If you’re a depressive or bipolar the writing thing swirls through your disorder, your ‘non-neurotypicality,’ if we want to be less pejorative. Your mental state radiates into your characters and worldview; the world’s reaction to your writing feeds back into whatever scripts you’re feeding yourself about your life and work.
It can be hard to keep going.
Early on, in my late 20s, I started seeing posts, now and then, from well-published writers that said things like, “if you can quit, quit. There’s no earthly reason to encourage someone to do this. Money? Security? Respect? Critical success? There is so little, of any of this, to go around, that the very idea of encouraging someone else to persevere seems cruel. Morally wrong.
The only reason to write is that you have to, these posts all said.
I saw posts from people wondering if people really could learn how to write. If you were still getting only rejections, five years in, maybe it wasn’t in you.
All of this combined with the wall of rejection and my own mental state to create a kind of toxic subtext to my work. I wrote stories that became hard to parse, they were so bleak; universes almost completely devoid of opportunity. You know why Dystopias are so damn easy to conjure up in fiction?
Because writers already live in Dystopian Darwinian hell worlds similar to the Hunger Games.
Theres this one pile of food; everyone rushes to get it; someone else’s success is your failure; your brother’s in arms, your workshop mates, are your competitors. How many pro publication slots are there in award winning markets? How many slots are there in the spinner rack at the drug store? How many books are really seriously marketed by a publishing house? Finite numbers, all.
Once upon a time in the genre, there was supposedly this feeling of camaraderie; almost unique to science fiction, where writers did not see each other as competitors. I remember reading about this in the 70s and 80s. It sounded way cool.
I like camaraderie! It’s one of the things that gets me through the day.
I’ve also read that this camaraderie was a side effect of the publishing culture at that time, and that that time went away, and SF publishing became a lot more like publishing in general, where camaraderie is far from a given.
Now I’m enjoying this weird moment of validation, having sold the four stories to Asimov, where I feel like I can reach out, to other writers, who are publishing, and see if I can’t kinda…
I’m fifty, and making new friends at this age feels very weird. Typically, it’s mostly only necessary after death, empty nests or messy divorces; most people have all their friend slots filled at this age, and people who don’t, well, you have to wonder about them, the way a woman in her 30s regards the man her age who has never been married.
Befriending younger people is always fraught with a kind of tension. You have to suppress the desire to tell them how young and beautiful and inexperienced they are, and how their optimism is kind of painful. And my God, people in their 20s and 30s all seem goddamn radiant when you’re in your fifties with teenage children. They’re like campfires shooting out rays of warmth and light.
But I’m doing it, or trying to, fitfully, and I’m writing my 1000 words a day whether I want to or not. I’m making a goddamn literary life, goddamn 1000 words at a goddamn time. A charming note at a time, a note to a writer. Reading and writing like it was a job, more than a job, and less than a job, (when it comes to money…alas.)
Summer turns to fall and inside my head it is getting darker, and it’s all material, it’s all stuff I can use, if I push through it. If I keep working. Even if I don’t believe in what I’m working on. Maybe I only have to believe that I can keep working; maybe that is all I need.
Write for the workshop who is growing tired of your schtick, for the trash bin, for the rejection slip, for the indypub book that never sells a single copy. Write for the bad reviews. Write for very little money.
Write for the worst case scenario. But write. Don’t stop. Because as lousy as writing sometimes is, not writing is worse.
If the Bush administration taught us anything, it is that things can always get worse.