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.
* * *
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.
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.
* * *