In the movies, the writer's life can be quite the opposite. The scene is usually something out of "The Devil Wears Prada" in New York City with the character (writer) as this whimsical, neurotic, (sometimes dark) eccentric and somewhat flaky dreamer. Usually they are authors-not writers- struggling to pen their next novel while dodging repeated voicemail messages from an angry publishing house editor.
....Wait, hold up-
What does she mean authors, not writers? I give you the lowdown on the difference between authors and writers here.
I'm going to assume you're a writer reading this. So let me say that if you're beginning your writing career, you're quickly finding out that the writer's life is not what you see in the movies or on t.v.
That doesn't mean the writer's life is a bad thing. Just a reality check.
Me? I have no regrets of the path I've taken. I'm a born writer and this is my destiny.
However, (clearing my throat here), there are some challenges I face, along with other writers I've heard from who also face-that sort of come with the writer's life, if you know what I mean.
In other words, being a writer ain't easy.
THAT'S where writer's depression can set in.
I've been there. Okay, I was there an hour ago...
But I have some victory stories of winning the battle with writer's depression under my belt, too. And I want to share those victories. I also want to share how I've grown in my writer's journey. It may help you. Either you can relate, you know another writer going through it or you're a candidate for the experience in the future.
Maybe I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls. Maybe you won't feel so alone. Or maybe you won't feel so crazy, like it's just you. It isn't.
Writer's depression happens to all of us, to the worst of us, to the best of us.
You may be wondering, what IS writer's depression? Well, since I coined the term, I should be the one to define it, shouldn't I?
That's easier said than done, but I'll give it a go.
Writer's depression is:
- A strong feeling of failure.
- A fear of being found out to be a fraud.
- Low self-confidence.
- Lack of motivation.
- Writer's block.
That's in MY book. Your writer's block may not be writer's depression. Use your own radar here.
Now let's discuss the...
5 Steps to Overcoming Writer's Depression:
Step #1: Face your failure. It's easy for us writers to be depressed when we feel like the biggest loser. That may be awesome for obese purposes, but for writing professionally, it sucks eggs.
Feelings of failure overtake us writers when we apply for a million jobs or independent contracts without hearing back. Or we have difficult, cheap clients back-to-back. Or no clients at all. Or we are living in a "feast and famine" existence, not secure in knowing where our next work is coming from.
That makes us feel like failures. Like we can't do this writing thing. We question our choice to pursue such a career that isn't considered a "real job". What were we thinking?
Well, in order to face failure, we have to redefine what failure actually is.
As children In the school system, we learned that failure is worthy of ridicule and punishment. It is the worst thing in the world to get an answer wrong on a test or the teacher calling on you unexpectedly.
But failure is not a bad thing. Not bad at all.
Freelance writing is a learn-on-the-job profession. If you don't fail, how will you learn?
Failure is, in all actuality, a stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison is noted for saying how he failed his way to success. He looked at each failed attempt as an indication of what not to do again and to do something different next time.
In fact, the more you fail, the more you can learn-if you don't quit, that is.
And that's what failure is: quitting.
In writing, you're going to have A LOT of failures. Accept it now. A LOT. Some days it feels like all you do is fail.
When we fail, we need to not internalize it. Face it head-on. Everyone fails. They've f*#%ed up. They've made mistakes.
I know, it doesn't seem like it. When we mess up, it feels like we're all alone. When you're a writer, (and a writer who works from home at that), the writer's journey seems like you're alone on an island. So when you fail, it feels magnified ten-fold.
Remember, failure should never be personified. During these down times as a writer, challenge yourself to debunk the belief that you ARE a failure; in reality, you just HAVE failures. Writer's Depression comes when you confuse the two.
Failures are lessons. Learn the lesson and when the chance comes again, rock it out next time.
Step #2: Counteract your fear.
They say the fear of failure is right up there with fear of public speaking and death. Again, we've been trained since birth that failure is bad and that if we fail, we're not valuable. It's a fear that we're losers (valueless) if we make mistakes. It's treated as the worst thing in the world.
It's no wonder that we fear failure so much. But as Susan Jeffers says, "feel the fear and do it anyway."
Fear (or as some call it, False Evidence Appearing Real) is a natural part of the human experience. When there is something we are unsure of, we feel afraid. When our safety is threatened, fear overtakes us.
If we are in the woods and we cross a grizzly bear, fear is activated. Holy crap! Your body's fight or flight response takes over. You run away and survive. So fear can be a helpful survival tool.
In today's world, the wildest animal we have to encounter is a house spider. But we have other threats to our safety that activates fear in us. Our physical lives aren't threatened- it's our stability, comfort and security that seems to be in danger.
When it comes to living the writer's journey, fear can really hold us back from success.
Here are some common fears I have felt (and probably you've felt, too):
- Fear of failing as a writer. (What if my career never takes off?)
- Fear of clients finding out you're a fraud, a.k.a. a suckey writer. (What if they find out i'm not really a good writer?)
- Fear of rejection. (What if I'm out of my league?)
- Fear of success. (Will being a successful, in-demand writer be too much for me to handle or will I blow it? Will the successful writer's life be all I dreamed of or will it be disappointing?)
It's life. The fear will be there. My theory is that we have to neutralize the fear to overcome it.
I've found the secret to overcoming fear: Doing it anyway.
Hit the accelerator. Take the green light. Go. Do it. Try it. Plan for it. Apply to it.
Apply for that contract position. Put your bid in-even if you fear being in over your head.
Put yourself out there. Whatever it is you fear, face it head-on...then do it.
That's how you counteract fear. Neutralize it with action.
Step #3: Self-boost your self-confidence.
When we writers suffer from writer's depression, we are in effect suffering from low self-confidence.
This is sad to say, but true: Most writers have low self-confidence.
I found this out the hard way. I entered into the writer's den pretty naive, thinking that us writers should talk shop and stick together.
I wish it was that easy.
I've connected with other writers online and in person and at writer's conferences. These interactions were not what I expected.
I thought we aspiring fledglings would be having these "power talks" about the craft and about growing our business. In my mind, we were "supposed" to be swapping juicy industry secrets and forming life-long colleague friendships...
Instead, I found myself standing in a circle of "little people" holding their head down, shoulders slumped. Swapping was going on all right-swapping of loser stories, of how writers are on the bottom of the totem pole, how writers get no love, stories of poverty.
It was the Biggest Losers Club. (And I don't mean with Jillian Michaels, either.)
The first few times I thought it was a fluke. Maybe I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe I got a bad batch.
Then I found myself in that "little" circle again. And then again. And again.
By now I think you've gotten the message that I think there's a pandemic of low self-confidence (self-esteem) going on among the working writers of the world. We as a group generally consider ourselves to be the sweatshop workers of the intellectual world, slaving away for pennies on the dollar trying to meet quotas only a slave driver could love.
This low self-confidence thing: what is it and what can be done to boost it?
The way I see it, low self-confidence can be equated with low self-esteem. It's the value you place upon yourself, your time and your work.
But in order to have high (or even adequate) self-confidence, we have to value ourselves on an intrinsic level.
We matter. Our work matters. And oh yeah, our time surely matters.
When clients haggle with us, it affects our self-esteem. Having to explain (and downright justify) our fees can make you feel that you, your work and your time aren't valuable.
To boost your self-confidence, try the following things:
#1: A change of scenery. Get from around "little people" and seek out a crowd of "do-ers" who make things happen. Seek out writers who are closer to (or currently are) where you want to be. To make it in this business, us writers are going to need to develop a thick skin of self-confidence to the point of a mild narcissism. Our line of work is one of ongoing critique of our work.
#2: Fake it till you ARE it.
When someone asks you what you do for a living, smile, look them straight in the eye, and say:
"I'm a writer."
Just keep saying it. When someone asks what you do, keep telling them you're a writer. I know it feels about as fake as saying you're a superhero. You'll be embarrassed the person will keep asking questions about it that you can't answer and you'll end up looking stupid. You're terrified they'll ask how much you make and you'll look like a loser.
But keep saying "I'm a writer". Each conversation will move you closer to confidence and away from bull-jiving and pipe dreaming. You don't have to believe it yet.
As a kid, I remember getting clothes and shoes that were a little too big because I would grow into them in a matter of weeks. The same goes with our writing careers. Calling yourself a professional writer may seem fraudulent at worst and delusional at best, but you have to own it.
Cuz' if you don't believe you're a real writer, nobody else will.
Life is 90% confidence. The other 10% is skill. Clients need to see that you are confident in both your abilities and what you can do to help them get what they need.
Business is about 90% psychology. You have to FEEL like a real writer to act like one and attract REAL clients. I'm talking to myself here, too. As I take my writing business to another level this year with bigger clients and larger stakes, it is a fear indeed worthy of shitting bricks.
It took me a while to grow into calling myself a writer, Then it took some time to call what I do a business. Saying the words, "my writing business" has become much more normal these days. I can actually say it without cringing now.
Step #4: Get motivated.
For most of us artists, a lack of motivation can be a huge stumbling block. We've heard the artist's dramatic mantra, "what's my motivation?"
Um, if you don't know what motivates you, I can't help ya.
Don't over-think your motivation. Just pinpoint what makes you motivated. I wish I could tell you where you can find motivation, but it isn't a place. Motivation is an internal thing. Granted, some personalities are naturally more motivated than others. I've found that motivation is something dormant within you that requires activation-kind of like a new debit card you get in the mail. Motivation or drive is therefore activated when you want something more than what you currently have.
Tony Robbins is a master at explaining this. He says pain and/or discomfort is the driving force behind motivation. Two things make you take action: sheer conscious will/determination or when the pain of inaction outweighs the pain of taking action.
In other words, you either get up off the couch when you don't feel like moving because you know you need to and make yourself move or the discomfort of sitting there outweighs the rewards of getting your butt moving. Maybe you hear one of your kids scream and a thud so you jump up because if you don't your child could be hurt- or worse.
I believe we have a choice of what motivates us to write. My motivation is my own and so is yours. My passion for writing drives me, but so does my bank account and daily needs. I also am motivated to be the best writer possible to give freelance writers a good name. I am driven by success and the future experiences of my dreams materializing. I have a list of goals and I am relentless about seeing them manifest-for me. To know I can. Because,,,I can. And my whole life I was told I couldn't.
These are some of my personal "musts". Tony Robbins is the go-to guy for that topic as well. He explains that to get motivated, we must determine what our "musts" are in life.
I call it my "hell no's". Once you know what isn't an option, your motivation is a no-brainer.
Your motivation may be the haters out there who said writing isn't a "real job". It may be a "must" that you end up living mediocre lives like they are. Do you want to end up in the same boat as your critics? DO you want to prove them right as a failed wanna-be writer? Hell, NO!
Motivation now activated.
Step #5: Unblock your writer's block.
Every writer has experienced writer's block. It's creative constipation.
Crude, maybe, but true.
The "laxative" to writer's block is very personal. It depends on the individual person and the cause of their block. Is it fear? Low confidence? A lack of motivation? Maybe you need to set some detailed goals for yourself to get focused. Maybe it's the people around you who don't think writing is a "real" job and sling slick negative comments your way to undermine you. Maybe they don't appreciate your time and want to do frivolous things when you need to be working.
You have to pinpoint the issue. Then you have to figure out how to neutralize it so it doesn't block you from creating.
Writing is a time-sensitive business. People want to know how fast you can produce content. And it's impossible to produce content at a competitive rate if you're riddled with writer's block.
We all get it. It's part of the writer's journey. The difference is that with authors writing a book or a poet writing poetry, they have more creative license to "find their motivation". Professional writers have deadlines. We have to develop the skill of working through writer's block quickly and effectively.
A few techniques I use to unstop my writer's block:
- Stepping away. I can get frazzled trying to write or rewrite something. I can also begin losing it when I get some strong critique of my work and it needs to be redone immediately. When I have tight deadlines, I'm pulling on my hair, trying to get this piece right on the first try (puleeze, keep dreamin'). These climactic moments are when I take a break and do something else. Ideas tend to come when I ease up and relax. Maybe I'll go for a walk, or watch a video, or call my best friend. The key is not to stay away too long, unless your brain turns to mush. Just enough to give you a boost, like a cat-nap does when you're tired.
- Inspiration. Sometimes the right music gets me in the zone and I can flow. Every writer should have their own personal "inspirational toolbox" where they can reach into for motivation when stuck. For me music is that proverbial plunger.
- Positive self-talk. I tend to talk trash to myself a lot, so when I'm stuck, it's key for me to turn that around quickly before I begin spiraling downward into depression. I describe this more in my article, How to Write Better: the 3 Laws of writing.
If there's one only thing you take away from this article, fellow writer, it is that you're not alone. If you're having writer's depression, don't believe for a second you're the only one. I go through it, too. But I also recover from writer's depression quite well. And so can you.
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