Author anxiety: aka When Brains Attack

Obviously anxiety attacks at will, not just authors. But as an author with anxiety, who’s been at this for a while, it seems like many of us are experiencing a renewed spike right now as the pandemic stretches on…and on… (Get vaccinated ASAP, so we can have nice things!)

I’m not surprised that it’s happening to me, to everyone right now, because anxiety love loveloves unpredictability. At its best, the thing you can most predict about publishing is that it’s unpredictable (ugh!) and slow (fertile territory for storytelling writer brains to infest with stories based on the thinnest of evidence). This post was inspired by my agent Kate McKean’s latest Agents & Books newsletter, on how slow(ish) response times, particularly at the moment, do not mean you aren’t a priority or that your agent or editor secretly hates you, it’s just that they also are at wit’s end with a never-ending stack of work and their own anxieties. And that whatever it is probably isn’t an emergency, even if it feels like one to us. A gentle nudge can go a long way.

So, sure, we nod along, that makes sense. But when we’re sitting our desks feeling paralyzed by the many variables that will affect the success of our books — few of which are in our direct control at the best of times — anxiety brain will keep whispering except for meeeee. I am doomed. X or Y hates me or hates my project or both. I wasn’t even given the secret key to this clubhouse and now I’m already locked out.

Or, if you’re an aspiring author, it must just feel even more like tossing your hopes and dreams into the query abyss, or even waiting, hoping someone, anyone, you think will be a good fit for your work will reopen to queries. This talk of how busy everyone is probably makes your anxiety brain spiral in a similar I am doomed. X or Y hates me or hates my project or both. I wasn’t even given the secret key to this clubhouse and now I’m already locked out.

Then there’s the deep craft anxiety… the my book isn’t good actually and everyone is about to find out. The people just pretend to like it/me. The what if I’m not writing fast enough, what if I write too fast? What if this doesn’t sell? What if this is the flop that kills my career? I’m trying a new genre or what-have-you and they are going to think I’m a fraud, but I went there because I’m obsessed with it… (Quick spoiler alert: I know some people will argue with this, but the ONLY thing that can kill your career entirely dead or even mostly dead is YOU. And I mean it: Not even the pandemic. I might be wrong, but I hope I’m not.)

So after Kate’s post I thought I might talk a little about this from the author side, in the hope of helping someone going through author anxiety for the first or four hundredth time. Sometimes it just helps to know you are not the only one who feels this way.

How I learned to LovehateLive With My Professional Anxiety

Notice the similarities in the thought patterns I mentioned? Now there are a thousand specific iterations of this. Everyone’s anxiety works differently. Like I said, I’ve been at this awhile. I’ve talked about my anxiety journey before, but it always bears repeating, because the entire reason I got medicated for anxiety was another author talking about it openly online. (The medication was a game-changer for me, but it does NOT mean I don’t deal with anxiety anymore, alas.)

I was that clueless anxious person my entire life without knowing that’s what it was. I thought anxiety was just panic attacks. I self-diagnosed after years of doing things like mailing a ton of food to my dorm room my first low residency session at Vermont MFA in case I couldn’t make myself go out to eat in the cafeteria (note: my class was seen as somewhat snobby because we were all RIDDLED with anxiety and hung out with each other and then stayed at the B&B nearby so we could have more alone-time — I regret now that I have more perspective and better coping skills how poorly I was able to explain it when a well-meaning graduate advisor pulled me aside at the time to tell me we should gather with the others more…although that said, the fact I will be paying off that degree until I’m dead honestly entitled me to do nothing but class and my room if I chose harumph, and I like to think I was a generous classmate in workshop, etc…. end digression).

I hated talking on the phone, so much that I developed the “Pretend to be a spy” method when I started work at my first job which involved taking calls from and talking to reporters. Eventually I got over my phone phobia. And to an extent my public speaking phobia, because I did it for work, where I was not there for me, but representing an organization.

But what tipped me off that I had anxiety, capital A? I saw a freaking Tumblr post about the symptoms of anxiety two years after my first book was published. And I went… OHHHHH. That is me.

Detective at work, captain obvious

For so many reasons. And I’d started doing author events, which made it more apparent to me. Before any kind of travel I’d get super bitchy and cranky (one way anxiety manifests!). I’d get sweaty palms and feel dizzy and have a giant thing of OTC stomach remedies in my bag (I still travel with a mobile pharmacy, as I now am like an Author Mom at this for others). I was extremely lucky to know and be friends with a lot of people I’d met at that great misfit island, the science fiction convention world, or online through my blog or social media, and so I had people I could trail along behind. Once an event started, I’d be fine. Usually.

Until that fateful DragonCon/Decatur Book Festival overlapping weekend when the first Lois Lane book was just out. DragonCon is enormous, a huge crush of people, and can be overwhelming — it also has an absolutely fabulous programming track for books and put together some of the best panels I’ve been on. It’s always the same weekend as the equally fantastic Decatur Book Festival, which is smaller in theory, but in reality your events there will have much bigger audiences as an author unless you are BIG FAMOUS. And even then, Decatur’s will probably be just as big or bigger.

I had a reading at DragonCon, had to fight through its parade traffic to the subway, and was going to do my first two-author conversation moderated by a friend (thank god) at Decatur. It was hot out. Atlanta in summer hot. The event was in a tent and there were a lot of people there. I took a cold water bottle and started to roll it on my face and the back of my neck because I could feel the panic hitting. The other person involved in the conversation was late (but when she did show up thankfully turned out to be a talker, so I got myself pulled together while she gabbed away, then started to pitch in). I doubt anyone knew this was happening at the time. I went to my GP when I got home under the pretenses of a check-up and asked about anxiety medicine. Lucky for me, the first thing I tried at a low dose works well. (Meds aren’t for everyone and the process of finding them isn’t always that easy.)

Therapy? I’ve always been a believer, but I didn’t actually go for the first time until the pandemic. I started doing teletherapy with a local therapist last year because my routines were off, I wasn’t working well, and I was doing all the things you know you aren’t supposed to do to cope — eating pasta every day, drinking too much wine, skipping yoga, not writing consistently. Therapy was LIFE-CHANGING. As much as going on medication or more.

forced perspective

Why am I telling you these things? I’m fine at events now, enjoy them even, and try to introduce people who are new around. But, even having gone through all this, I’m still susceptible to anxiety patterns.

Yesterday, I sit down, I’m supposed to be doing page proofs and writing my next book which are concrete actions and those always make you feel better. And yet, instead, I start staring at my calendar and fretting about events and COVID and emailing with my (FUCKING FANTASTIC) publicist (who honestly is the best and gave me a pep talk). Even while I was in the spiral, I knew I just needed someone to tell me to calm the eff down. I think the trigger for this was actually the comedown from that amazing felt-normal getaway with writer friends I mentioned in my last post/newsletter.

Absolutely no event is going to make or break my next book or yours, unless it’s some viral thing that can’t be predicted. And that’s in the hands of readers. I also realized that if I’m this frazzled, certainly everyone working on my book and a bunch of others at my publisher feels it times 1,000 million percent (I am not great at math!). In fact, all I can do is support the great work they are doing to get the book to readers and also do my page proofs for the next book and write the one after that. Anxiety brain was not having it yesterday, despite this awareness. It’s not easy. Why?

Why are our brains like this???

… We are storytellers. Our brains naturally tell stories, and they are also over-the-top gifted at worst-case scenarios. They are not good at naturally taking a step back and looking at things calmly. They are good at empathy though (hopefully) and so putting yourself in others’ shoes, thinking outside your own jerky anxiety brain, is always worth it. Particularly in terms of remembering — particularly if you’re a white, able-bodied author like me — the privileges you have and what people who don’t have them might be going through.

Early on my other agent (yes, I have two now, one adults, one kids/YA), Jennifer Laughran, who also gives amazing peeks behind the curtain and advice, said something important to me that goes hand-in-hand with Kate’s there are no publishing emergencies:

It doesn’t matter and nobody cares.

This does not mean your work doesn’t matter and no one cares about it. Stop that, anxiety brain. It simply means whatever you’re fretting about at that particular moment, it’s probably not as big as it feels. (Unless you’ve become publishing’s protagonist of the day or season, in which case, shut up, listen, decide if you did something wrong, and if you did, figure out what you can do to own up to it, make it right if possible, and do better in the future.)

What else is the BFF of anxiety brain? Comparison. And when you’re in that spiral, social media can make it seem impossible to NOT feel like a failure. This is literally NOT a competition; it’s a competitive industry — those are two very different things. I’ve managed to publish a number of books and some were successful and some flopped and I lived to write another day. But I’m genuinely invested in other authors’ careers and successes, and here for their anxieties and failures as well (all a big part of why the Lexington Writer’s Room exists). I am also invested and care about the other people in publishing I work with, who are fantastic, super-stressed out, and often undervalued for incredibly tough jobs.

acceptance is always the last stage, right?

And I still have career anxiety. Nothing is guaranteed except that and that I still have to work my ass off to put dog and cat food in the bowls, but perspective is perspective. Things are going pretty well. I know what I want and I should do my work and trust my people.

If you’re not in that place, maybe your anxiety is telling you a true story. It does occasionally. Although it tends to overplay the negatives. The honest truth is you’ll write your way out of it, one way or another. Figure out what you want and then figure out the steps that start to get you there. Or fuck off and do something that makes you happy for a bit. Write whatever you want. But do not buy into anxiety’s telling you any of that b.s. I started off with about the doom and gloom inevitability of your future.

Getting out of our heads is essential. The pandemic has made that harder, for sure.

Also, just, if you have launched or are launching (*waves*) a book during the pandemic, it sucks. That’s not anxiety talking, that’s reality talking. It’s an unpredictable time and what did we learn about unpredictability and anxiety? Yeahhhhh. It’s okay to feel like some of this is unfair, because it is. But I guess what I’m saying is, we should try to lift ourselves and each other out of the mud as much as we can (I would put an Atreyu gif here except what am I, a monster?). This too shall pass, it’ll be another publishing war story. I really do believe what I said above about careers being a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

I don’t know how to wrap this up other than to say sometimes your brain will be a jerk. Publishing doesn’t make it better, by its very nature. But you? Take a step back and look at what you have gotten right, what you’ve accomplished. Because the other thing that anxiety does? It erases that. That’s why the stories in our heads are so similar, no matter the stage we’re at as authors.

Don’t just own your fears, own your successes. Or do your best to. Or hit me up for a pep talk. I hope this helps. And have some ice cream. You’ve earned it.

I’m going to go do my pass pages and write the next book. Right after lunch.

WAIT: Did I do a whole blog post? Did you read it? Usually, these are newsletters, which you can sign up for below.

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Three Quick Things

The first is that in the midst of traveling I forgot to mention that Girl on a Wire made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2014, in very good company indeed. *beams* Which means you can also vote for it in the Locus Awards if you’re so inclined.

The second is a new interview about Lois Lane: Fallout up at Dynamic Forces. (If it seems like I’m a little cagey about some details here, it’s because I did this not too long after the announcement. Thanks again to Byron and DF!) Also, I honestly can’t believe that it’s now just two months before release (*breathes into bag*). I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here yet, but there will be two free short stories coming very soon–one each month–to help introduce this version of Lois that take place pre-move to Metropolis.

Last but not least, if you haven’t yet backed Ninepin Press’s The Family Arcana: A Story-in-Cards by Jedediah Berry on kickstarter, why not? An extra incentive: I’m going to be contributing a horoscope story, along with eleven way fancier authors, as a new perk. Jed’s work is always wonderful, and I can’t wait to see the final results of all this excitingness.

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Is This Thing On? And World Fantasy Schedule!

Hello, my darlings! I'm sorry to have vanished, but between launch month for Girl on a Wire and doing Lois edits (turned in Friday!) the month got away from me. First though, I want to say thank you to everyone who has read, bought, checked out from the library, reviewed or told someone about the circus book of my heart. If you haven't yet, well, there's no time like the present. *bats eyelashes* Especially after watching that Nik Wallenda city walk over Chicago. Wasn't that something? Thrilling.

It's been so long since I updated here, I've forgotten what I have and haven't mentioned, and I know I've missed a bunch of stuff too. So a rundown of a few things and info on what I'm doing at World Fantasy this coming weekend.

Girl things:

There have been a couple of really wonderful early reader reviews of Lois Lane: Fallout over at Tumblr, both thorough but not in the least spoilery:

  • Here's the first from Maya; snippet: "Fallout exceeds everything I hoped it would be. Bond has captured Lois’s voice, infusing her with the Lois Lanes who have come before yet creating a fresh character with her own purpose."
  • And here's another at Godzylla's Head; snippet: "It’s extremely nuanced, for all that it moves at a swift pace and is a fast read — because you simply do not want to put it down once you’ve started it. Once you have finished it, you’re hungry for more. Best of all, this book is for everyone — long-time Lois Lane fans and someone who may never have heard of her. It’s engaging, smart, and fun."

I'm reading instead of paneling at World Fantasy, early Thursday evening — I can promise a little circus, a little Lois, and if there's time maybe a snippet of something else Christopher Rowe will pitch in a voice for. We'll see! Here's the details:

Reading: Gwenda Bond

Time: 5:30pm-6pm, Nov. 6, Fairfax

If you'll be there, you should come. I'll probably give away a copy of Girl, and I'll be happy to see you.

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Linky Business

Still on deadline(s) so just dropping in here with a few quick things.

First off, SFX has a great preview of the Strange Chemistry imprint today by way of a fab interview with editrix-in-chief Amanda Rutter. It includes some newsy-ness, including that the imprint will be going to two titles per month starting the second half of next year. Check it out.

My sadness at the news that Margaret Mahy has passed on is immense. What a brilliant, beautiful genius of a writer she was. I wrote about two of my favorites of her books a few years ago; I sense a reread coming on. (I actually just reread her Alchemy a week or so ago, and was reminded of the fabulous strangeness that permeates her work.) I also highly recommend Karen Healey's Strange Horizons column about her. I hate folding this into a post about other things, but I didn't want to let it go uncommented on. R.I.P.

And, finally, switching gears completely–I'm SO excited to be part of the Summer YA Scavenger Hunt, coming your way very soon. Like all the other authors, I'll be contributing a signed copy to the prize package. My special content will be some information about my next book, a reveal of the title (yes, it actually has one now!) and a little draft front matter. Behind the cut you can get a glimpse at the details on all the participating authors, courtesy of Colleen Houck. What company to be in!

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I Heart Monsters

230px-Medea-SandysOver at the Weird Fiction Review, 12 Days of Monsters continues with a whole slew of people talking about their favorite monsters. Here's a snippet of my response:

Greek mythology is filled with so many appealing (and unappealing) actual monsters that my choice may seem like a stretch of the term, but since she’s often portrayed as the ultimate monstrous mother I believe it fits. And you’ve probably guessed just from that vague description – yes, I’m talking about the one, the only, Medea, famed assassin of everyone from her own brother, to her ex’s would-be bride and father-in-law, and, of course, most damningly, her own children.

Go read 'em all. I'm going out in search of coffee and Floridian sunshine.

p.s. Thank you for all the cover art love. Next stop final cover! *beams*

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#Topper Party

Topper3So TCM had a mini-Cary Grant marathon the other day, and one of the films included was Topper (which is also available on DVD, of course). Justine and I were bandying our love for it around with Ari, who had set up a timer but never seen it… And then Justine had the marvelous idea of live tweeting a simultaneous watch party from our respective corners of the world.

I'm stealing Scott's post about the relevant details, because lazy! but also busy! Here goes:

Next week I’m going to be live-tweeting an old movie with various friends around the world (namely, @justinelavaworm, @readingincolor, and @gwenda (ed. note from G–@scottwesterfeld is the other relevant twitter handle, of course). In other words, we’ll all be putting the DVD in at the same time, watching it in sync, and tweeting VERY witty things. Or just crapping on about Cary Grant’s amazing car, more likely. Why are we doing this? Because it seemed like fun, and @readingincolor hadn’t seen it yet.

The movie is called Topper, and is a screwball comedy about dying in a car accident and then messing with your banker as a ghost. (Seriously. People laughed at some weird stuff back then.)

If you’re on the twitter machine, please feel free to join in.

Time: 8:30PM US EST
Date: Tuesday Dec 27
(Sydney Time: 12:30PM Wed Dec 28)
Hashtag: #Topper

Join in if you like. It should be fun. After all, what is twitter for if not live tweeting old movies?

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Friday Five

In which we return to random Fridays.

1. The children's and YA literature community lost one of its brightest lights this week, in L.K. Madigan (aka Lisa Wolfson). I never met Lisa in person, but we exchanged a few emails (always memorable, always funny), chatted on twitter and shared an agent. (In fact, I believe the weekend I signed with Jenn, Lisa was at a retreat with Laini Taylor; Laini wrote with congratulations and mentioned that at the retreat her friend had said her agent just signed someone new, and that the writer's name must be a pseudonym–to which Laini laughingly told her she didn't think so. I was thus thoroughly charmed by Lisa before we ever interacted.) She was someone I very much wanted and expected to meet someday. I was a huge fan of her work, and have the greatest of sympathies for those who knew her well. The outpouring of memories in the past couple of days is quite astounding. We should all be so lucky as to touch so many lives. A trust fund has been set up to help fund her son's college education; I can't think of a better way to remember her. Donate if you can.

2. I don't know where to go from there, but it didn't seem like something I could save for the end of this post.

3. I've been horribly behind and playing catch up this week. Also, trying to remind myself how many things I've gotten done in February, despite lots and lots of whirlwind, and thus not stress about the fact that I'm only resurfacing now. I've been in such a weird space of such busyness that I haven't even been watching The Vampire Diaries as it airs. I know! Worrisome. I start it, then decide to save it for later. (I have, however, been watching Fringe when it airs. Oh, show, you have me biting my nails. I will never have sympathy for Fauxlivia!) Please do not cancel this one, network. I want at least one more season.

4. I've been thinking a lot about all the advice that goes around for people at the beginning of their careers (a lot of it for before those careers really start). And the thing I keep coming back to is: It's different for everyone. Everyone's path is different. So don't worry too much about prescriptions (or proscriptions) that say you can do this, but not that; that if you do X, then you'll never do Y. Take the opportunities that come to you if they are ones you want to, and don't worry too much about the ones you don't take or that aren't right or that never come your way. Keep working. Behave with integrity. Be a professional, which means taking your work and your actions seriously. (Even before others do.) Something you do or say at some point will prickle someone's skin the wrong way, but if you're being thoughtful, professional, and acting with integrity, that's all you can do. Help other people when you can. Do what feels right and meaningful. Keep learning. The rest will sort itself out. I promise.

5. In very exciting news, my sweetie Christopher Rowe's first novel* Sandstorm is due out March 1. Which is next week. Eek! Yay! It's the fulfillment of a since-teenagedom dream he's had to write a novel set in the Forgotten Realms, novels that were very, very influential for him as he was growing up. And I couldn't be prouder or happier. I've been reading one of the author copies that showed up this week (you might find it in a few stores already, actually), and it's just as good as I remembered–full of exciting intrigue, and some of my favorite characters ever. As he described it in a recent interview: "Sandstorm is a fantasy novel that features action, adventure, gladiators, monsters, love, loss, revenge, some more monsters, genies, an assassin with the head of a crow, an ancient book of stories, twins, minotaurs, evil priests, epic battles, floating palaces, secret societies, and the finest circus in all the Forgotten Realms." If you like high fantasy (or have ever played D&D), give it a try. To celebrate the release, I'll be hosting a Dungeons & Dragons Salon with the thoughts of some other very smart, excellent writers for whom gaming and/or the related fantasy novels were also influential. So make sure you drop by on Tuesday.

*He's hard at work on the second one now, Sarah Across America, and it is DIVINE. Although the fact he writes on the typewriter and doesn't like leaving a sheet in it overnight means that he frequently ends the day in mid-sentence, on the biggest cliffhangers ever. My nerves! I can't take it.

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Electronic Brains, Dream Mash-Up No. 1*

Today I am busy with many things, including an overdue auction critique, so this will be short and silly.

Remember when Kelly was on her blog tour and she proposed combining Bringing Up Baby with paranormal romance? This is kind of like that.

As a sidenote to a conversation at World Fantasy with Ted and Christopher, I realized that the computers in Desk Set and WarGames are–more or less–the same computer.






Would you like to play a game, Bunny?

*An occasional series.

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Monday Five

Because I haven't managed to do the random post on Fridays lately, and really, why not on Monday?

1) Lots of people are recommending scary reading in honor of Halloween, which is a lovely idea that makes me happy. I always struggle with making lists, afraid (ha) to leave things out. Anyway, I've been doing lots of scary-ish research reading lately, primarily about alchemists and their alchemical tricks, for the current work-in-progress. And I'm rereading Stephen King's Danse Macabre for the first time since high school, and finding it just as absorbing as I did then. (In addition to Cybils reading, natch.) I recommend tracking down the November issue of Harper's for Téa Obreht's fabulous essay Twilights of the Vampires: Hunting the Real-Life Undead, a delightful travelogue through Serbia and Croatia to examine the roots of the really old stories. You'll like it.

2) It's my intention to (finally!) finish a draft of the aforementioned work-in-progress by the time we load up the car and drive to World Fantasy on Friday. This is highly doable. And then I can fix it.

3) I like it when friends are on book tour, especially when they come near us. Spent a delightful day in Cincy yesterday with Scott and Justine (and other wonderful localish folks, Scalzi and Megan). And then there's WFC and its horde of delightful types coming up in just a few days. A girl could get spoiled.

4) Apparently the National Book Foundation doesn't believe in fairy tales, at least not as something that qualifies for its awards? Which is crazy. Kate Bernheimer and Marie Tatar are on the case.

5) If I owe you an email, you will get it today. Promise.

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Llamas On The Lam

Escaped llamas named Felicity and Prism–I love this story:

Two llamas escaped from a farm near the Louisville Zoo early Friday, causing police and animal services to track them through the surrounding neighborhoods.

One llama, named Felicity, made it pretty far, eventually getting stopped on Harvard Drive near Bardstown Road in the Douglass Loop. A second one, Prism, was located on the west side of Newburg Road, not far from the farm where she lives.

Nefarious beer bottle activity suspected as the cause, even.

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