Revision Anxieties

I got The Border Guard back from the developmental editor. Some bits need clarifying, I removed the third chapter that’d been a late insert, and there was information that needed moving up. There were some other bits that needed work which I think I’ve done enough on, though I’ve reached the point where I just can’t tell. But the main problem remains that I don’t describe enough, or in enough detail.

Descriptions don’t come easily for me. Those are the bits I tend to skim over when reading. It’s simply how my mind works, focussing more on the abstract of plot and dialogue. So even if I do describe stuff, it may not be that interesting. Because it’s not what I want to be writing. I try to counter this, but since I have trouble even telling where I need to describe more, I could easily be missing places I should add more, or not doing enough in the places I do add stuff.

While it was more the details than the overall structure that needed work, I find myself questioning whether my writing instincts are all wrong. Given my lack of success so far, something in my instincts is probably lacking. And I hired an editor to help me get the manuscript into a state that the traditional publishing system prefer, so unless I disagree with something for a reason I’m clear on, I’ll go with her advice.

 

Infodumps

I had tried spreading the information out initially, to avoid slowing the opening (and without being too infodumpy). This involved introducing some ideas but not fully explaining them until later, which I can see is dumb. But rearranging stuff, I’m not sure whether I’ve slowed the early story down. I’ve done at least a handful of passes on the opening chapters to polish the inserts and pare them down to make minimal impact on the flow.

But I’m at the point where I can no longer tell. The point at which I’ve stared at it so closely that I find I can’t really step back to see the larger picture. It is the shape its going to be in my mind, and all I can do is tinker at the edges, polishing it.
I’m not even sure I’m explaining this well.

 

Submission Anxiety

While the edit was generally positive, I can’t help fretting over every detail.

Since this is the first things I’ve written in a while of a commercially acceptable length (90K) I’m going to try the traditional submission route, in hopes of finding somewhere that’ll do the promotion I’m useless at. Which I realise may be a forlorn hope, since all we hear about is publishers increasingly offloading that stuff onto authors. But there’s little traction on the dozen plus novels I’ve self-published, so trying one this way is hardly much of a gamble (he says envisioning a dozen ways in which this could make things worse).

So I’m starting with looking at agents. In the UK. For a fantasy novel. It’s a small pool. Especially since some of the stuff I write is more crime/thriller, so I’d also like someone who could represent a few genres. But I’ll go with fantasy primarily.

Since submissions are generally the first three chapters or 50 pages, those are the ones I’ve been focussing on, going over and over them, again and again. They’re also the ones that have had stuff moved up into them, making them seem more bloated to me than they probably are.

I’ve been switching, with increasing rapidity, between worrying they’re not good enough, to stupid levels of confidence that the genius therein will shine through regardless. Agents surely look for the potential within the work won’t they? Unless mine is the dozenth they’ve had to read that day, and they’re looking for any excuse to decline and move on to the next.

The pace of change of this manic-depressive cycle has gotten so fast that I now seem able to hold both viewpoints concurrently.
So I reached the point where I had to submit it and hope it isn’t as bad as I fear.

 

Anxieties will ultimately stop me ever putting anything out if I listen to them too long, so once I reach the point where it feels like I’m doing things by rote and not taking anything in, it’s time to step away from it. Either for a short while, or releasing it to wherever. I’m reasonably sure it’s in an overall good state, or as good as I can make it barring minor tweaking.

Or I was until I finished that sentence, and I’m again thinking I should have done more. But I’ll never escape that, even for books I released years ago. All I can do is move on to the next project, giving that my attention.

Depression 7: The Misery of Hope

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

I thought finally losing my hope would make things easier. That the anguish of all these daydreams of the way things could go would stop. It turns out the absolute void of anything in my future but too many more years of existence before I finally get to rest is even worse.

Self-delusion may have been the only thing keeping my suicidal impulses to a promise of future release.

I still have my duties and obligations to force me to keep going. To drag me out of bed in the morning.

Life has no reason, no purpose, other than whatever we attribute to it. I don’t think I’m capable of doing so. And I have too little in life to distract me from this void.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been happy. I recall no true moments of joy. And I’m now sure I never will.

The only possibility I do see for any kind of joy, however false, is if I do succumb to the psychotic break that’s seemed imminent for a while. It’s always had this allure of finally allowing me to lose my inhibitions, of being alive. But it’d more likely be far more tortured than that, and I don’t want the risk of causing others pain. Because everyone else is more important than me. Everyone else has something to live for.

I’m not sure what I’d even do without my inhibitions anyway. I see nothing in life that seems that interesting. I don’t drink. I can’t dance. Many things people seem to take pleasure in just look so hollow. Are they all just distractions, and is everyone as broken as me on the inside?

A lifetime of living in here has taught me how to hide most of the things I have inside. Does everybody else do the same, and none of us want to talk about it or acknowledge it? Or is it just me?

 

I have this desperate need to break out of the soul-eroding routine, but get exhausted by anxiety whenever I do.

I almost feel another me, one I’d sooner be, straining to be free from inside of me. Giving me urges to do something stupid.

Maybe going to the conference was a good thing. Stirring up my anxieties. Maybe it’ll goad me into acting. And inevitably doing the wrong thing.

Though with no definite goal, I’m more likely to carry on along the same familiar groove.

 

All I have left is memories of a life unlived. And I’m too old and broken to start living it now. All I have to hold on to is the promise of oblivion thereafter.

I so wanted to be rid to the final niggling sliver of hope, with all its lies that only served to make the anguish worse when they never happened.

Now I’m left with nothing. Just a need to keep writing to hold the darkness at bay.

But I think I’m out of words.

 

Depression 5: Writing Bad

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

I’m not a real writer. Apparently a fear of many writers. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t true for some.

To be more precise, it should be ‘I’m not a good writer’. Which is, of course, a highly subjective term.

But I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and it feels like my writing is getting worse. And I’ve yet to achieve any success.

Not that I consider myself a failed writer. A failed writer doesn’t finish the story. I’m just an unsuccessful one. And unsuccessful can change over time.

I’m just not sure I believe it will. Or that I really want it to. I want my stuff read. And I’d like to make a living at writing, so I can continue to do so. But I don’t really have any image of what success would be like, and seem unable to place myself in any such scenario.

I’m not sure if I’m sabotaging myself. I know there are things I’m doing wrong. Basically the marketing. Reaching out to people, which will always be a problem for me.

And I’m sure the reason I can’t sell anything in the short story market is that they prefer idea-centred stories, whereas even if I start off from an idea, the story itself always ends up taking priority for me.

But I’m not sure whether I’m just not a good writer. Feedback from some people I trust is reassuring, though there’s always the concern of how much of that is politeness. A part of me kind of wants a voice of authority to say I’m a bad writer, and should stop doing it. A verification of what I feel deep inside.

Yet while I sometimes feel that about my writing, the next moment I’m completely the opposite. I have written some good stuff. But it’s shallow. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But then, what does?

I’m reasonably convinced I have some skills, or at least an inclination. There was one recently popular book, based mainly around it’s final twists. Those twists were similar to ones I’d used in a story a few years back (whose readership may just have gotten into double figures, so it’s purely coincidence of similarly twisted minds). So some of my ideas may be worth something.

Which could just mean it’s my execution that’s lacking. It’d be nice to think that, rather than that it’s all just a matter of luck. A lack in craft could be fixed. Random chance is notoriously harder to control.

That assumes that it’s my craft that’s lacking. But I see writing as being as much about art as craft. And if my storytelling art is what’s lacking, I’m not sure it’s possible to learn.

Ultimately, I feel compelled to write. I’m not entirely sure how much being read really matters. Possibly as part of the having a connection to the world, sharing my ideas. But it’s not the immediacy of a conversation, or an actual interaction.

Depression 4: The Prison of Things

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

One of the great things about the upheavals in society since I was young is the increasing digitalisation.

I have so much stuff. Books and comics and DVDs and so on (it should hardly be a surprise I’m a geek).

But that’s a lot of stuff to take up space. It’s a millstone around my neck.

Since most of my stuff is actually ephemeral on a certain level, just ideas which used to require physical delivery systems, I could conceivably transfer my life to an increasingly virtual one. (Obviously not all. Walking around in only virtual clothes is indecent exposure unless everyone else agrees to the illusion of virtual clothing. Also, cold at this time of year.)

It’s not quite the same though. You need power to be able to access the information, and a device on which to experience it. And you don’t necessarily own the instantiation. You just rent it on a long-term contract, which the provider could cancel if you happen to change credit card or something. Or they could go out of business.

But it means less stuff to accumulate, adding to the increasingly nomadic inclination of first-world society.

I do feel constrained by all the stuff I’ve accumulated. In reality, it’s other obligations which hold me here (along with the lack of anywhere to go). But if I were free, and did want to go anywhere, I’d have to do something with this lot.

A part of me just wants to burn the lot of it, though another part rails at the thought of ever burning books. But a symbolic disposal, if just recycling them. The pragmatist in me will just continue selling them on ebay though, because I don’t exactly have many income streams. And while I don’t spend much (one benefit of having no life), I can’t help thinking of the long-term, when I might need the money (if only to reach my death before running out of funds to keep myself alive).

Depression 3: The Modern Disconnect

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

 

Constant Change

We live in a world of constant change. Technological advancements now come at such a speed that society has to constantly adjust to keep up with things.

Life is consequently fast, and increasingly unstable. There are far fewer certainties in life (other than the final certainty).

There are also far more choices. Far more options. Even a century ago, the life you were born into could have decided the course of your future. It may have been possible to fight for a different one, if you knew what you wanted.

Now, provided you live in the right place, your options are far more vast. So vast that decision anxiety can take hold. With so many options, how can you choose one? Can you even choose one, or do you simply stumble into something and get stuck there, either growing comfortable or suffering in silence?

And if you do choose a future, will that choice still be valid in a year’s time? Maybe less.

Given such permeable foundations, is it even possible for many to have a coherent sense of identity. There’s certainly less likely to be anything as clear cut as they might have had a century earlier. Even if they hated what they were, they knew what it was. An identity you hate at least gives you something to rebel against.

I have trouble seeing any role in society I could do, anyway. I was useless at interviews because (at least in part) I’m no good at faking enthusiasm. Why should I, anyway? Most jobs seem so pointless. Being a cog in the machine, producing something – goods or service – to ultimately keep the machine going. Necessary for the continuation of society, but I see no gratification to be derived from it. Only a wage, to continue living a pointless life, while being encouraged to produce more cogs for the continuation of the machine.

I’ve never seen how that life could be lived. I tried it. Waiting for it to somehow settle in, if only by routine dulling down my thoughts. But the pointlessness of it never went away.

Not that life without it is any easier. But at least writing offers more of a distraction from the sheer horror of existence. Even this only helps keep my final collapse at bay while my mind is occupied.

But society is increasingly under stress from the incessant rate of change. And far wider than it was a century ago.

 

Global Isolation

Communications has made the world virtually smaller, and put us in the position where we can have more in common with someone on the far side of the world who shares our worldview, than with our neighbours (who not so long ago could well have had roles not that dissimilar to our own). And we can have more communication with that distant person. This obviously has an effect on the destabilisation of local communities, especially among the young.

Personally, I don’t find online communications the same. I know it offers a sense of community that can be hard to find if you’re geographically isolated from others sharing your interests, and maybe that’s fine if you’re a more sociable type.

For me, the lack of physical cues in the communication makes everything too easy to misinterpret, so I’m always second-guessing what I say. It’s always safer to just not respond at all, rather than risking causing offence. And while taking time to make a considered response should be better, I still find myself typing the wrong thing when I do try to take part.

You can never be sure what another really thinks anyway, even looking them in the face. The virtual connection just makes everything that much more ephemeral.

Even so, finding your own clique online can offer a sense of community. But there remains a sense of detachment I’m unable to dismiss, leaving me cut off from even that illusion of connection.

I’ve been on a few communities, involved in discussions, and even keep in occasional contact with some members. But I’ve never really felt the same connection as with people I’ve physically met (not that I’ve necessarily had any real connections with them).

And virtual communities can be too deceptive. It’s easy to fall into lurking, reading what’s said and feeling like you’re still a part of the community. But would those involved in the community even remember who you are? It’s not as though you’d be seen observing the discussions.

Unless you can find somewhere where you really feel you belong, and where you can be comfortable, and then actively contribute to discussions, online communities can too often be illusory.

Following people you admire can also be dangerous. If they’re active on social media, you can feel like you really know them. You have to remind yourself you don’t. Not really. And they probably don’t even know you exist.

The distance offered by online communication makes my social anxieties no easier to manage. It can take hours to compose a single response to a simple question, leaving me exhausted, and still sure I haven’t said the wrong thing.

Depression 2: Inciting Event

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

I went to a writing coference last weekend. I’ve been to a few one-day ones before, but this was the first multi-day one. I’m never sure what I hope to get out of these. Connecting with people who should be the same as me, I think. Finding someone to talk to. Not feeling so isolated.

They’re never satisfactory. Yet I keep going, somehow convincing myself I can make more of an effort to make a connection, that next time things can be different.

Maybe the extended period of this convention let the feeling build up that much more.

Many writers claim to have impostor syndrome, and more than a few of not being the most socially adept. But I saw little of that. Just cliques of people happily talking around me. So either they’re better at hiding it, or not as badly off as I am.

These are mainly social events, and being unable to connect socially means I’m probably not getting what I should from them. There are panels, of course. But in those I’d never be able to ask questions. My mind just freezes up, and any hint of audience participation flip me into panic mode.

I did manage a few conversations on the last day, though only when people spoke to me. I managed polite responses, but felt too reserved. I’m always worried my desperation for connection will make me overshare, so I probably overcompensate by being totally unmemorable.

The night before I’d actually initiated a conversation. I’m not sure when last I did that with someone I didn’t already know. Maybe never.

It was someone with whom I had only a casual acquaintance, from a few exchanged emails. I knew she was there, and had been wondering whether it’d be polite to introduce myself, or politer not to bother her while she was with friends. The anxiety attacks when I considered doing so were almost crippling, leaving me almost in danger of throwing up.

When I saw her alone at the bar later waiting to be served, I somehow, impulsively, managed to go up and introduce myself. I don’t think I said where she’d have known me from, so can’t be sure whether she recognised me.

It passed quickly, without me freezing. Though I have no idea whether I came across as some kind of freak, but that was hopefully just my anxieties. More likely I was instantly forgettable.

With social interactions so infrequent, I find I over-analyse every little thing I may have done wrong. (Should I have offered to buy her drink? Would that have been polite, or too pushy?)

There were, of course, others there I’d have liked to have talked to. But I have trouble talking to people I’ve known for years. I can respond to them, but actually going up to them is another matter entirely. Approaching someone I vaguely knew left me an emotional wreck for the rest of the night, and I achieved little sleep.

It was one small victory over my anxieties, but nowhere near as much as I’d have liked it to be. And I so rarely interact with others that seeing it a first step in anything is ridiculous. It made the enormity of what I’d have to overcome to get anywhere that much more obviously insurmountable.

By the time I got home I was suffering bouts of almost collapsing in tears, and I’m still not entirely sure where they’re coming from. It’s not like staring down at the nihilistic end of everything isn’t a regular sight every time I consider the future.

I think maybe it was just me finally acknowledging reality, and accepting that all the daydreams I have about connecting with anyone are just that.

I’ll always be apart, alone, never having even the illusion of connection.

Depressed 1: Opening Shot to the Head

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

Hi, I’m Gareth, and I’m depressed.

Just to be clear, this is in no way advice on how to cure your depression. I am firmly in the death-grip of mine, and doubt I’ll ever be free of it. I certainly can’t see any hope of it in the future, no matter how certain parts of my mind try to trick me into daydreaming otherwise.

I’ll still be depressed by the end of this series of posts, so don’t go into it expecting any uplifting stories. In fact, I should probably warn everyone away from going any further anyway. Depression is probably contagious, even just as a meme.

I will offer no hints on how to manage your depression. I’m barely managing mine, so we’re all on our own in that regard.

Yes, there are mental health professionals I should probably urge you to reach out to if you feel the same. I doubt I could do so myself. Mainly because I’ve already run through the scenarios of how such things would probably go. My depression is as much philosophical as based on my personality issues, and pumping me full of medication to stop me thinking is just burying the problem.

I’m functional, and no current danger to others, so don’t see why engaging in a lie would be in any way helpful.

But your circumstances may be different, and if you’re capable of reaching out to others, you probably should.

 

Setup

I live in a rural area, with my mother. (Yes, I’m probably a stereotype, and there’ll be plenty more for you to mock later) I did live away for six years, while working halfway up the country, but moved back after getting thoroughly discouraged with that job, and to help look after the place as my father’s health deteriorated. (I was living in an urban area, so it’s me rather than the rural location that’s responsible for my isolation – although growing up here may have had an influence.)

There’s a reasonable-sized garden, and a chicken run (rough ground) about twice the size. There are currently only six chickens, each functionally having a space as large as the area of the house in which to roam.

Maintaining it is a Sisyphean nightmare, doing my already wrecked body in to keep it under control for little reason beyond being able to reach the fence to repair it should a fox get in.

And that’s without mentioning the bloody snakes. A growing population of adders and grass snakes in recent years, and I don’t usually linger long enough to identify which. They get into the chicken run, and the garden, and it’s only a matter of time until there’s one in the house. It’s a constant source of anxiety during hot weather, and even in winter I dread it getting warm again.

The closest I’ve come to one was opening the compost bin. One had taken up residence in a full bin, and was actually ensconced in the rim around the lid. So when I lift it off, the snake slips down. Fortunately I still had it held over the bin, so it didn’t fall on my feet. I now knock a couple of times on the lid and wait a few moments before opening.

The work is mainly in the dryer and warmer weather, but I doubt I’d be able to hold down a job and help maintain the place. Not without abandoning writing, and totally crushing what little remains of my soul.

Writing is probably the only thing that’s held off a psychotic break so far, and if I didn’t have that I’d be in far worse shape by now. Or possibly just dead.

It’s not as though I have any actual social life to distract me from being stuck inside my head.

 

Issues

I’ve never been good communicating with people. My main problem is initiating communications, probably an inferiority complex over why would anyone be remotely interested in anything I have to say. I’m also not that good at responding. By now I’m so out of practice that I’ll answer honestly rather than use the polite pleasantries required for social interactions.

I haven’t really had any friends since school, and seem unable to connect with people. A few kind of connections over the internet, but to me they never feel the same.

As time goes on I find myself increasingly anxious whenever I have to go anywhere, and I’m becoming more isolated from the world as a result.

The only future I see is an increasingly narrow one defined by family obligation.

I’m never good at travelling. At enjoying the journey. At living in the moment. My mind always goes ahead to what’s next, and after that, and that ultimately leads to only one place. It’s not something that I can stop doing without stopping thinking, and it probably prevents me doing much of anything.

Depression 0: What Have I got to be Depressed About?

I had a slight, and quietly private, breakdown at the beginning of the week. I think I finally lost hope of ever being happy. I haven’t regained it, but I forced myself to write and do other stuff to distract myself from the absolute blackness that is my future.

I half-jokingly tweeted that I considered writing an inverse self-help book. Maybe titled How to Murder your Hope and Endure Another Day. And feeling a need for catharsis and distraction, I tried.

It didn’t quite work out like that, but it did offer a needed distraction, and delayed further collapses until I stopped.

It’s nothing I can publish though, for a number of reasons. I think the main one is I just can’t help thinking I have no right to be depressed, and certainly no right to inflict it upon others.

I have no long-term illness (other than recurring back problems). I don’t appear from outside to be in too bad a circumstance.

My depression only stems from loneliness and a crippling social anxiety and inability to connect with anyone. Not a real problem. And not one that anyone else would have any interest in.

There may be an element of mid-life crisis in the mix too. I have spent over a decade writing stuff that never sells. With nothing else in my life, it feels like I’ve wasted everything.

But what the hell do I have to be depressed about?

I should just shut up and keep it to myself, which is what I do. What I’ve always done.

I should just get out there and live (which I can’t), stop angsting over these first world problems.

And this guilt over feeling depressed when there are so many others who could be far more justified in it makes it all the worse. Does it also make me less likely to reach out for help? Possibly. If I was ever capable of doing that.

So all of it would just been self-indulgent pap if published. Come look at the loser spill his guts for entertainment. Laugh a minute, then leave and forget all about him.

Why should I reach out to anyone? Why share my misery? It’s not like everyone doesn’t already have enough problems of their own.

But depression doesn’t seem to care. It’s happily ensconced, and has no intention of giving up its hold on me until I’m dead.

Instead I’ll just share the bits I’m willing to here, for some catharsis. It’s cheaper than therapy, and with a smaller audience. They’re only vaguely structured though, and not really formed into any kind of a overall narrative. If anyone does read this, you’ve only yourself to blame if you catch anything.

The Lingering Death of Hope

Warning: This is just another record of my breakdown, since nobody else reads this. If you stumbled here by accident, just move along.

 

It was my first Fantasycon this past weekend. And probably my last. I go to conventions in hopes of finding someone to talk to about writing and stuff. Among those who share my interests. But I’m still unable to talk to anyone, and too broken to change. Conventions are primarily social events, and unless you already have friends there, they can just be isolating. You’re still an outsider.

Even talking to a casual acquaintance, with whom I’d shared only a few emails, took a ridiculous amount of effort, and internal argument (is it politer to introduce myself, or not to bother them? They’d certainly have no reason to want to know me.) And when they ask how I’m enjoying the event, why don’t I lie and mouth pleasantries? Honesty is never welcome. And should I have reminded them where we’d connected, in case they thought I was just some random nutter (not necessarily untrue)?

That may actually have been the first time I tried to reach out to someone at one of these things. Still, I should have known better. I’m usually held back by having run through the scenario to work out what to say, to a couple of levels, so we’re not immediately freezing in awkward silence. But I acted on impulse, which of course ended with me feeling like an idiot.

Neuroses and existential despair took hold as the weekend went on, the future opening up a vista of isolation, with death the only respite.

Yet still that treasonous sliver of hope won’t quite die, promising, against all logic and reason, that things can get better. That I can connect with someone.

Even though I know this is a lie. All hope does is enhance the anguish, preventing me withdrawing from the world and submitting to the march to death in defeat.

Still, Bristolcon is at the end of the month. Maybe I’ll finally be able to kill off the remains of my soul there.

Here’s hoping.