“When the researchers looked specifically at authors, they found that they are overrepresented among people with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety syndrome, and substance abuse problems. Authors were also almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.” – (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/study-writers-are-twice-as-likely-to-commit-suicide/263833/)
This statistic was told to me at the start of a module on my Creative Writing degree. It hit me hard. There we were, budding writers who were excited to learn and we are instantly cut down by this dark assessment of our futures. All the same though, I already knew this and wasn’t much surprised by the stark forecast.
You see, I have suffered with depression for basically as long as I can remember. I had a good life, loving parents and the like, but depression doesn’t care about any of that. I didn’t know it was depression for much of my early life but it dawned on me soon enough. I was always tired and unmotivated no matter how hard I tried and however many times I went to the doctors. They ran tests but always told me I was in perfect health, (but my rant on the health service is for another day). It didn’t stop though. I’d go to school feeling like shit, drag myself through the day then go straight to bed. Sleep was a refuge for me, a sanctuary from my own shortcomings and the constant bullying.
I had always loved writing and had been doing it since primary school. I hated reading back then but loved to write. As a writer, I was a god. I created worlds and filled it with life. I had the friends in these imaginary worlds hat I lacked in real life. As the depression grew within me, I withdrew more and more into my writing. It was the one thing that I felt I had any talent in. It was the one thing that made me happy. When I looked into my future, being an author was the one path that shone in a dark abyss of misery. Even now it feels like the ONLY path that I can take that will ensure my life, and that thought scares me.
So, writing as a profession. Trying to get your foot into the door of that industry is tough. Writers, in my experience at least, are often shy dreamers. The world is a very mean place though. Even before you start, society is against you. Sure, everyone is supportive in the sense that they’d love it if you succeeded and hope that you do, but most look at the chances of you making it as an author and judge it as a lost cause. They tell you to make other plans and to get a “real job”. They are not understanding about the sheer amount of time that you need to put into a story when there is school work to do, or more hours that you should work to bring in the money. A cousin of mine bakes fancy cakes and was complaining about people being unwilling to pay her prices when it took hours to bake and decorate each cake. I wanted to tell her to try investing hundreds of hours into a project with no guarantee that it will make you a single penny. That is what hangs over a new writer’s head constantly.
When I finally admitted defeat in regards to making friends where I was, I locked myself away every break time and spare hour to write. Others were out having fun but I sacrificed any chance of that to push for my dreams of becoming an author. It felt like that was my only chance of ever succeeding in life. I was still depressed but I was working so hard and became so invested in the lives of my characters that I didn’t really feel it. I worked and worked, pushing everything else aside until I finally had a finished story. That became a trilogy then went back to the first to edit it into something that could be published. I was proud of it. For the first time in my life, I had created something that I was proud to call my own and was excited to let others read. I wanted to spread the joy that I got from reading with others. I had achieved something.
It turned out though that those hundreds of emotionally draining hours had been the easy bit. I didn’t talk to any of my peers and my family aren’t big readers so I turned to teachers to give me feedback. Not one could spare the time to read through it for me. This was understandable with their workload but was disheartening all the same. Once more I found myself going it alone. I reread my story so many times that I was sick of it. When it seemed like I couldn’t polish the story any more, I began the confusing process of submitting it to agents.
This was the point where the depression hit me again, harder than ever. Months of waiting for responses passed by painfully slowly. When the replies started to trickle in, they all bore the same generic declining words that were punches to the gut.
At (insert company name here), we receive hundreds of submissions every year and only a handful of these can be developed into published books. We regret to inform you that your story has not been selected to be one of these. Thank you for your interest in our company.
Impersonal. Unhelpful. Hundreds of hours for a copy and pasted rejection, and that’s if they do send you an email. Some just never get back to you. It is crushing to be told that you aren’t good enough. What made it worse was that during this time was the craze with Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. They are pretty bad books, but what was worse were the multitude of hastily written clones that clogged bookshop shelves. They were all poorly written and unoriginal, all bearing almost identical front covers and blurbs but publishers ate them up because they sold. The Twilight and Fifty Shades clones took up more room in my local bookshop than the entire Fantasy, Manga and Comics section. That crap was everywhere but my passion filled story was worthless to them. It made me bitter towards the industry and to the world in general. I had learned nothing from the experience. I had gained no feedback at all. How was I to know what to do in order to get published if I was never told why I wasn’t chosen? It is a cold, cut-throat industry that does not care the slightest about creativity or the feelings of writers. It’s ironic really.
So I decided to self publish. It sounds like a dirty phrase, doesn’t it. Vanity publishing. There is a stigma attached to it. Anything can be published so there is no quality guarantee. Self recorded music is called independent and is a massive part of the music industry now but for writers it is still a bad thing. But I had a story that I thought was good enough to be out there, had a dream to follow and was willing to put my money where my mouth was. I found an independent publisher who were trust worthy and use my life savings to turn my story into a physical book that I could hold in my hands. It was beautiful.
Now I had a thousand paperback copies of my book, kept the retail price at £7.99 and was ready to get them out into the wild. Only, once again, it was not as easy as that. I went to my local WHSmiths with my book and got messed around for weeks until they told me that I’d now have to wait for them to get more funds as they’d already overspent on books. Every time I mentioned it they seemed very dismissive and they would arrange meetings and then not turn up to them. At the same time I tried a nearby Waterstones that was a city centre site. I received a brief email from them expressing the following:
“Thank you for your enquiry concerning the stocking of merchandise in our store. I am afraid we are unable to accept ‘The Sword Summoner: History Repeats’ at this time. As I am sure you are aware, both Fantasy and Young Adult are highly competitive genres and our experiences in the past have shown us that there just isn’t a demand for self-published fiction in our store. I am sorry I can’t offer you better news but wish you every success with ‘The Sword Summoner’ and with your writing career.”
This was simply confirmation that the industry didn’t care. I’d spent every penny I owned and put all of my time and energy into this dream and now I was told that the big book shops, the places with all of the market audience, would never consider my book no matter how good it may or may not actually be. A few small, independent book stores allowed me to leave a few copies with them, something that I was massively grateful for, but it certainly limited my reach. I finally relented and set up a Facebook account after years of saying that I never would and began an online advertising campaign to try and get my book known. I am a writer though, not a marketing expert so progress has been slow.
I am still writing at every free moment I have despite how beaten down I feel because to not write is to not be alive. Writing IS life. I still see it as the only possible road to success. But I feel like I am burning myself out. All of my energy is going into it and there is still a massive chance that it will all be for nought. Each day that I bleed out my emotions onto the page is another day that the depression threatens to overwhelm me.
The sad thing is though that this isn’t just me moaning into the internet. I have heard this story from so many other mouths that it is distressing. That such wonderful and create people live their lives fighting with their own mentality as they struggle not to drown in a hostile world. Whether mentally ill people are drawn to the creative arts or the stresses of creativity lead to mental illness, this is a real problem that even the industry that feeds off of our creativity does not care about. It is so very disheartening to think on. All we can do as writers is keep moving forward. Keep writing and submitting your work until you succeed. We all know that this may never even happen but to give up is to lose who we are. The depression is always there, hell, sometimes it helps to fuel the creative process. It is our constant foe, the dark side of our own minds and to give up on our dream is to let the depression win. That is when we enter the downward spiral toward suicide. The fact that so many writers, or creative people in general, fall down this path is a very sad. This is a social issue that is not being addressed. We rely so much on the content provided by writers and artists but turn a blind eye to their suffering.
I will keep fighting. Each day is a battle and you never know which battle will be your last. One bad day could end someone’s life, taking an untapped creative force from the world forever. It is a hard world and we as writers must stand together to face it. Life is difficult but we must keep aiming for our dreams. We cannot let a money crazed society crush our passion. Stay strong and dream big, my friends.