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Lisa / October 6, 2015

Arguing with Discouragement


Today I am a writer who is discouraged about writing. It happens to everybody from time to time. I wrote a guest blog post for Robyn Bachar a few days back that addressed one source of discouragement: the middle of the book syndrome, or the Valley of Despair.

Me, I have a terrible case of comparisons right now. It’s all TERRIBLY UNFAIR. Everybody else is selling more than me, no really EVERYBODY, even people with no books out are selling more than me. (This is not a particularly rational state of mind, did I mention?) It’s that mental place where everybody else’s good news seems like a slap in the face, a reminder of all the things I’m CLEARLY doing wrong.

It’s a rotten place to be, and I put myself here.

And if that weren’t enough, I’ve hit a rough patch in one of my books. Pretty sure it’s the aforementioned Valley of Despair, where nothing looks good and everything is terrible and I will never be able to write another word again, etc., etc., pardon me while I retire to my fainting couch and strike a dramatic pose.

It’s a ridiculous place to be, and I have just enough self-awareness to mock myself even while my hand is glued woefully to my forehead. (Did I mention this might also be PMS? Because I needed more fun right now.)

It all piles up in my head until a voice pipes up and says “No one cares about your writing, so just stop. Why bother?”

And sometimes, on days like this, I don’t have an immediate answer. Most of the time, I can stick out my chin and grin and saaaaaay (thanks Annie), that I care, and that that’s enough. But some days, like this one, saying that doesn’t come easy. Saying “I care” is more like a whisper than a defiant shout. Days like this, I have to remind myself that other people do care about my writing. My agent, for one. She believes in me and my ideas even when I don’t. My friends care, of course. I even–I can scarcely bring myself to type this–have a few fans who care.

The thing is, all of this is in my head. Nothing has changed in the past week to suddenly make me a worse writer than I was. My sales haven’t suddenly plummeted–they’re holding pretty steady right where they are. This is just a bit of mental gymnastics my brain is trying to do, and honestly, it can be fixed with a different set of mental gymnastics. And if my brain is gonna be doing that much work either way, I’d rather get it to turn cartwheels than to fall painfully down a hill.

Maybe it’s weird, but this is where my history with depression and anxiety turns out to be tremendously useful. Depression does a lot of the same mental gymnastics, just on a larger scale. It’s–for me, anyway–that same insidious inner voice telling you lies about yourself. It took a lot of therapy to learn how to dispute that inner voice, and while I don’t have to argue with it about my general worth as a human being that much anymore, those skills that I learned–that ability to pick apart the non-logic of the inner voice that says ‘no’ when you know the answer is ‘yes’–still work.

The trick of being a writer who keeps writing is to figure out when you’re lying to yourself, especially when those lies are the “you can’t do this, why bother” variety. It takes courage to argue with the mental voice that insists your day would be better spent on a Netflix binge instead of untangling a thorny plot issue. To argue with the voice that says you have nothing worthwhile to say. It takes a particular form of courage to stare at a blank page or a blank screen when it scares you, and decide you’re not going to blink first.

That’s the kind of courage I need to dig up today. And then I need to get to work.

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