The Dark Side of Being a Writer

I’m not sure one “chooses to be a writer.” It seems more often that writing chooses the writer. Would a child who later becomes a vet tell people, “I can’t help myself! I couldn’t stop fixing all the wounded animals.” They may have been fond of animals. But were they obsessed with it? Would the dentist say, “I could not control myself from telling each person I encountered how they could have better dental hygiene. That made me unpopular in sixth grade.”

My point is that for many writers, the act is a compulsive one, an inner drive that a lot of creative disciplines share – that feeling of needing to create, despite how unpopular or crazy or financially unstable it might be. It’s why I went into journalism in college (with a 4 year journo scholarship) instead of professional writing. Yet I wrote fiction “on the side.” Badly, I might add. It tooks years for me to learn the craft and I çontinue to work to improve. One sentence and one story at a time.

I don’t mean to say that being a writer is something to be shameful or boastful about. The whole purpose of this blog is to honor creativity and find our mojo to create at our best and enjoy the present moment. But why do I concentrate on this? It’s because I know and see and embrace the dark side of this as a profession and an art.

Why “dark side?” Let me count the ways…
Many believe writers writer because of some sort of mental defect that enables them to conjure up these whole other worlds and live lives through these characters – from romance to murder to horror. All of that begins in someone’s mind. I think there’s a nugget of truth to that. I do think writers have abnormal minds, but I’m okay with that.

Many writers have obsessive personalities that enable them to dig in, stay with, and finish their stories. A story worm winds its way in our brain and just won’t leave until the whole tale is spun out. Just when we feel we get our mind back, another worm “pops up.” And so it goes.

Rejection. It’s interesting that a career with so much rejection – from those beginning critiques to sales figures and reviews by critics – happen to people who may already suffer from depression, dark thoughts, anxiety and worry to begin with. Certainly there is a scale here and it swings wildly from one side to the other. Since childhood, I’ve had anxiety, worry, an overactive imagination and bad thoughts. It may have started with early childhood separation from my mother, but I had to learn how to control my mind (and still do) to keep it reined in. I frequently re-route negative and dark thoughts and find sweet relief that my mind has created so many characters that readers have loved. I’ve enjoyed going on those journeys, too. Writing might be an escape because we constantly create “second lives.”

Jealousy. Again, it’s a profession where you belong to a community and some are plucked from the literary gods and become New York Times bestsellers while others languish in mid-list purgatory, get dropped from their publishers, or who can’t seem to catch a lucky break though they are superior writers to ones that somehow do. It’s a mystery to all of us. It is beyond our control and yet we think we can control it by writing something different, better, more marketable but the truth is, NOBODY KNOWS. Some self-pubbed authors make it, too, but the percentage is low as to who can quit their day job and do it full-time. And for each of us, the benchmarks may be different, but the envy is still there, because each of us do want success in whatever form that takes.

Loneliness. True, many writers are introverts, but not all. One of my bestie authors, Jenny Gardiner, is a wonderful extrovert and recently blogged that she found it hard to write when it was so damn quiet in her house due to being a new empty nester. Sure, we have online communities and writer groups, but it’s usually just you and your screen and that can get lonely. It can also feel awkward to talk about your story in progress because a) you sound insane and b) it makes no sense until it’s come together.

Guilt. I say guilt because as a wife and mother of three, I am spending time doing something that is an energy vaccuum. It doesn’t pay as well as my role as a marketer (any of you could insert your day job there) so until you really hit pay dirt, the “why the hell am I putting myself through this” really occurs to each of us at some point. However, we can’t help it. We keep writing. We feel guilty that the time we are investing in writing may mean the house isn’t as clean as it should be and we’re not being crafy like Martha Stewart or cooking amazing dinners or folding the laundry. My list is very long. And to boot, I’ve taken up publishing other authors, too so I’ve added that responsibility on. They could sell a lot. They could sell a little. But we’re in it together. Come what may.

Self-discipline. If we have the gift of obsession (see what I did there?) self-discipline may take care of itself, but the truth is because we are working alone and we have the story in our head, we alone are responsible for getting that first, second, third draft done and revising, polishing, submitting, resubmitting, copyedits, proofing, marketing and so on. It’s an arduous task.

The good news is we aren’t in the dark alone. Events such as “NaNoWriMo” which more than 200,000 writers will be participating in this November to write 50K novel, shows that the dream of writing and hopefully publishing a novel we are proud of is one shared by as many as 1 in 4 people. We know there are more of “our kind” out there, somewhere, whether or not we tweet with them or blog or meet them in person. We see the books in the bookstores and know – ah, one of “us” wrote it. Do I mean to say it’s not rewarding or enjoyable? No, it can be that but not always. It’s a roller coaster ride, a marathon, not a sprint. We all have stories we’d like to tell, but it does seem those who are bit by the writing bug for which there is no cure are the ones who will prevail.

Write on.

Feel squeamish that the first batch of Something New paperbacks are on their way for the event at Castle and Quill on 10/28.
Got a new doggie, a shih tzu rescue from OK Save a Dog in Prague, OK. We named her Sadie Mae, and the 8 month old joins our 5 year old shih tzu Emmy June.



9 Comments Add yours

  1. Reese Ryan says:

    Malena, you’ve done an excellent job outlining the dark side of being an author. Self-discipline is an issue I sometimes struggle with when it comes to writing. But, it was the prospect of rejection that kept me from seriously pursuing a career as an author of fiction.

    Hearing the stories of authors like Janet Evanovich, who endured years of rejection before she landed her first deal, changed my mindset. I don’t leap for joy when I get a rejection letter, but I do treat it like a badge of honor. It signifies that I had the courage to try.

    1. malenalott says:

      Thank you so much! Yes, rejection stings no matter how long we write. part of being human. And, wow, what a cool author name you have! Good luck in your writing journey! Xo

  2. Jess Riley says:

    I love this, Malena! Very, very well-said. xoxo (Also, how cute to all of your covers look up there on the header?!?! Fabulous!)

    1. malenalott says:

      Thank you, Jess! It’s tough to make it all look “just so,” you know? But worth it in the end. Maybe my next post will be happy-happy-joy-joy stuff. Do point me in that direction. 🙂

  3. So true! I like to think the anxiety comes FROM having a wonderful imagination… full of possibilities both good and bad. I see it in my children as it was in myself.

    1. malenalott says:

      Aislinn, I think that’s a positive way to look at it. 🙂

  4. Mary Cronk Farrell says:

    Hi Malena, came over to your blog from WU. (just in case you wonder if anyone ever does that. :)) I agree with Jess, your covers look terrific. I enjoyed your blog today. I write a blog occasionally about dealing with demons and other dark holes of the writing life. Not sure if that shows up here in the comments or not. Nice to “meet” you. I actually wrote a YA novel set in Oklahoma, but my agent has not been able to see it.

  5. Mary Cronk Farrell says:

    Can you change that to “sell it” ??

    1. malenalott says:

      I didn’t think you meant she had vision problems, but, yes, I did wonder! I thought maybe “not see it yet.” ha I’m going to visit your page and thanks so much for stopping in!

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