by Nita Sweeney | Jun 9, 2018 | Blog
When someone dies of suicide, it’s common to wonder “Why?” Often the answer is depression, but not always. It’s a disease just like cancer. Yes there are sometimes life circumstances that exacerbate the disease, but not always. I’ve seen days where an acute bout of hiccoughs could trigger a plan to end my life.
In the words of my wise friend and mental health professional Ted Bonar:
My heart hurts. Everyone: suicidal thoughts are common and suicidal behaviors are treatable, and we must speak about it and discuss it without fear, discrimination, or stigma. Love to you and everyone else.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
But I too am sometimes guilty of putting the burden on the sick. Yes, we’re responsible for our own self-care, but often (I know this from experience) the sick person is wholly incapable of asking for help or reaching out. We’re all in this together. And, (while I’m on my soapbox), the proper phrasing is “died by suicide” not “committed.” We would never say someone committed cancer or diabetes or committed a heart attack. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.
by Nita Sweeney | Apr 4, 2018 | Blog
“As far as I’m concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning.” — Neil Gaiman
I’ve got it again. You know, that thing you get when things are going well and people ask for stuff and if you give it to them your dreams might come true? Yes. Imposter syndrome. I’ve got it in spades.
It took a friend to diagnose it. All I knew was that I felt like crap. I felt like there was sludge in my veins and no ideas would come. I felt scattered too all at the same time. I was a spinning slug. Tears filled my eyes as I told my friend that a publisher had expressed interest in my book, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. But I had to send an email with additional marketing information and I had to send it that day. And my mind said, “Nope. You can’t do this. It’s too hard.” And worse, “You’re not worthy. Why would they want your work?” I felt like a fraud.
This is not the first time I’ve encountered imposter syndrome. The entire decade I practiced law, despite having huge successes in many cases, bringing in lots of money for the firm, and eventually being asked to become a partner, I kept waiting for them to figure out I had no idea what I was doing. And even though the feeling is familiar once I recognize it, that initial jolt always blindsides me.
I wonder if imposter syndrome is peculiar to women or perhaps to writers or artists in general. I wonder if it’s worse when you’re already bipolar with a general slant toward the depressive mindset. But this newsletter has to go out today. I’ll let you research those things.
Thankfully, once I knew what it was, the solution was obvious. Suit up and show up. Bring the body and the mind will follow. Do the work.
And so I did.
And now the email has been sent and the newsletter (including this essay) is in process and tomorrow there will be the monthly bills and the rest of the taxes and whatever reminders come up on the manuscript submission tickler system and more of the same on the next day and the next.
Meanwhile, I wait. I hope, and always, I work.
by Nita Sweeney | Feb 2, 2017 | Blog
“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.” – Henry Ford
Some days if I watch the news (which I rarely do) or read the paper (which I also rarely do) or hear from friends on either end of the political spectrum and all points in between, about the things happening in the world, I sink into depression about my own writing. As you know, I write mostly memoir. Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, the memoir I’m currently shopping to independent publishers, recounts my journey from mentally unstable couch potato to somewhat less mentally unstable marathoner.
Before that book, I spent a decade writing a memoir (still unpublished) about the last year of my father’s life. I’ve also written about my relationship with my mother and about an unusual situation in which a man lived on our sofa for two years when I was a child. My drawer of unpublished manuscripts also includes three novels, all romance-ish, but none involving topics of great importance. So when I learn of things happening in the “real” world, I sit at my desk and wonder why I bother. With chronic depression and extreme anxiety, becoming too involved does not suit my mental health. I’m not going to take up political writing or letters to the editor. Is my writing a waste of time?
But it dawned on me that, if nothing else, writing helps me heal my own world. I’m transformed when I connect with another person through words on a page. In writing all those books, the reading I’ve done and the writing itself, has made me a better person. It has given me a sense of purpose when I felt I had none. It’s given me a voice, forced me to think carefully about how I feel about certain subjects, and introduced me to worlds I would otherwise not know.
Hopefully, when the running book comes to fruition, it will also help others. As my friend, author Pat Snyder put it when I asked her why a publisher might want to publish my book, “You so believe in the healing power of running that you will bring to book promotion the same perseverance you showed in running those marathons.” That’s my intention.
But more importantly, this same theme is true of writing. I so believe in the healing power of writing that I will bring to my teaching and my publishing the same perseverance I have showed in continuing to write for twenty years with only limited success. It’s not always about the product.
So if you’re out there wondering if anything you are doing on the page will make a difference, ask yourself if it makes a difference to you. Yes, perhaps, like me, you hope to influence some people or to make a change in the world or at least entertain people and distract them for a bit. But more importantly, is writing saving your life the way it has saved mine? I’m pretty sure I know the answer.
by Nita Sweeney | Dec 4, 2016 | Blog
“Of all your troubles, great and small, the greatest are the ones that don’t happen at all.” – Thomas Carlyle
What if agents don’t want my book? What if small publishers don’t want it either? And if I self-publish, what if no one wants to read it?
If I had worried about these things before I began writing Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, my memoir about running and mental illness, I would not have started writing at all. And now, even after I’m far into the process, I still can’t think too far ahead. Rather, I must focus on the small tasks that make up each activity. Write the email. Double check the requirements on the agent or publisher’s website. Check the email again. And again. Hit send. Then wait. Small steps. None of them overwhelming. None of them all that complex.
Depression and bipolar disorder render me easily overwhelmed. I have to chunk things down and keep it very simple. Perhaps other writers are more skilled at doing these things naturally. Perhaps their minds don’t spin negative scenarios the way mine does. Perhaps. Or maybe we all struggle with this in our own ways. I’m thankful I have meditation to help me stay centered. I find my breath. I feel my feet. I look around and ground myself in my surroundings. I think of one small task I can do right now. And then I do that. And then I think of the next small task I can do. And I do that. These small tasks make up my days as a writer. It’s not the big stretches of time. It’s the minute by minute things.
In November, I took a break from submitting and picked up a project I’d set aside many years ago, a book tentatively titled, Eat Your Toast. Ironically, it’s a book of daily practices geared toward helping people, myself included, live in the moment. I struggle with this more than anyone I know. I needed the reminders. I needed to read quotes about it. I needed to research teachers who focus on this. And I needed to write out exercises I could do all month while I was writing the book. I wrote 50,860 additional words on that book as a rebel project for National Novel Writing Month.
And now, in December, I’ll pick up Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two again and continue my journey toward publication. I still don’t know how this will play out. But if my project in November taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to know the outcome. All I need to know is the next step.
by Nita Sweeney | Nov 3, 2016 | Blog
“I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” – Cormac McCarthy
I complain a lot about writing books, about how difficult it is, how I’m not very good at it, and how whatever book-length work I’m currently tackling is going nowhere. More than once, experienced writer friends have suggested I work on shorter pieces. “Why not essays, magazine articles, or blog posts?” my well-meaning friends say. I’ve published all of those and they aren’t enough.
I love the enormous puzzle of writing a book. I love the structural problems, the all-consuming nature, and the possibility that one day, I might have my name on the spine. I love the heft of a book and the heft of the book journal I carry with me when I go to a coffee house to write. The book journal for Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two is over three hundred hand-written pages. It details my efforts, step by step, and has come in handy several times when I’ve done silly things like saved two different versions of the book in two different documents with the same name.
And what’s more compelling than pushing myself to the edge of madness? I mean, I’d prefer not to go back to the psych ward, but it doesn’t feel like meaningful work if I’m not dashing myself against the rocks. I hammer out first drafts (often in November) and spend years thereafter polishing and refining, content even as I’m driven nearly insane. My poor husband. Let’s all take a moment to light a candle for him, shall we?
I’m not saying I’m good at writing books. I honestly am probably more suited to shorter projects given my low energy level, short attention span, and the fact that I’m easily confused. That’s why I use yWriter software to keep track of things.
Currently, I’m fighting a bit of depression about Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two having queried more than one hundred agents and received either rejections or no response. I’ve also queried two niche publishers and received no response from either of those. I’m not ready to self-publish, but it’s time to take stock, figure out the next right steps, and continue to nudge agents.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked on nine books, none of them yet published. I refuse to give up. Twenty years. Some days I fear I’ve accomplished nothing, but that’s not true. I’ve learned how to write books and trained myself not to quit, both admirable skills. And I have the scars to show for it.