the pit of despair, it feels personal. That shit can wear you down, no matter how polite the form letters might be. And then you get one from an editor saying, “I liked your previous submission, but this one was so bad I can’t believe it’s by the same author.”

(I eventually sold that story to a better market. But damn…)

Psychiatrist Aaron Beck said depression can perpetuate itself through a trio of negative biases about the self, the world, and the future. His theory maps beautifully to the crap we go through as we’re struggling to break in.

The Self: I suck.

The World: It’s impossible to succeed unless you’re famous or have connections.

The Future: I’m never going to get anywhere.

Man, I’m getting depressed (small d, not Depressed) just writing this. Does that qualify as “Show, don’t tell?”

Time to change things up by talking about how I’m now a well-medicated and successful author with a brand-new book out about Space Janitors! I still get rejection letters, but they’re rare. And I’ve got 13 books in print, along with 50+ published short stories to balance things out. In a logical, rational universe, this should go a long way toward counteracting the depression.

Well, screw you, universe! I’m neither logical nor rational. I’m a mentally ill author!

Some will argue that’s redundant.

It’s true, though. Depression is an asshole. A lying brain-weasel scurrying around in your thoughts and shitting on everything. And… writing is hard. Even when you’re supposedly succeeding. The brain-weasels know how to twist things around in your head. They did a number on me with Terminal Alliance.

This was my first attempt at novel-length science fiction. I wanted humor and action and triumph and aliens that weren’t just humans with a few prostheses glued to their noses. So I started the first draft…

Brain Weasels: This is crap! And we know crap—we’re assholes!

Me: It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to be crap.

BW: Then you’re doing a superb job!

I ended up missing my deadline by a few months as I rewrote and rewrote again, trying to make this thing as good as I could.

BW: You missed your deadline. Ha! Loser.

Me: Lots of authors miss deadlines. It’s only a few extra months. I’d rather be late with a good book than on time with a mediocre one.

BW: You think this book is gonna be good? That’s cute.

And so on and so forth. Every messed-up scene, every stumbling block, every day of not meeting my goal…

Brain weasels, man. I hate those guys. But I’ve gotten better at hearing their conniving whispers as they scheme against me, rubbing their tiny clawed fingers together and twirling their whiskers.

I’ve talked to other writers about this stuff. I know how much the brain weasels love us. If, like me, you’re already dealing with the delightful neurochemical imbalance of Depression, your brain is especially fertile ground for the little bastards. But even for you so-called “healthy” authors, writing offers a vast field of insecurities and rejection for the weasels to burrow in.

I’ve learned a few things about dealing with them.

Toughing it out: not the best approach. Imagine these are literal weasels chewing on your face. You can either acknowledge the problem and try to do something about it, or you can grit your teeth and say, “I’m strong enough to get through this. Chew away, you pernicious predators, you!”

All that does is get you a chewed-up face. Potentially great for Halloween. Not so great for the other 364 days of the year.

Talk to someone. Ask for help. That could mean talking to a doctor, or it could mean Skyping an author friend to vent.

Savor the good stuff. You finished a first draft? It’s ice cream time. Sure, the first draft might be crap, but who gives a shit? You finished the damn thing, and that deserves a reward! A fan emails to tell you how much your story about a superhero with a talking tumor meant to them? That email goes into the SAVED FOR USE AGAINST BRAIN WEASELS folder to be brought out and used to pummel the brain weasels with extreme and graphic cartoon violence.

Balance is important. My therapist talked a lot about balance in my life. She asked how often I got to just visit with friends and hang out and socialize. I laughed. It was a hysteria-tinged laugh, with too many teeth showing. I probably looked like a bald, bearded Joker. “I don’t have time for balance!”

I still suck at this one, but I’ve gotten better. And damn if it doesn’t help. Sure, time away from the computer is time I’m not writing…but time spent enjoying myself helps me recharge, which means I’m more productive when I sit down again to write.

Who could have possibly predicted such a thing? My therapist is a freaking GENIUS!

Remember: brain weasels lie. Mine told me Terminal Alliance was a flop, and I should have stuck with goblins and flaming spiders. Library Journal, on the other hand, gave the book a starred review. Suck on that, weasels!

::Stops to re-read the post so far::

Huh. This was originally pitched as a promotional-type piece for Terminal Alliance. I’ve now written 1000+ words about depression and brain weasel maintenance. Interesting promotional tactic, Hines.

So in conclusion, I’ve got a book about space janitors and sex-crazed aliens that are basically giant tardigrades and translator mix-ups and evil butterfly people and the end of the world, and what happens when the rest of the crew gets taken out and the janitorial team has to fly the ship and fight the battles and save the galaxy.

Ann Leckie said it was really fun, and we all like and trust Ann, right? You can read an excerpt through my website.

Thanks for reading. Take care of yourselves. And yeah, if you get the chance, check out the new book. I think you’ll enjoy it. Despite what my brain weasels say.

* I recognize that some people dislike “crazy” as an ableist slur, and it’s not a word I’d use to describe anyone else. But I use it for my own mental illness as a way to laugh, and to take away a little of that illness’ power over me.

* * *

Jim C. Hines: Website | Twitter

Terminal Alliance: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

33 comments

  • It’s good to know I’m not the only clinically depressed word wrangler battling the squirrels. I dunno, maybe it’s the depression that keeps me going. It’s familiar territory–I love it. I write better when I am on the edge. Maybe.

  • OMG. I don’t know if this was supposed to be funny, but I found myself laughing. Mainly because I’m a Bi Polar writer and the Brainweasels so fit what happens in my mind. I’m trying to train my brainweasels, but they are wild animals and really hard to train. Mostly I just ignore them.

  • As someone working on a series which is provisionally entitled space dustmen this book is clearly written for me! I think it looks fantastic. And thank you for the brain weasel maintenance advice. It is good.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • Thank you, Jim! This is rather timely and much appreciated. I just ripped out 30K words from a book I’d hoped to have submitted to my publisher by now. It was necessary but d-mn it was painful. Self-doubt really is a thing, isn’t it? There are days I have to remind myself of positive things readers have told me in order to keep working and finish.

    This quote a good mantra for getting it done:

    “BW: You missed your deadline. Ha! Loser.

    Me: Lots of authors miss deadlines. It’s only a few extra months. I’d rather be late with a good book than on time with a mediocre one.”

    Between the Brain Weasels and the Sh*t Flinging Gibbons… *sigh*

    But we persist.

    Thank you!

    • You are very welcome! And ouch… I had to do something similar with the current book-in-progress. Even knowing the book will be stronger for it, it still sucks.

      The mantra comes almost word for word from my agent, who helped talk me through that mess.

  • Woah…. it’s like I’ve just read someone describing my own mind….

    It’s also showing that despite what my own Brain worms tell me, i’m not the only peron tryign to write and deal with depression at the same time.

      • Depressed since at least 12. Diagnosed at 15. Suicidal twice (thankfully, not for well over a decade now).

        Thanks from a fellow brain-weasel survivor.

      • That is a great thing to realize, that we’re not alone.
        I crumpled up my Bipolar Certificate (heavy on the depressive) and shoved it into a drawer with my ANXIETY!! Certificate. So guess who’s a year+ untreated and getting chewed on after losing 2 shrinks in 3 years?
        But reading things like this help me to think about taking the next step toward finding shrink #3 to see if they can help me find my way back out of the darkness.
        Thanks, Jim…

  • Jim, you had me at “sex-crazed giant tardigrades.”

    But seriously, as a fellow sufferer, it helps to know that I’m not the only one whose brain gets gnawed on by The Weasels from time to time. 🙂

  • It’s a small thing, but I have a severed Jabberwocky head with a tennis ball in it for generally flailing around and smacking into walls, desk, floor etc when the inevitable setbacks of writing get to be a bit too much to deal with in a stoic, adult manner. The Jabberwocky had a rough day yesterday. DRM, we hates it…
    The recipe’s freely available on my site (“Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock? Adventures in Fantastical Taxidermy” is the post), if anyone else feels like they could use something to hammer on the walls with now and then.

  • Add my appreciation here as a writer with depression (technically dysthymia with occasional full on depressive episodes). It’s always good to hear that some is going through the same shit and get new perspectives about how to deal with the little asshole voices in your head.

  • Brain weasels. *That’s* what those things are! I, too, struggle with the big D (the clinical/major flavor). Meds have helped, but I really, really need to find a therapist again (my previous one retired). Thanks for the reminder, Mr. H., and for the encouraging words. It truly does help to know one isn’t alone.

  • Jim, you are an amazing person and an amazing writer. I one-clicked the shit out of this book (well, more than one, since it’s on audible and they make you click more).

    Brain weasels suck, but the great thing is that they tend to calm down when you shine light on them and share them with other people.

    Also, shout-out to your modeling work, too. I still send people to that post.

  • I enjoy a spoonful of hazelnut with my coffee every morning. I also enjoy a dash of mentally-fucked whenever I sit down yo write. All of us are screwed in the head by some degree and I see nothing wrong with cashing in. Bring it, baby!!!!!

  • Just want to add that not only people with diagnosed clinical depression have brain weasels. I think everyone knows self-doubt and how crippling it can get, especially in a creative profession, and everybody has to cope to be able to go on. For what it’s worth, Jim’s methods seem pretty universal to me.

  • Jim, thank you so much for speaking out against depression (and mental illness in general, ) as it effects countless others, myself included. I also want to thank you for the inspiration you’ve generously provided. Reading about your internal struggles (damn them brain weasels,) as well as you accumulating five hundred-plus rejection slips– your words and experiences convinced me that I (and all my creatives out there,) can do it, too.

    Thank you, man.

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