Posts Tagged ‘stress’

The editing process can take a toll on authors’ mental health, no matter their experience.

As I’ve mentioned more than once (especially during the past few weeks), the publishing process for Rose was something of a roller coaster for me. At least, it was on the mental health scene. There were days and weeks I was feeling on top of the world, and then there were weeks where I was freaking out and wondering how the hell I would ever get this novel into a state fit for publishing.

It’s been nearly three years since Rose was released, and I’m older, wiser, and I want to say calmer. However, I know that roller coaster could start up again during the editing process of Hannah and Other Stories, so I’m writing this post. Both as a reminder to myself, and to help anyone who might go through something similar with their own upcoming books.

Here’s are some tips for getting through the editing of publishing of your upcoming book and the mental health rollercoaster that it is.

First off, remember that this is natural. There’s nothing wrong with you, you shouldn’t be expected to stay happy because you’ve got a book coming out (whether it’s your first or your 247th), and every author goes through difficult periods in life. We have human brains, and those brains, while being the most advanced supercomputers on Earth, have some quirks built in. Our neurochemicals don’t always act naturally, and life can upset those chemicals as much as genetics. So if you’re having a bad period, don’t heap further stress on yourself by being upset with yourself. Just remember that this will pass and good periods will happen as well.

Our brains. Great supercomputers, but they aren’t perfect. So these feelings are natural.

That being said, if your feelings become too much or last for prolonged periods, consult a licensed doctor/psychiatrist/therapist. They may be able to help you with medication, the talking cure, and strategies for coping with those wacky neurochemicals.

And that brings me to my next point: have a support network and coping methods in place if you can. I know everyone’s circumstances are different, but it really helps to have someone to talk to or multiple people who can come together when you’re feeling down. Having those people who will stand by you and help take your mind off of the craziness of the publishing process can make things all the more bearable.

Not to mention those coping strategies. Taking some time for self-care when you need it improves things immensely. I already have Sailor Moon DVDs awaiting me in my room and ice cream in the fridge. Those are my comfort foods and anime, and they got me through more than a few crazy nights. Not to mention that methods such as hypnosis and meditation, going for a run or dancing, a nice drive, a good book and so many other things, can really help when your mental health starts to spiral.

That being said, certain coping mechanisms should only be done sparingly. For example, I tend to eat more sugary foods and drink alcohol when I’m under stress. Not the healthiest way to deal with my feelings, so I have to be careful not to do it too much.

Okay, now that we’ve gone over the self-care stuff, here are some practical tips when it comes to the editing and publishing of the book:

  • Edit in chunks or manageable blocks. This is something BSC Publishing Group, which is publishing Hannah, is doing with their clients. Rather than sending notes for the entire book all at once, they send notes for a few chapters or a single story at a time. That way, neither author nor editor is overwhelmed by the process and it feels more collaborative.
    I kind of like it, as it means I have less of a giant workload to get through, and I can work on other projects in-between chapters. And if you like it, maybe talk to your editor or publisher to see if you can do something similar.
  • Expect big gaps without activity. You know how you have to wait several weeks or months to hear if a short story is accepted or rejected by a publisher? It’s even worse with a book. Case in point, three months would often go by between submission of a new draft of Rose and getting new notes. And the time between acceptance of Hannah and the first round of notes was about six months.
    So no, you didn’t do anything wrong. And no, the publisher isn’t ignoring you. They’re just juggling a lot of projects, and they have to devote time to all of them.
  • Approach each issue/suggestion individually. Finding out your stories has issues, such as a plot hole or a character that doesn’t make sense, or a scene that doesn’t work like you thought it would, can seem insurmountable. Just know that every novel and collection has issues that need work on, including great ones. For Rose (which I like to think is great), after I got my anxiety under control, I went after each problem individually. First I handled the main problem with the antagonist, then the issue presented with the amnesia, and then the monumental problem with the flashbacks, which led to two-thirds of the book getting rewritten.
    Hopefully that won’t happen to you (though on the plus side, it did rid the book of some problems later in the draft). But taking it one problem at a time does yield results over trying to tackle, and agonizing over, all of them at once.
  • Remember, the publisher believes in your book enough to publish it. Sometimes, editing the book and guessing what people will think of it, we tend to doubt our own abilities. But remember this: the publisher believes your book is not only good, but it’s good enough that it’ll sell copies and they won’t take a loss on it. And that’s in an unedited state with issues!
    So if you could write something that good in that state, you’re more than capable of getting it up to scratch for publication. Just keep reminding yourself that and it might boost your spirits a bit.
  • Finally, keep reading and writing. During the quiet periods in-between drafts or before you go to bed. When you’re wondering how to tackle a problem with your book or when you’re just looking for some down time. When inspiration strikes you or when the new book by your favorite author comes out. Just keep reading and writing. Do it because you love it. Because it’s nice to get lost in imaginary worlds with imaginary problems and imaginary people. Because it’s relaxing and a great way to let the problems of the world slip away.
    Plus you occasionally get insights from the stories of others to improve your own stories. But that’s not important. It’s important to just sit down and enjoy these activities, because they’re what got you into the storytelling business in the first place and have led you here. And they will lead you onwards from here too.
Rose had plenty of issues before publication, and Hannah still has its share. Still, the publishers for both believe/believed in them to publish them, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Well, those are my thoughts on mental health and the publishing process. I’d include some stuff on marketing, but then we’d be here all night. Anyway, I hope you found these tips helpful. If you think of anything I missed, feel free to put it in the comments. And if you have a book you’re working to get up to snuff for publishing, I wish you the best of luck. You’re in the middle of a tough journey, but you can get through it. And if you managed to get through the trials of writing and editing the book in the first place, you can get through the trials of getting it in shape for the publisher.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares.

I’ve two words for you:

Fuck 2020.

That’s how people have been reacting since around January, though it really ramped up around March or April. I’ve been among the people who’ve been saying it. Until recently, however, I thought I was dealing with it pretty well. Except for that short period back in March, I’ve been able to keep my writing flowing. Hell, some even say my output is extraordinary or something to look up to. I’ve been doing really well at work. I’m maintaining a healthy lifestyle, for the most part. I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t fallen behind on any of my bills. I still have a roof over my head, and I keep my apartment clean (or clean enough).

But lately, it’s been a lot. COVID-19; the election and those intent on derailing it for their own benefit, before, during and after November 3rd; hurricanes; wildfires; black people getting murdered and the justice system failing to help those left behind; the deaths of people like Chadwick Boseman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who inspired and brought hope to so many people; science deniers and “fake news” and “alternative facts;” and so much more. Add in that September has never been my favorite month, and also happens to be a really busy time for me at work, and it’s had an effect on me.

For one thing, I was actually sick today. Yeah, I think the stress had an effect on my physical health and I had to call off work. Sucks, especially since I was supposed to give a presentation today.

And not only that, but (*gasp!*) I haven’t been able to work on stories this week.

Yeah, I know. Last night, I only managed to edit three pages of Toyland. Took over an hour to do. I was just like, “Forget it! No point at working at it if I need an hour to get three pages edited!” If I was working on a new story, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t able to make my minimum of 500 words per writing session. I’d be disappointed, but not surprised.

It’s a shame, but sometimes life gets you down and affects everything.

So, I’m taking steps to improve things. I may only have so much power to change this world,* but I have plenty of power to help myself. In fact, since I was sick today, I spent the day doing self-care. I slept in, made Japanese rice gruel (great for when you’re under the weather), watched Enola Holmes on Netflix,** did some hypnosis for stress relief, and watch cute videos of foxes and cats and dogs (thank you, YouTube).

And I’ll be doing some more self-care over the next few days. Yeah, I know there’s an emphasis in this country on being constantly productive until retirement. But you know what? Fuck productivity! What’s the point of getting all that done if I’m a wreck? Sometimes, taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do. And I wish more people realized that, rather than grinding themselves to death for…what? A possible bonus? Bragging rights? I don’t know.

So, I may not get much more done for the rest of the month. Whatever. Once I’m back in the saddle and feeling better, I’ll be pounding out words and stories at the usual crazy rate. And in the meantime, I’ll enjoy all the relaxation and self-care I can. Life’s too short and crazy not to enjoy it, after all.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Stay safe, take care of yourselves, and pleasant nightmares.

*I could use some of my dark powers to make really big changes, but that involves too much paperwork and some nasty unintended consequences. After this year, I’d like to avoid both.

**Short opinion: the mystery is a bit simplistic and obvious for a story involving a detective named Holmes, but it’s a lot of fun. Millie Bobby Brown is great, there are plenty of funny moments, and it scratches my Victorian itch. Give it a watch if you need something nice to get your mind off your problems.

Go to any slasher movie. I guarantee someone will do something stupid. And I also guarantee there’s a reason behind why they did it.

So yesterday I was doing some edits on Rose* and one of the points in the beta reader notes stood out to me. In that particular point, my friend/colleague/beta reader Joleene Naylor pointed out that it was taking the titular character Rose a lot longer to figure something out about the scene that Joleene had figured out much earlier. My immediate first thought was, “Well, it’s horror. Everyone’s a bit slower in horror.” And that thought really stuck with me. Yeah, the characters in horror aren’t always the brightest bulbs in the closet, are they? People in slasher films take too long to realize there’s a killer hunting them around a lake notorious for murders and disappearances, the family stays in their haunted house and might even pretend things are normal even if it’s obvious there’s demonic possession at work, dumb teenagers run upstairs when they should run out the door. They either realize something well after the audience has realized something, or they make really dumb decisions. And it’s such a well-known trope, it gets parodied quite a bit in our media, like in this Geico commercial.

This got me thinking: is this intentional on the part of horror writers? If so, why?

Well, I thought about this throughout the day (couldn’t write this before because I had to go to bed and then to work), and I think that what’s happening is intentional. However, I don’t think the intention is to make the characters stupid idiots.

First, let’s consider something: we’re the audience, and the characters are characters. In our daily lives we’re not keyed up, checking to see if horror-movie circumstances everywhere we go (and if we are, we’re usually recommended to see a doctor about that). It’s only when we sit down for a horror story that we start looking for signs of horror, because that’s what our brains are trained to do. Similarly, unless they’re enjoying a horror story or think they’re in one, characters won’t typically see all the signs of something evil around them unless that evil chooses to make itself known.

There’s also the fact that authors have to tell a story, and often the stories they tell have to be of a certain length. For example, I classify a novel as sixty-thousand words or more, so I have to figure out how to keep a novel going for that long. One of the ways to do that is to make the characters figure things out much slower than the audience, either by only giving them clues slowly or later in the story, or by actually making it so they can’t connect the dots until it’s convenient for the story. And considering that part of the appeal of horror, the thrill of the mystery and the unknown as well as our reactions to it once exposed, this is a sound strategy.

Okay, so making characters slow on the uptake is part imitating people in the real world, part storytelling tool. But what about stupid decisions?

Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer: they’re under stress. When a character is being chased by a killer or trying to get away from a ghost, they’re under unimaginable pressures. So unless they’ve been trained to think under pressure, like in the Army, they’re not going to make a rational decision. They’re going to make split-second decisions that they hope will ensure their survival, and because it’s a horror story, they’ll likely make the wrong decision. Unless the author says otherwise, of course.

And even if they’re not in a stressful, life-or-death situation, the need for survival can cause us to do very stupid things sometimes, as well as our characters. Polly Chalmers, one of the protagonists of Stephen King’s Needful Things, keeps a charm around her neck, despite suspecting that there’s something alive in it and it’s twisting her personality somehow, because the thing is easing the debilitating pain of her arthritis. In other words, fulfilling a need to help her live.

Sometimes a character acts a certain way either because they’re imitating real people, or the author needs them to be that way.

So it’s not that characters in horror stories are dumb or slow. They’re victims of imitating people in the real world as well as the author’s discretion in storytelling. And we the audience, free of those issues, are able to pick up on things they can’t or won’t for a little while longer.

Of course, we will continue to call characters stupid and wonder how they could not do the smart thing. That just comes with the territory. But perhaps the next time we sit down for a scary movie, we’ll also consider what the characters are going through, as well as what the storytellers behind them decided was best for the characters and their story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hope this gave you plenty to think about. I had fun just thinking of it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*Speaking of which, the editing on Rose is going very well. Yesterday I got through four chapters, bringing me halfway through the fourth draft. At the rate I’m going, I could be done before the end of the month. And after that, hopefully it’s a short wait till I find a publisher. God-willing, anyway.

Well, Wi-Fi’s back, after being off for about a week. It’s the highlight of a week that’s been rather rough on me.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I’m loving Germany. I’m getting great work experience that’ll definitely come in handy after this internship, I’ve got great prospects for afterwards, I’m learning a lot about this country, its people and the language everyone speaks. And I’m seeing and doing amazing things that some only dream of doing.

But like anything in life, there’s ups and downs and lately I’ve been getting a lot of downs. My catchphrase lately is “if it’s not one thing, it’s always another”, and it definitely applied this week when a lot of the time I felt stressed and fatigued and just plain miserable. In other words, not me. At some points I wondered if I’d made a mistake coming to Germany. At other times, I wondered if God was maybe punishing me for something I’d done (perhaps getting into Tarot was a bad idea after all).

What’s been causing this, you ask? A number of things. Work, for one. It’s good people and it’s got great benefits and I get to write articles, which is fun. But often I’m doing tasks that nobody likes doing, and they stress me out. There’s also a¬†hundred different that for some reason or another are mixed up or unresolved and when that happens it comes back to bite me in weird ways. I only just found out that somewhere along the line, my mailbox wasn’t properly put into the system, so I wasn’t receiving any mail! You can imagine the annoyance fixing that was!

There are other problems, as well. It’s not easy to go shopping. The closest supermarket is limited in what it has (and it’s in German, so I can only get things I can make on my own), and the base’s commissary is a trip to make, so unless someone’s providing a car, I can’t go there to get the stuff I’d like to cook with. So this leads to me eating things that may not always be good for me, which affects my health (and I was starting to lose a little weight).

And you already know¬†there was the Wi-Fi situation. For a week because of a bank error we couldn’t connect to the Internet. And let’s face it, you need Internet to live in this world. So much of our lives is invested in it these days, being cut off at home and having limited access at work was another trigger for stress.

Add in a few other things, and it got really bad for me some days. Today, I even snapped at my roommate who was trying to help me resolve a problem. I apologized right after I realized what I’d done, but it was still awful and I felt really bad for doing it. And there I was, beating myself up for that. Another problem.

As I’ve been saying from the beginning, it’s been a tough week for me.

But there are reasons to feel optimistic. For one, the weekend’s here, and our Wi-Fi’s been restored. Always a reason to rejoice there. I can relax at home and watch Netflix, or go out on the town and explore areas I haven’t seen before. And while I was without Internet, I got a lot of work done. I finished editing Video Rage, rewrote Streghe, wrote a lot of blog posts on MS Word which I would post at lunch the next day, and I wrote two outlines for short stories I plan to write before starting on the next draft of Laura Horn. Definitely not bad. Pretty prolific, actually.

Plus after kind of getting off it once I got to Germany, I’ve started meditating again. I think that made a major difference. Meditation lifts my mood, makes me calmer and helps ground me. Not doing it affected my mood, so I’m definitely trying to make it part of my life again.

And now that the Internet’s back, I can also Skype with my folks when they’re online! That’s a huge reason to celebrate right there.

And the other problems…well, I’ll resolve them somehow. I’ve got to think positive. Can’t let myself mope over them. After all, you can’t accomplish much if you spend your whole life depressed over every little thing, and I certainly don’t plan on that happening to me. I’m doing what I normally do, and I’m going to seize life by the horns. It’s how I’ve gotten this far, after all.

So wish me luck and encouragement, my Followers of Fear. After this week, I’ll need it so I don’t have a repeat next week.

Have a great weekend!