U is for Ugly
U is for Ugly.
There are some ugly truths about writing, things no one wants to talk about, no one wants to admit. I’m talking about the emotions we all try to hide away.
What emotions? How about:
Anxiety (or its cousins, Fear and Frustration): Some authors fear they’ll never be able to capture the stories they see inside their heads; they fear they don’t have the skill, the ability to communicate those images. Even when an author succeeds in transmitting their vision perfectly, they often feel frustrated by their inability to write faster or better or with more marketable themes. Authors worry about whether they’re doing enough promotion, about whether their stories will ever find the proper audience. Authors who rely on their writing for a meaningful amount of income are often anxious about whether a book is selling well enough to meet specific bills, or whether a particular story is selling well enough to merit more books in a series.
Despair: (Perhaps the extreme form of anxiety, fear, and frustration.) Despite spending days and weeks and months and years to create a book, some authors find that their books don’t sell. When authors attempt to write more books, or to work in different genres, or to try additional promotional techniques but still see dismal results, their disappointment may turn to despair. All roads seem to be blocked on a permanent basis. No alternatives seem to exist.
Guilt: Every hour spent writing is an hour that could be spent doing something else—spending time with family and friends, working on other skills, working at a day job, etc. Authors are often left feeling guilty for the choices they make when they persist in writing, especially when that persistence means missing milestones of children or other family members.
Jealousy (and its fraternal twin, Envy): Many (Most? All?) authors are envious of more successful authors; we want to have their success in creating a number of books or selling those books to a wider audience or making a bestseller list or any other marker of success in this crazy field. We may also feel jealous, fearing that another author is going to supplant us in sales rankings, or that a new author might lure away our readers with a shiny new book in our genre. These feelings are exacerbated by mainstream media, which love to tell stories of overnight successes, often ignoring the years that went into creating that success. Similarly, the popular press loves stories about authors doing extraordinarily well, the superstar bestsellers who sell millions of books. By comparison, our own careers can seem paltry.
Sorrow: Writing careers can lead to sorrow. There are the inevitable losses that stem directly from the business of writing—when a traditional publisher places a book out of print (but not out of ebook availability, so there isn’t the corresponding joy of rights reversion), when a profitable sales venue closes, when a beloved series simply fails to catch the interest of readers. There are also more abstract sorrows—when a loved one dies before seeing an author’s success or when a relationship ends because someone is unable to give a writer the time needed to write.
All those ugly feelings exist, along with dozens more. Rational writers are prepared to experience negative emotions. They accept the feelings at the time. They understand that the negativity will pass. They consciously shut down the whispering cycle of ugly thoughts and turn back to writing again, and again, and again.
Some writers augment their emotional strength by confiding in writers groups. Others balance the lonely, cerebral exercise of writing with physical activity. Writers may seek outside support from career coaches or therapists or religious leaders. They may resort to comfort food and drink—wine or macaroni and cheese or Ben & Jerry’s by the pint.
The rational writers are the ones who regroup, who return to their work, attempting to solve whatever problems actually can be solved. The rational writers get back to writing.
So? Which ugly emotions are you most likely to experience? And what strategies do you have in place to survive the negativity?