I’ve grown accustomed to the depression that accompanies rejection and failure. I’ve had a lifetime of practice. But I was unaware of the depression that comes with success.

When you’re working on a writing project for and by yourself, then pressure is self-derived. I’ve written a few novel-length manuscripts over the last 5 years, but I had no boss and no paycheck to motivate me. I wrote simply for the sake of writing, to get the story out of my head. I’d send off the story to a publisher or writing contest and await the inevitable rejection. There is a sense of familiarity that comes with rejection because after a few hundred, you get used to the idea. Like driving an old car that always breaks down after a few miles. Sure, it’ll get you to the store and back, but don’t try to leave town.

When a publisher accepts your work and decides to print, familiarity quickly breeds contempt.  The elation of success fades because success has always been an illusion.

    Putting words on paper = success.

    Getting out of bed after a week-long depressive episode = success.

So why do we think success is public productivity and accolades from others?

Success also means deadlines and editorial changes that force you to alter your style, voice or message.  Suddenly the work is emotionally overwhelming and it becomes difficult to face the page, to click open a draft, to even think about the vast compromises that must be endured. Depression settles and the work becomes impossible—not from sadness, but from immobility.

Sometimes you have to wait for the apathy to pass before you can write again.  But waiting does NOT mean doing nothing. You have to fight against it, work towards getting well before you can get back to work. While waiting, do all the little daily acts that help you climb from darkness—take vitamins, hit something (not someone!) with a stick, rake pebbles, pull weeds and then plant them, dig a hole and then fill it back up. Hell, even write a little poetry if you have to. Or do what I did and watch “Saving Private Ryan” twice on Memorial Day. With the commercials.

Because most of writing is about NOT writing. I’ve spent so much time getting ready to write; or, thinking about writing; or, making a schedule to write; or, reviewing the pages; or, editing and removing what I’ve written.  Because to edit your own work is perhaps the hardest, and most important, part of the process.  And when you do hit a creative stretch, run with it. Don’t let go of the leash. See where the literary dogs of war drag you.

And remember, editing and the act of removing extraneous/confusing sections is a lot like suicide . . . the more you cut, the easier it gets!