Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hidden Secret, FOMO, and Tubthumping by Jess Riley

“Oh my gosh talk about depression. It's exhausting. Is it the hidden secret...that no writers talk about this depression that hits so hard?”

This was the raw, honest response I received a few days ago from a writer friend after I asked how she was holding up while waiting for industry feedback.  Another author friend of mine also recently hit an emotional low; she’s enormously talented, a cheerful, wise, and calm port in the publishing storm, and seeing her so uncharacteristically pessimistic scared the crap out of me. And me? Yeah. I’m the one who had the meltdown in the parking lot of her neighborhood Petco last August. 

If you’ve hit a few roadblocks on your road to publication you know you’re getting closer to achieving your goal, you know you’re learning and growing and becoming a better writer, but you also begin to suspect you might be crazy. Or, at the very least, a masochist. You have to steel yourself for the Late Night Self-Doubts, which creep up on you around 1 am and chip away at your self-confidence ‘til 3. Facebook becomes filled with landmines—cheerful updates from other author friends who have Janet Maslin on speed dial and more good news to share than an original disciple of Christ. 

This is, according to SELF magazine, an actual condition: Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. On the social networks, everyone seems shinier and happier and more successful than you…it’s all an illusion, of course, and you must remind yourself that they are just as carbon-based as you, with the same moving and working parts and many of the same dreams, human foibles, and even some of the same hurts. 

So let’s talk about the untalked-about. We’re not supposed to (who wants to hang with Debbie Downer? LAME!), but we’re not truly alone when the Late Night Self-Doubts tiptoe into the room.  We’ve all felt the crushing angst that comes with rejection, bad reviews, endless uncertainty, and industry mishaps or decisions that leave us unable to get up off the couch, covered in potato chip crumbs and a dusting of malted milk powder. The good news is, there are things we can do about it:

Be a shark and keep moving. Begin and finish a new novel. The minute you submit it, begin another one. Repeat again and again. You are a shark. If you stop moving, you die.

Enter a contest, apply for a grant, enroll in a writing class, email your favorite author to tell her how much her last book meant to you, craft a publicity plan, research an idea, write a freaking haiku—even small steps count. Do something every day to advance your writing career.  (If you haven’t read Malena’s and Sara’s posts from Wednesday & Thursday, start there. You will leave inspired.)

Build a behind-the-scenes support network of other writers. Kick anyone out if they get too successful. Just kidding. You’ll want them for a blurb.

Find the humor in it all. Did I cry when only two people—a middle-aged man and a mentally-ill woman—showed up at my last event? No! I poured myself a beer and laughed about it. I laughed even harder when a friend of mine told me that the only attendee at one of her events was a homeless woman who pissed herself during the reading. These are called “character-building” or “humbling” events and will make great material for your next project, even if your next project is simply sharing an entertaining anecdote at a party.

Keep it together. Be professional even if you want to burn that agent / editor / reviewer in effigy. Remain friends after the break-up, as they say. Voodoo dolls and pins are acceptable, but keep that wacky shit to yourself. 

Remember--you have options. Right now, writers have more control over their fate than ever before. Develop a plan and educate yourself.

Most importantly, never forget that every writer gets hit with the Shit Stick at least once in his or her career. It’s how we react that matters.

EDIT: I don't mean to imply that I laughed at the homeless woman urinating on herself in public. That's actually horrible and not funny at all. 
Jess Riley is anxiously awaiting word on her last novel's fate, outlining the new one, and still spending way too much time on Facebook.


  1. Ok...HILARIOUS, BEAUTIFUL, TIMELY! and haha, love it all! Interestingly, I started my FOURTH NOVEL TODAY! 1000 words in. this shark ain't going down. Love ya sister! Steph

  2. Ps...great opener quote! So prolific!

  3. Love this post, Jess!! I was just shaking my head, thinking, YES! as I read this. You've really nailed that feeling of utter despair, the one that makes you think: why do I write?! Should I stop right now?!

    And great advice! I am totally going to picture myself as a shark today. (But a totally cute shark that, like, accessorizes and stuff.) I'm starting an online class today (following your advice already!!) and this is going to put me in the right mindset to be positive!

    If I haven't said it lately, you rock!!

    1. Lol. You blingy shark, you. I'm right there with you. Thinking about de-blinging a bit for the writer's conference today. My shine might scare people away.

  4. Oh, Jess, this totally rocks. Thank you, thank you, thank you . . .

  5. FOMO--I think I have those symptoms too:). love Lucy

  6. Brenda, I started an online class yesterday! Wonder if we're doing the same one? :)

  7. BE A SHARK! I love it! Okay, that sounded overly optimistic, but you know what I mean. I met someone in person yesterday - and we are both very cheery on social media and found out we had a depressing thing in common so we were even more bonded and real: our husbands both suffer from chronic pain. It's not something we talk about online, but it was a great outlet for us to discuss it in person with each other.

  8. Amazing post, Jess. You made my day! I've definitely been there especially when it comes to author signings. Gotta share. XO

  9. Amazing post, Jess. You made my day! I've definitely been there especially when it comes to author signings. Gotta share. XO

  10. Best quote ever: Be a shark and keep moving. I'm taking that one to heart!

  11. Once in a career? But I thought the Shit Stick came in a daily dosage!

  12. I love this post Jess! All of it is so true. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. thank you so much for this. it couldn't have come at a better time. waiting for my agent's feedback on my latest partial after many years of rejected manuscripts following three sales, i pulled a classic dying shark, slowing to a crawl -- and was feeling every drop of despair. i'm going to start swimming again today. thank you.