Worthlessness in the Midst of Success

Recently, I experienced a bit of low point. By recently, I mean since September though not every day. I am of the mindset that everyone gets down from time to time and this doesn’t mean someone is depressed. Sadness doesn’t seem to fit with what I felt but I shouldn’t just say, “I’m depressed,” unless I have a professional giving that diagnoses (which I do not).

This blog is about writing and not my emotional state, but I think many writers experience this same thing for many of the same reasons.  In order to give this post the justification it needs for appearing on a writing blog, I need to explain all the factors that led me to the point where I could barely pull myself out of bed. This isn’t meant to replace real, professional help and if you are feeling some of these things, it was probably best that you reach out to someone.

Worthlessness in the Midst of Success

pexels-photo-219591This year I have had a lot of changes. I finally finished my undergrad (Side note: My diploma finally came in the mail today after months of waiting!), I moved halfway across the country, picked up several paying writing gigs, and got an awesome position in the publishing industry. Even though everything seemed to be going right, inside I felt wrong. This conflict between what I knew were good things and my internal emotional state made me feel ungrateful. Other people have it so much worse.

After moving to Georgia—where I knew pretty much no one—I found myself becoming lonely. This isn’t the, “I’m bored and want someone to hang out with,” kind of feeling,  but  more of a weight that lodged itself in my chest. Some nights, after my significant other was at work and my son was asleep, I’d sit on the couch and feel like I was suffocating. I started drinking. After a drink or two, my chest didn’t feel so tight.

While this sounds like it was destructive, it wasn’t that sort of melodramatic spiral into alcoholism that movies portray. I never got drunk. Most of time ,I really would only have one drink. Perhaps this is because I had another escape, writing.

Writing as an Escape

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The stories that I created and the stories that I read made me forget that I didn’t really have any friends outside of my family. Since my son is toddler and I am his primary caregiver, just making sure he wasn’t getting into anything dangerous exhausted me. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the company of my family, but I missed being able to go to a friends house, hang out, and not worry about anything.

Eventually, I got used to it. I would hang out with my family during the day, and throw myself into writing at night. Rather than fix the problem, I feel that it this let me hang on a little longer. When I couldn’t write, it ruined my mood.  It became they only thing I wanted to do. Yes, I still had my one or two drinks a night, but that was to loosen the tension rather than to forget.

Rejection as Writer Struggling with Life

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Part of being a writer is learning to handle rejections. Part of being a writer is getting rough skin. This gets hard when the rest of your life has flayed you to the bone. Writing isn’t just a hobby to me, so obviously I had to submit the stuff I’d been working on. How else would it get published?

One of my stories—one I believed was the best thing I had written—continually got rejected (As of today, 22 times to be exact.) I doubted if I really was really meant to be doing this. I know several people who’d made sales but I was in dry spell. Maybe, everything I had done up until that point had been a fluke.

This added mass to the loneliness and started to turn it into a feeling of worthlessness. It seemed like no matter what I did, I just wasn’t quite good enough.  No matter how encouraging the rejection was, it was still a rejection. Eventually, I asked one of my more successful friends to give the story a look and tell me what was wrong.

They destroyed the piece. As soon as they pointed out all of its flaws, I knew they were right. This was strange. The sudden realization that I wasn’t talented (or at least as much as I thought) was painful but also exhilarating. In one critique I felt like I had smashed through a plateau and could start improving again. Still, my emotional state was tender and it hurt.

Though I had direction, this new perspective daunted me. We all know publishing is hard, but I know realized that I had so much further to go to get to the point that I wanted. A sliver of me wanted to give up. Part of me asked what was the point? Its so unlikely that anything will ever come of my writing. The problem/blessing was I still had that loneliness. I couldn’t give up. If I did, one or two drinks would turn into five or six, maybe more.

Finding things to Help Lift the Load

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I was listening to episode of the Hugo-finalist podcast, Ditch Diggers, where Tobias Buckle described a similar experience with his writing. At the same threshold I was at, he heard some advice that changed his mindset.

Write because you need to, but strive for rejections, not acceptances. Have a goal to get 100 rejections in a year,then every “no” is step forward. Somewhere along the way, a someone will say “yes” just to set you back.

To me, this sounded liberating. I’m still lonely, and I assume I proabably always will be, but little events in life help me carry the weight. Maybe this advice will become used up, but for now it helps give me hope.

Thanks for reading, and I apologize for the dour post. If you want to read something more upbeat check out my archives. Hell, pretty much any of my other stuff is happier than this. If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to hit the follow button below. I hope everyone is having a wonderful day, and good luck with your writing.

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3 thoughts on “Worthlessness in the Midst of Success

  1. I had a similar experience with a story of mine that I loved, but after reflection, yes, there was a lot wrong with it and like you I felt an immense sense of joy that okay, I can improve this and I’m still learning the craft I love. Take care Steven.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post comes across as realistic and human rather than dour – and I think the idea of striving for rejection has a lot of merit if it’s treated as a means of improvement. For what it’s worth, often when I have a piece I believe is one of my best I become blinded to its flaws and then can’t understand why people aren’t falling over themselves to read it. Looking back I’d say all my best pieces have been ones that plagued me with doubt.

    Looking forward to reading more of your work – and best of luck with all your endeavors.

    Liked by 1 person

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