Today I closed my online shop (that’s today as I write this on Tuesday 8th May 2018). It didn’t make any money. It barely paid for itself. Just the latest failure in my continuing quest to get paid for literally anything I’m good at.
I’ve been thinking about my definition of failure. Not ever making any money is only a failure if your goal was to make money. I think we can all agree that I am never going to make any money so I can either roll over and die or I can redefine my goals so that they don’t include making money, paying bills or even covering my costs.
One possible goal would be to continue writing stories that please me and the three other people who actually want to read them. That would be a bit disappointing because I feel that I owe it to the books I’ve written to get them in front of more people. I could give them away for free in some format but that just makes it harder for other writers to get paid so I don’t want to do that.
I definitely want to help my friends to get their books finished. Obviously I can’t help them get published since I have zero expertise there but at least I can humorously threaten people until they write more words. It’s not ideal as goals go because the success or failure isn’t under my control.
I feel like there should be more than just those two but I don’t know what to aim for. I need to do something with my life. I need purpose. And I need to stop including financial success in my win conditions because that’s just not going to happen. That’s hard for me. I’m a working class person. I’ve never had elevated ideas of producing great art. I just wanted to be able to support myself. It doesn’t seem like that should be beyond my reach but it appears to be.
I’m open to suggestions.
I don’t have a problem with the Body Positivity movement as long as it’s your body we’re talking about. You look fabulous, by the way.
I just can’t be positive about my body because there’s nothing positive about it. My problem is not that I’m fat. Fat is not a problem. My problem is that my body is a worthless piece of toxic trash that has been torturing me almost from birth.
I hate my body. Everything I’ve achieved I have achieved in spite of it. All it does is slow me down. I can’t rely on it. It turns the food I eat into dysfunctional fat cells that lock the energy away. I can’t access that energy and the cells just build up on my legs looking fucking hideous, hurting and stopping my joints from working.
I’m trapped in this fucking cage. It doesn’t work. I can’t fix it. It’s made my life a living hell. There’s nothing I could ever have done to fix it. I’ve been struggling my whole life, blaming myself, thinking that I was a failure and the whole time it’s been beyond my control. I was doomed from the start.
If there was any justice in the world I’d be offered a do-over of some kind. But there isn’t so I’m just stuck here until this body stops working completely. I feel like my entire life has been wasted. Not just because this body sucks but because I’ve wasted so much time blaming myself for something that was outside my control and trying to fix something that was never going to work.
No more. Fuck this body. I’m done putting up with its bullshit.
Well I say that… but even as I type this it’s making a spirited attempt to get me to stop. My back is cramping up. The pain is all I can think about. My body is demanding that I stop typing and go back to bed or something. Realistically there isn’t much I can do about it.
I’m terrified of dying. I don’t just fear the pain associated with death I fear the very idea of it. If I had some genuine religious faith then perhaps I would fear it less but I can’t bring myself to believe that there’s an after-life waiting for me. Other people? Yes. Me? No.
Maybe it’s a good thing. My fear of death is probably the only thing that kept me going through my teen years. That fear kept me from serious thoughts of suicide until I was well into adulthood. By the times things had got bad enough that I hated the thought of living more than the thought of dying I couldn’t do anything about it because by then I had responsibilities.
These days I often wish I was dead but I’m not going to act on that wish because it would hurt too many people too much. For years I felt lonely and unloved and I was sure that no-one cared if I lived or died. I didn’t know when I was well off.
I’m fond of saying that you should always look on the bright side and if you can’t find it you should polish the dark side. The bright side of my fear of death was that it kept me alive in difficult times. If I polish the dark side of how bloody awful my life is right now then at least it’s cured my fear of death. Death comes to us all and when it comes for me it’s going to be a relief.
My life has always sucked but for more than half of it I was sure that the suck was all my fault. I didn’t know what I wanted and I knew I wasn’t trying very hard at anything. I thought that if I could just work out what to go for and really go after it then all my problems would be solved.
You can see why I thought that, can’t you? It’s all over pop culture. The idea that if you want something enough and you fight hard enough for it then you can get it. It’s bullshit. Dangerous bullshit.
Underachieving because you’re not really trying does hurt but at least it feels like it’s under your control. Trying your very hardest and still failing hurts far worse. It hurts so much that it makes you try harder than your hardest. It makes you push yourself beyond the point of failure, beyond the point where your body ceases to work properly, beyond the point where you are, strictly speaking, sane.
If you get to that point and still fail it feels like death. It feels like you’ve died and gone to hell. You must be dead because how can something hurt that much without killing you?
I hit that particular wall back in 2012. My repeated failure to do anything with my completed novel is nowhere near as bad as that. But it is giving me flashbacks.
It seems like a lifetime since I last heard good news. Today I found out that, in no particular order, Urban Fantasy book sales are down (so yes I am querying a novel in the wrong genre), my ongoing personal tragedy continues to be both ongoing and tragic (no I’m not talking about it here), the solution to my financial problems that I thought I’d found is probably not going to work and my mother-in-law reads my blog.
It feels like I’m navigating through the darkness by the light of burning bridges. Some of which I didn’t even realise were there until the bastard things caught fire. At this point if my doctor told me I had something terminal my reaction would be, “At fucking last. My problems are almost over.”
Those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware that my last post touched on the experience of finding out that I’d actually managed to underestimate how much my mother-in-law dislikes me. I think it’s safe to say that her reading the blog didn’t help that. Or maybe she’s just appalled that the terrible impression I’ve made on her thus far was me genuinely trying my best. Either way she’s nae happy wi me.
It never occurred to me that she’d read the post because it never occurred to me that she might read my blog because I’m amazed that anyone reads it. Obviously I never would have mentioned her if I thought she was going to read it. Just because I keep finding out what people really think of me is no reason to spread it around.
I think she’s worried that my post might have damaged her reputation but I think that’s unlikely because:
- She’s right and I’m the first to admit it.
- Anyone who knows who she is and is likely to read the blog is someone I would have told about it in person eventually anyway.
In conclusion, everything is still fucked but some things are slightly more fucked than they were before.
There is this tension in my mind between my pessimism and the knowledge that I am depressed and I have terrible self esteem and thus things probably aren’t as bad as I think they are. I try to believe people when they say nice things, when they tell me that I am not worthless, that my work has value, that there’s hope. It goes against my instincts but my instincts are tainted by the chemical imbalance that make me hate myself.
But there’s two underlying problems with the assumption that my depression makes me misjudge the world around me. The first is the strong evidence that depressed people make more accurate estimations and predictions than the average person. Perhaps because depressed people are unburdened by optimism. The second is that experience tells me that things are usually at least as bad as I think they are.
I’ve written before about this feeling of being a constant disappointment to everyone around me. Even I sometimes think that it can’t be true. That I must be exaggerating or misreading things. I said that I thought my parents-in-law were disappointed in me and I could hear it in their voices. Well they’re visiting this week and my husband tells me that his mother has been subtly hinting that he should leave me.
I can’t really argue with that. He probably should leave me. In theory at least. I can’t see it working out so well in practice but that’s probably the pessimism talking.
It’s no surprise to me that she’s thinking that. It’s barely even news that she’s said it out loud to my husband. The snapping of that tension in my mind, though, that stings. That horrible reminder that yet again I was right. That knowledge that my biggest mistake isn’t my pessimism. It’s that I’m not pessimistic enough.
Still I’m putting a brave face on it. At least this means I can stop trying to please her. I don’t have to dress nicely or wear makeup around her. I can stop translating for her and her son. I can stop inquiring after her many friends and family. I can stop commiserating with the problems that come with owning three houses (all of them larger than any house I’ve lived in) and two cars (both new) and taking four holidays a year (and that’s only counting the holidays abroad).
I can go back to being my own slobby, untidy, bad tempered, worthless self.
You’d think that dealing with rejection would get easier but it just keeps getting worse. Every time it hurts more. I don’t know how many more I’ve got in me.
This week I heard back from a New York agent who doesn’t want my book and found out that I haven’t won the Dundee International Book Prize. I had no real expectation that a US agent would be interested in my very British book. I only queried her because she liked a pitch tweet I made as part of a pitch event. I didn’t expect to win the prize because they’re really looking for literary fiction.
Theses rejections shouldn’t hurt. Right now I should be preparing a pitch for a pitch event by a London based agency and a query for an indie publisher that also liked one of my pitch tweets.
But what’s the point? Whatever mad spirit of optimism persuaded me to finish the thing and send it to people has foundered on the rocks of reality. Nobody wants it. It’s the wrong sort of thing.
It’s a familiar feeling. Which is probably why it hurts so much. Because I’m the wrong sort of thing and I always have been. Every time I get an “I don’t love your book enough to represent it” reply I’m reminded of every time I’ve seen that look of disappointment on someone’s face because I continue to be me.
I think that I was into my 30s before my parents stopped expecting me to somehow, magically, turn into a daughter they could be proud of. One of my brothers learned to be good at disguising that look and the other one stopped talking to me. I don’t see my parents-in-law very often but I often hear that note of disappointment in their voices on the phone. On bad days I see that look in the mirror.
When I was a kid that look confused me. I couldn’t understand why my parents and teachers kept expecting me to be anything other than I am. I realised later that what I am is a colossal fuck up and they were still hoping that I would grow out of it. More fool them.
Now I have to ask myself how many more rejections I’ve got in me. How many more times can I hear “no” before I flip out completely? Do I just need stop trying for a while? Will I be able to go back to pretending that I can deal with rejection like a normal adult if I just have a rest? Or is it time to throw in the towel? As time goes on the book is only going to get less relevant. Maybe I should just sit on it and if I live long enough I can publish it as a historical novel?
I have no faith. I don’t mean religious faith though I have none of that and haven’t for years no matter how I try. I mean that I have no faith that good things exist far less that they’re ever going to happen to me.
I have no faith in my writing. Nobody wants my stories. They certainty don’t want to publish them. No one will ever want to read them far less pay to read them.
My work will never be finished. It will never be good enough because its mine. There’s no point doing anything with it because no one wants it.
I have tried to not be a writer. I’ve tried not writing. I’ve tried to forget any ambition or desire to write. I’ve tried not to care that my stories are worthless. None of this has worked. It hurts to call myself a writer when I am so clearly not one by any meaningful measure.
It’s like there’s a wall in front of me and I can’t see any way over it. I know that in theory people finish novels and then publish them or get them published. I know that there’s no obvious reason why I can’t be one of the people who does that. But the published authors are all on the other side of the wall. All the advice I see either assumes that I’m on the other side of the wall or that the wall doesn’t exist.
I’m so tired. I’m in so much pain. I have no faith that I’ll ever get over the wall. I have no faith that there’s any point in trying. The only reason I haven’t given up already is that I have literally nothing else to do with my life. I have no purpose or value. There’s no point in chasing happiness or success because nothing is ever going to make me happy and I have zero chance of success.
I recon I’m about 6 weeks away from printing my novel off, binding it by hand and then smacking people over the head with it till they agree to read it. That just seems a lot easier than the alternatives.
Can I tell you about how I’m feeling? Can I tell you what I’m thinking about? Can I relay my deepest, darkest truths? Can I put down the terrible burdens I carry with me every moment of the day, at least for a moment?
No. No I can’t. And that’s a problem.
There are things I can’t write here because it might be read by people who know me and I don’t want to worry them. And this blog is supposed to be entertaining and there are somethings that I just can’t make funny. But I could write them on an anonymous blog.
I could write some of them anonymously but there are things that are so toxic and dangerous that I can’t put them anywhere online in case someone vulnerable read them and was further damaged by them. I could write them down in a pen and paper diary though. Of course eventually other people might read my diaries but by then I’ll be dead and some of the sting will have gone out of the words.
Some of the sting. There are things I can’t write anywhere in case some day my children read them. And even if I could write things down somewhere no one would read them that’s not the same as telling someone.
Maybe you’re wondering why I don’t just see a therapist or a counsellor. I can’t afford to pay one and, though I live in the UK and we have free medical care, the mental health services are badly underfunded. My doctor wont refer me to anyone because I’m not sick enough. The life-long battle with depression hasn’t killed me yet so I must be doing OK. My doctor also wont give me pills because reasons.
There are free counselling services. The local one had an 11 month waiting list last time I checked. With so little coverage I’d feel guilty taking up their time. There are certainly people around who need it more than I do.
So I’m stuck here thinking things I can’t write down or say out loud but I need to talk about. I’m worried that I might get frustrated and say something to the wrong person and then I’ll have hurt someone. If I keep silent the only person I’m hurting is me.
During November I write. I create new stories and I give myself permission not to care if they’re good, or commercial, or even publishable. Then December comes around again and suddenly I have to care about that again.
I’m not going to look at this year’s first draft yet. I’m still too close to it to know if it’s worth working on. I’ll leave that until the new year. And this isn’t the time to go back to the novel I was working on before. I need time to switch gear.
This is the time to get back to the job of getting my finished novel published. And I don’t know how to do that.
My mind is full of fog and cotton wool and I can’t see a clear path through it. Maybe I’m just tired? Maybe it’s just the Fibromyalgia? Maybe it’s just this bloody awful year affecting me? Whatever it is I feel paralysed with indecision.
In theory it should be simple, though not easy. I should just send a query or submission to every agent I can find contact details for. In practice though that doesn’t seem to be such a good idea. Every approach to an agent will have to be tailored to that agent. They all have slightly different guidelines. And there’s no point wasting energy in approaching agents that don’t represent the kind of novels that I write. Even if they like the novel they would still reject it because they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
The more I think about this the more I hear the voice of my father from when I was growing up saying, “Why can’t you just be normal?” As an adult I know that’s a bullshit question. I know there’s no such thing as normal. Or at least normal as he meant it. But there is such a thing as mainstream and that is not what I am.
I can’t help how my imagination works. If I try to get it to perform to order it might stop working completely. So I’m stuck with a novel that apparently belongs to the red-headed step-child of genres. There’s nothing wrong with Contemporary Urban Fantasy except that it requires a specialist. I’ve already heard from a couple of publishers that they like my novel but they wouldn’t have the first idea to sell it.
All of which means that I have a problem. I have to find the agents who know how to find the publishers who know how to sell my novel. And then I have to persuade those agents to read my novel. And then they have to like it.
I know this isn’t impossible. It can’t be. I’m not the only person writing in this weird genre. So I tracked down the agents of the writers I most admired. And they’ve already turned me down.
What next? How do I find someone who’s going to be willing to take a chance on my novel? I’ve got nothing going for me except the novel and it’s pretty weird. Why can’t it just be mainstream? Why can’t I just be normal?