The Upward Spiral

On Monday, Joshua McCune talked about whether advertising our failures might be as helpful to the community as touting our successes. And I agree. As much as I love to hear about friends’ book deals and blog tours (and I really DO love hearing about that stuff), sometimes what I need is to email a writer friend and just say, I CAN’T WRITE and have her answer, ME NEITHER, WE’RE STUPID.


We need other writers — our people — as Pat Zietlow Miller points out. We need a psychological support system. The whole process of inventing, creating, selling, and publishing a novel is predominantly just a series of rejections, starting with our own heads.


It’s no secret on this blog that once you get The Call, your problems don’t magically disappear. The Call is awesome, don’t get me wrong. It’s like Falcor and Ellen DeGeneres and a basket of puppies all singing gumdrops into your ears. But remember your non-magically-disappeared problems? And remember how, on top of those problems, you probably have new problems?

One of those new problems is guilt.

Not shame. Not regret. Nothing as major as that. Just this vague, dull discomfort that wiggles in your brain when you start to articulate any of these new problems. The little voice that says, “You got A CONTRACT. Do you know how many HARD WORKING writers, who are BETTER than you, are still waiting? How DARE you complain about anything!”


“What, now I have to REVISE? This is bull$&!t.”

For most people, each step on a writing career path is a struggle. So reaching the next Thing (publisher, grad school, completed manuscript, agent, National Book Award) is a huge deal. And each step upward can feed our self-doubt.

Whenever I feel stressed, my brain starts on this “It Could Be Worse” path ad absurdum. A kind of Upward Spiral. Nothing that’s worrying me has any business being relevant, because someone has it worse. I mean, think about it —

You could still be waiting for your editorial letter.

Your contract could have fallen through.

Your agent could have given up on you.

You could still be waiting to sign with an agent.

You could still be finishing your novel.

You could still be starting your novel.

You could be one of those Ladies of Wrestling who have to wear bikinis all the time.

You could have accidentally broken that reclining shepherdess figurine Great Grandma brought over from the Old Country.

You could have leprosy.



Still wanna complain about your cover art? I’M SURE MR. PIKE HEAD WILL BE VERY SYMPATHETIC.

I’ve spoken to writers with amazing deals and established careers who have big problems. Big worries that they would love to commiserate with their friends about, but the guilt gets to them. It’s isolating.

Here’s the thing, though. You know that stuff that’s stressing you out? Revisions, deadlines, launches, reviews, sequels. The “Oh, man, I wish I had your ‘problems'” problems. That’s real stuff.

Just because good things have happened to you doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to ever have worries in your life again. It’s okay to be stressed by the challenges that come with each step of your path. And your friends will support you. Really. No matter where they are on their own journey.


Filed under Anxiety, jealousy, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, The Call, Writing and Life

15 responses to “The Upward Spiral

  1. Joshua McCune

    One of the best posts I’ve ever read. Plus you’ve got a head on a pike. Double win.


  2. I love this. And I kind of wish I were that lady in the swimming pool right now.


  3. I choose doughnut, please.


  4. Marianne

    OK, this is getting bookmarked and I’m gonna read it every time I need a serious perspective-inducing LAUGH. OUT. LOUD.


  5. This blog post is just fantastic. I want to be the lady in the swimming pool, too, only…. without the revisions. 🙂


  6. So true, Adi! So true.


  7. mima tipper

    Yay, Adi! This post rocks, and so do you:-D


  8. Seriously true. You one smart chick. But I had to keep scrolling past head-on-a-pike.


  9. Cori McCarthy mentioned this on Facebook so I had to look. So love this post!


  10. Ha! Great post, Adi. Oh, so true. I’ll take this crazy deadline over my head on a pike any day, though. 😉


  11. For the record, this applies to us illustrators, too.


  12. Thank you, thank you, for this true and honest post. It is inspiring and I should print it for the next time I need it on this path of being a children’s author. And let’s keep those successes and complaints coming!


  13. Adi Rule, your posts always make my day. =)


  14. Well said, Adi! A wise friend told me, when I apologized for complaining about my little (but legitimate) pain because he had huge pain, “Pain is pain.” His being worse didn’t diminish mine, if mine was real.
    Another wise friend said, “Friends don’t keep score.” True friends will commiserate, not compare.
    The trick is to find a circle of people who understand, and who won’t use your successes or your complaints against you. I imagine that’s a lot easier to find than in some other industries — like, say, film.


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