When bitterness seeps in, take a rest from writing

I haven’t been writing this week yet, but that is okay, because I am feeling sad and bitter. Some weeks are harder than others when it comes to fighting off my depression and anxiety.

I feel as if writers, more so than any other profession or hobby, glorify workaholism anyway. I’ve read tweets like “How do you write through a migraine?” Um, unless writing is your job and you have a deadline tomorrow and getting paid that invoice means you can make rent that month, don’t. Normalize rest. If you’re not feeling joy in the process, but rather obligation and dread, it is time to take a break and do other things. It’s not worth it. Your writing quality will suffer, too.

I’ve never been one of those writers that writes better when I am in pain or depressed. I just don’t understand that. I do use my pain and depression in my stories, but I can’t tap into it if I can’t write at all. It can be therapeutic at times, when you are transforming your pain into creative energy, but other times, it can just feel like work. If it’s just another Monday, that’s problematic.

My anger from a couple of weeks ago has cooled into the brittle tang of bitterness and I can feel it seeping into everything I do. I am depressed about the election; I think Trump will win. Too many young radicals will stay home because Biden isn’t their perfect candidate. I think the media has won it for him and the polls are wrong, just like in 2016, and he will cheat his way through a popular vote barely won by Biden to win. He’s stacked the courts, he’s strained the mail, he’s set the stage, and the Russian bots are hard at work.

I already see them on Twitter. They were Black Lives Matter activists and they have grown disenchanted with the Democratic Party because they think the BLM movement is racist. Sorry, but I know of no liberal who thinks like that. All Lives Matter activists do not join the BLM movement. But they will persuade people and bait trolls as they did in 2016 because they are out in force.

I’ve also been a bit bitter about creative industries again. I’m not giving up on my fiction, and rejections do not deter me. I don’t want to get published for validation; I try to find that from within. I have plenty of self worth without some publisher’s approval or selling a certain number of copies.

But I get depressed when I think about the broader arc of the publishing industry business model. I have committed to only submitting to pro or semi-pro markets. I started with “for the love” markets but I realized my writing is worth pushing harder. “For the love” markets definitely have their place and I appreciate that place and respect the passion that people pour into those projects. There are plenty of good “for the love” markets out there.

But even semi-pro and pro markets suffer from the same problem. Pro markets pay $10 a story. You’d have to submit 300 stories to truly be considered a professional. Name one lit mag that has a viable business model; I bet you can’t. Even a well-established, popular science fiction magazine had to rely on a Kickstarter campaign to crowdsource enough funding to continue. It’s not a very sustainable business model when your business model relies on your contributors. Writers subscribe to the magazine because they want to be published, if the magazine charges for its subscription. There is very little audience outside that.

Most of the successful magazines are attached to a university’s creative writing or literature program and they survive based on outside funding, not profitability. Some magazines will try to sell merchandise, advertising space on a podcast or start a Patreon page. Most newspapers make their business not from subscribers, but from advertisers; what businesses would buy ad space in a lit magazine? People trying to sell writers get rich quick schemes, perhaps.

Then there’s the broader industry as a whole, for books. Either you spend 3-5 years in the demoralizing querying trenches trying to acquire an agent, and then the agent tries to sell your book to publishers. Or you submit it to small presses that accept unsolicited submissions and you make $300. Or you self publish and bring your book to market at a quicker pace, and have complete control; in which case, you spend $2,000 on cover art, editing and marketing, and you make $300 if you are good at marketing.

And publishing has a class problem. You gain an advantage, both in networking and in education, when you acquire an MFA; but you spend $30,000 to teach more creative writing MFAs or you work as an editor perhaps or you get paid $10 or only contributors copies per story. I wouldn’t start a business unless I could afford to hire people and pay them a wage, but publishing doesn’t think like that. All too often it thinks, how can I exploit writers who love it so much they’ll give me unpaid labor?

I used to freelance for an alternative weekly newspaper. The editor was quite passionate and I really do believe he supported the community and wanted to use his newspaper as a way to make things better for artists and local social causes. But he paid 5 cents a word and he couldn’t pay that on time. Writers even took him to court, won, and he wouldn’t pay the small claims judgments. Once you worked for him for awhile, the payments stopped coming. His excuse would be, “You agreed to work for us off the books and understood the business model. We only pay writers when advertisers pay us and we have paid our other bills.” Writers were his bread and butter, and he didn’t treat them that way. He thought that lathering praise and titles and meetings and mission statements would get them to stay. And many did. His stable was mostly naive college students too excited to see their byline in print to care that they were getting exploited.

His business model is much of publishing. It’s why I decided to go into journalism, because he is an outlier and most respectable publications have a more viable business model. But I got tired of journalism because it too does not have a viable business model, in the end. Modern journalism relies on shareholders, and shareholders have a conservative agenda.

Then you think of all the millions of books out there that are published. Half of them aren’t any good, even the traditionally published books. You think of the millions more unpublished writers out there, writing great material that even an agent will never see because it’s not “marketable,” writing through migraines and staying up till midnight and telling themselves how much they love it and how much it feeds their soul while they are killing themselves, because one day they might land a movie tie-in deal and get to quit their hated day job that is crushing their spirit. Too many of them are happy to be exploited and call it passion instead. Even traditional publishing is suffering as it chases after the latest commercial genre vampire formula. Publishing is the least profitable business model of all creative industries.

I’m not giving up, as my dream is to get published and I am passionate about my fiction. I don’t do it for the money; I don’t expect to make a living as a writer, and I don’t want to, because I want to write for the fun and passion of it and you can’t do that when you have bills to pay. You have to write what the clients will pay you for. But I get bitter and depressed about these things when I think about the man behind the curtain too carefully. I should just pitch a journalism article just for a palate cleanser.

I’ve also been depressed about the pandemic. I haven’t seen my mom all year and she wanted to see me for my birthday. But she has been having dinner with friends and hanging out at the local coffee shop, and my dad has been hanging out with his motorcycle buddies. They’re in their 70s with underlying health conditions. They wear masks and they think they’re being safe, but their loneliness is putting them at risk, and I worry about them; it also makes me uncomfortable about seeing them again, so I said no, and that makes me sad. My mom still wants to drive down and drop off my gifts on my porch. I don’t want that either.

Nothing has changed since March and in fact 180,000 people are dead. People don’t seem to care about that. More than half of Republicans consider that an acceptable death rate. And yet we got tired of the pandemic so we act like it is over. Because of all the Covidiots I haven’t seen my parents in a year and I hate all the people who won’t wear masks and just need to travel (Oh, I’m camping and social distancing, so it will be all right) and hang out with their friends for a backyard BBQ. I hate the people who crowd bars and college parties too, but the people who make accommodations should know better. It’s almost like micro-aggressions. I am trying to work on my anger and judgment toward them; it’s not their fault. But their behavior could make me ill, or kill my partner, who is high risk, or even kill me, because people under the age of 40 are not immune. And they refuse to see it. It is difficult not to take that personally. If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t want to kill me.

And working on my photo book has reminded me of my conflicted feelings about model photography. I started to hate it after five years of working for free because of the exploitation, too. Models have fans who are creepy weirdos who walk the line between artistic appreciation and sexual innuendo, and leave weird cringey, stalkery comments. But you have to put up with them because they might be clients or buy a print or a photo book. I don’t like the cringey fans that always follow the models around. Then I posted some of my model photos on Instagram and I immediately got an email from a company that assumed the model was me, and emailed for a “sponsorship opportunity” with their athletic gear. So many scams like that that want to exploit you for free content and might nominally pay you. I’m not an influencer with 130 followers on Instagram, and that’s not the point; the exploitation is the point.

What I miss, though, is meeting people that I clicked with on an artistic level, who were on my same skill level and understood my vision and sensibilities. I still don’t see myself doing hardly any of this kind of photography in the future, even with a vaccine, but I miss the friends I made.

Then there’s all the natural disasters made worse by climate change – superstorms, fire in California and my partner’s best friend had to evacuate his house in Guerneville; I still remember our trips there hiking through the old growth stands of Armstrong Woods. And the dystopian yelling of the RNC; the fearful, angry world they paint is one that Trump created, and balancing precariously on lies and exaggeration. I have only been able to watch excerpts, and usually on Colbert.

Instead of writing, I am working on self care. I know the signs of my depression and I am trying to keep it at bay. I meditated last night and the guided session this time was on the practice of “noting” or “pausing.” When emotions or anxious thoughts pass through your mind, take a pause and note them without judgment. Then focus on the breath. It is a practice I will try today.

I’ve also been exercising. I’m doing my half-hour weight lifting routine with bodyweight, resistance bands and dumbbells over the lunch hour. Last week all I wanted to do was nap at lunch, but this week I am pushing through my excuses because I know exercise is my medicine. Running in the morning isn’t working out for me lately so I am going to try it at lunch, too. And this is Day 19 sober.

This weekend I hope to push through and get most of my writing done, including a horror story for an anthology and getting started on my outline for ASH PLANET. I also hope to write the forward for my photo book and get started on designing. I already know which photos I want to use. I hope to get started on some of my crafts, too. I need a hobby other than doomscrolling through social media feeds.

Happy Friday Eve, friends. I’m sorry for the doom and gloom session this morning, but welcome to my mind. It can be a real prison in here some days.


Support my creative work? Donate $1 to my tip jars: http://www.venmo.com/denise-ruttan and http://www.ko-fi.com/fieldofstars or buy a print: http://siriusrosephoto.redbubble.com

5 thoughts on “When bitterness seeps in, take a rest from writing

  1. I feel like you summarized all of the swirling thoughts and emotions I’ve been struggling to verbalize since before and now after my friend died. Thank you – to quote Anna Nalick “these words are my diary screaming out loud”

    As part of my break from writing I’ve been focusing on going through old writing and journals – instead giving those pieces light while the remaining bits of me rests. I’m scared for everything. My husband and I are now in darker places as the realities creep in and our contingency plans we set around the election are no longer options… and people we know keep dying.

    I don’t want to leave the PNW. I’ve made a home here, but I’m scared and drained. My friends in Portland are terrified of these violent LARPers taking over what started as a peaceful intended movement.

    In terms of the publishing industry and how to approach publication, I’ve realized that focusing on a global market approach instead of a US market approach is a strong step. Additionally, I also want to be more than a vanity author. My poetry oscillates between politics and garbage, but my actual narrative writing is worth it. You’re a better author than I am — more experienced to say the least.

    One thing I’ve heard is to send your manuscripts to the living authors that inspire your work. If you’re lucky, they’ll read it. When I was working on my MS (this was a scientific masters, granted) Neil Gaiman was responsive and helpful. It’s worth taking a chance.

    You’re awesome. Thank you for writing and I hope you are okay. Hope to read another update soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ❤️❤️ Comments like this mean the world to me, I hope that by sharing my struggles that I can help others! And I am experienced in journalism, but I’m still very new to fiction, but it has been 16 years since I got my creative writing degree and these last two years I have finally been writing more creatively. I hope to share what I’m learning about publishing too!

      And, I took a 4 year break from writing myself, and it ended up being just what I needed… time away to regain my confidence!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things that bugs me about the publishing model is that it claims it wants quality work, but pays at rates that require said work to be a hobby. Don’t even get me started about lit mags who’ve been around for decades and don’t pay at all. If you’re going to be “in business” for more than 5 years, you can damn well start paying your writers, or you’re not “in business.” You’re in exploitation.

    I’m frustrated and discouraged with the politics and the pandemic, too. I’m sick of people not taking it seriously because they’re bored, and I’m angry that I might lost my life because of these dumbasses.

    It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to be creative. But I can’t pay my bills and keep a roof over my head if I don’t push through. But it’s getting harder and harder, and I feel like I’m losing ground.

    Congrats on the anthology. I’m looking forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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