There have been various times in the past when I thought that writing was making me unhappy. During these episodes, just thinking about writing could leave me bitter, frustrated, and angry. I would suffer flares of jealousy, and regret along with anxiety. Over the years, I’ve tried various approaches at dealing with those feelings, and- interestingly- the most successful one was doing a bit more writing, keeping a journal actually*, and what this journal led me to was some important notions. One: That definition matters: It wasn’t writing that was making me unhappy; it was my understanding of success in writing. Two: I could feel better about writing if I could keep myself aware of the difference between labor, acceptance, and money.
This is the basic idea: If I can remember that writing success is multifaceted, I can do a better job of facing my writing demons. For me, the three facets of writing success are: the labor of writing itself, having others accept and enjoy my writing, and- finally- achieving some kind of financial success. When I separate these three (kind of like separating an egg shell, egg white, and yolk) I become a better writer and happier guy. My equation is explained below and please excuse me for writing in the 2nd person, but it’s more or less process writing:
1. The Labor of Writing: Encompasses completion of first draft + revisions + proofing + workshopping with peers+ any accompanying notes. The labor has to be the center of the writing experience. You have to be happy enough that you told your story as best you could. In many ways, the labor is the only part that you really control, and this is what you should base your writing happiness and pride on. Everything beyond this point is controlled- to a lesser or greater extent- by chance, and you can’t hinge your self-esteem or daily happiness on chance. If you do, it could break you. So find your happiness in the actual work itself.
2. Acceptance: critical acceptance + finding an agent or publisher + peer acceptance + good reviews: Finding acceptance for your novel or other work in the world is vital to your writing career, no way around that, but your approach to the task should relegate it to the status of routine work, like brushing your teeth or going for a daily jog. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy jogging or brushing your teeth, but the central point of this is maintaining good practice. It’s good practice to put together the best query letter for your novel and send it to everyone applicable. It’s good practice to interest possible reviewers and readers in your work, but the pride needs to come from the practice itself, not from the outcome because outcomes (as noted above) are based on chance and other peoples intentions, something that you can’t control.
3. Money: or Paying your bills from your writing. Particularly in the case of fiction, the odds are astronomically stacked against any one writer making much money. I’ve heard agents talk about receiving 1,000+ queries a month. A recent poll showed that there is now 1 book published for every 45 American readers (annually). The market is glutted. And yes, somebody, somewhere is going to make a lot of money from writing, just like somebody somewhere is going to win the lottery, but you cannot count on being the one. My best advice is to not worry about the money aspect at all. Of course, that is almost impossible to do, but you can minimize its impact by instead focusing on the other two facets (mentioned above) of writing success.
As long as you are doing your best in writing (and finding your happiness there) and committed to best practice in terms of finding acceptance for your work (and finding pride not in success but in maintaining discipline and follow through), then you are effectively in the lottery, which is all you can expect of yourself anyway.
In the meantime, keep a sense of humor and hang onto to other reasonable sources of income.
For myself at least, the splitting of these three definitions of success has helped a lot in my daily dealings with writing and publishing.
And even if my mantras don’t work for you, consider making your own tiny list of thoughts! Commit to revising and retyping them every six months or so, you might find some helpful, surprising new ideas to help you deal with the various frustrations of writing, publishing and money.
*In addition to working on VampCon, I began to keep a tiny journal- just two pages, actually- that I keep on a private website. These two pages contain a short list of meditations and mantras that I use to help keep writing depression and insecurity at bay. Every once in a while I rewrite or revise these mantras, print them out and tape them into the back of my dayplanner.