A friend and colleague informed us that 81% of people feel they have a book in them at some point in their lives. Of those, 3% start writing said book, and only 3% of those 3% ever finish it.
This coming week marks the publication of my second novel this year.
I am sharing this not because I feel great about myself, but because oftentimes I do not. I am the first one to point out my deficiencies and failures and the last one to mention anything I may have accomplished. I always look at all the work I have yet to complete rather than acknowledging the work I’ve completed.
But I don’t want to gloat over my achievement, either, because God knows there are enough people in this society who do just that.
Finding the balance is really difficult for me.
Can you relate to this?
Anyway, I’m working on rewarding myself for special achievements. My old rewards were essentially unhealthy so these days I’m seeking different pastures.
One primary reinforcer is food. After accomplishing something special my girlfriend and I will often go out to a nice dinner. Other ways I reward myself include getting new books, new DVDs, going out to see a movie, and for really special celebrations taking a trip, often to Disney World.
I’m curious to find out how you reward yourself in a healthy way for your accomplishments.
And I remain enormously grateful to all of those who helped in the publication of the books, and to my readers.
All my best,
Talking to our kids about depression may be very difficult, but is the best approach in the long-run. So argues Laura Zera in her guest post, “Depression as a Dinner Table Topic.”
Depression as a Dinner Table Topic — Guest Post by Laura Zera
Starting at an early age, human beings go through life trying to attach meaning to experiences. We want to understand why our hamster died, and how Santa will know if we’ve been good or bad. It’s not enough to tell us “because that’s the way it is” when our minds are spinning tales and hopscotching toward conclusions. As humans, our very power lies in our advanced cognitive processes, and bleeds into our ability to use language as a tool for learning and exploration.
So what happens when, as parents, that magnificent brain of ours flickers and flares, and we find ourselves in the prolonged throes of depression? What do we tell the kids?
We may not want to tell them anything, out of worry they’ll latch onto the idea that Mommy or Daddy must be dying, or that they’ll develop related–and equally traumatic–fears. For children of certain ages, that may be true. But eventually there comes a time when bypassing the depression conversation lessens the power of everyone in the family.
Not talking about it doesn’t mean children are without some level of awareness. Mom doesn’t get up with them in the morning as much anymore. Dad hasn’t laughed in a long time, and he always drinks at night. The house feels different. A kid who doesn’t have all the information will capture things without even consciously comprehending them, and his or her gut instinct will holler, “something isn’t right.” In the absence of conversation, the follow-up emotions lean toward confusion and fear.
I bet you can guess what my prescription is. Have the conversation. I’m not idiot enough to tell you that it will be easy, but here are some things I do know:
- Difficult conversation creates deeper, more bonded relationships
- Talking about mental illness reduces the shame and stigma around it
- Acknowledging and showing our vulnerabilities is what true courage is made of
- Inviting questions from our kids gives them permission to use their voice, and retain their power
Still need some convincing that it behooves you to be candid and open a dialog with your kids? Let me point to a longitudinal study called ACES, or the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (the full article is fascinating; I hope you’ll read it).
From 1995 to 1997, doctors from Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine and the Center for Disease Control interviewed more than 17,000 patients about their childhood and then followed them for 15 years afterward. The initial questions asked patients whether they were subject to physical, verbal or emotional abuse or neglect, if one or both parents suffered from a mental illness, if their parents divorced, or if one or both parents had been alcoholics.
What the team of doctors eventually realized is that there’s a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, social and mental problems. The people they talked to who had grown up in difficult environments suffered later in life. The more adverse experiences they had, the higher their adult risk.
Having a parent with a mental illness is considered an adverse experience, but mental illness has also become part of the human condition. We don’t get to pick and choose who will get it, just like we can’t pick and choose whether we’ll be allergic to shellfish and peanuts. So don’t blame yourself for having depression. Talk to your kids about it. Then talk to them some more. One day, they will thank you, both for teaching them the courage to communicate, and for doing the best you could do.
Has this been a dinner table discussion at your house? Or do you disagree with this approach? We’d love to hear from you below.
Laura Zera lives in Seattle with her husband, cat and dog. She is the child of a parent with a mental illness, and has intermittent depressive disorder herself (or what she likes to call “winter”). While her ACE score is 4, she gets a different outcome every time she takes the Myers-Briggs. As a writer, Laura’s work has appeared in an essay anthology, and in online publications. She is the author of Tro-tros and Potholes, West Africa: Solo, and recently completed a memoir. You can connect with Laura on her website, or via Facebook and Twitter.
First, let me just say, that historically, I’ve hated editing. All through college and graduate school, I never edited a single paper—including my dissertation. I simply wrote them and turned them in. Luckily, I always managed to do well.
Now, writing fiction and publishing books, I have to edit. It’s the nature of the beast. I went through my familiar rejection of editing once I started writing fiction. But then, over time, something happened. At some point I began to see editing as slightly easier than the initial creative process, the stuff it takes to write the first draft of a story.
I’ve even come to see it as rewarding. It’s incredibly satisfying to look back over your writing and say to yourself, “Hey, that’s not too bad,” when you read something that works.
I’ve come to view writing as a layering process, similar to painting. There is no way one can keep all the balls in the air while putting down stories the first time. One must go back and add subsequent layers of complexity. This is the only way I believe good writing is done. I’m somewhat confirmed in this belief when looking at the notebooks of great authors, whose initial drafts were often far from what they eventually published.
I still feel this way. However, I have developed a new fear: namely, that my writing is not going to get any better in subsequent revisions. That my first draft is my peak performance, and that no matter how much time and energy I invest, the writing is essentially going to stay at the same level.
But then I remember that I am not alone in this endeavor. There will be several pairs of eyes that read my work before it gets into the hands of a professional editor, and then, the writing will benefit from the expertise of the professional.
To me the specific process one uses to edit—and everyone ends up developing one that works for them—is less important than the realization that editing only improves the work. It is a second and a third, fourth, and fifth chance to get things “right,” to make the writing as strong as it can be, with the help of other people’s insights.
Again, I am struck by the realization that it takes a village to write a book, and I am humbled and grateful to the many people who assist me along the way.
How do you view editing?
With the publication of Conversations Among Ruins I have told some of my story to the world.
I won’t go into what is and isn’t my life as it relates to the book, but I will say that the main character, Daniel Stavros, is, like me, dual diagnosed.
As I’ve mentioned before, I recently engaged a publicist to help promote the book. This has brought me face to face with the realization that increasing the awareness of dual diagnosis will place me in uncomfortable positions.
For example, my publicist has suggested I reach out to local affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These groups hold conferences, at which I might be asked to speak.
The thought terrifies me. In addition to major depressive disorder, I have generalized anxiety disorder that includes a certain degree of agoraphobia. Needless to say, speaking in front of groups of people about mental health is not my idea of a good time. Despite the fact that I have much teaching experience, this sort of thing is vastly different than lecturing to college students.
Because it’s personal.
But the fact that I need to do this without the benefit of mind altering substances is giving me the opportunity to put into practice many of the skills I have learned in recovery.
I’ll share two of these in the hope that they might help someone.
One of my favorite skills is a delaying tactic I call the Not This Second (NTS) mindset. It consists of this: If I don’t have to speak to a roomful of people this very second, I try not to worry about it. After all, what good is worrying about it, if it’s not immediately before me? It consumes a vast amount of emotional resources I could devote to other matters. I know I will be well-prepared when it comes time to speak; that is just my nature. And once I get going things usually turn out just fine. It is the thought of doing something that is often worse than actually doing it. I have to remember this.
I use the NTS mindset for just about anything that I worry about beforehand. A related strategy I use essentially amounts to bait and switch.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s take two things I worry about: One, speaking at a conference, and two, paying back my student loans. As the speaking event draws closer I say to myself, what I really should be worrying about is paying back my student loans. So I try to hold this thought in mind as long as I can as the speaking event approaches. This serves to take some of the pressure off the one event, and allows me to gain perspective. After the speaking engagement, when I start to worry about my student loans, I’ll comfort myself by saying that while the loans are an issue, at least I don’t have to get up in front of a roomful of people and talk about them. It is largely a matter that can be handled privately.
This is not to stay that I don’t stay in the moment. When I am doing whatever task I am doing I try to focus exclusively on that. So when I speak about dual diagnosis, I think about dual diagnosis, not my student loans. But the bait and switch seems to help in the time leading up to the actual event.
I am going to need your support so I can do my job in spreading awareness of dual diagnosis. Please include me in your thoughts and prayers, if you are so inclined.
Thank you so much.
What strategies do you use to combat anxiety?
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
How are we supposed to keep all those balls up in the air? Plot, character development, and pacing, the pesky rules of grammar, word choice, and sentence structure. It’s enough to drive a writer crazy.
When I start to feel particularly overwhelmed I use a trick suggested by people who know worlds more about writing than I do.
Anne Lamott, in her incomparable book on writing and life, Bird by Bird, admits that writing can be a daunting endeavor. She talks about how she keeps a one-inch picture frame on her desk.
Lamott says of the one–inch picture frame: “It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
She also recalls E. L. Doctorow’s sage advice that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Lamott adds, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
Well said. Well said, indeed.
Starting today you have a chance to win a signed copy of Conversations Among Ruins!
Just click the button on the right to enter.
The contest runs from September 1 through November 1.
Here is a little more about Conversations Among Ruins:
Have you ever struggled with addiction or mental illness? Can you imagine what it is like having both? And what happens when just as you feel the world slipping away, you fall in love with the one person who seems to offer redemption? Conversations Among Ruins, takes readers into the heart and mind of a man on the brink of losing everything and finding it all. It is a portrait of a descent into madness, and the potential of attaining salvation there.
While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed* professor meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter. But Mimi has secrets and, strangely, a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died. Drawn together by broken pasts, they pursue a twisted, tempestuous romance. When it ends, a deteriorating Stavros seeks refuge at a mountain cabin where a series of surreal experiences brings him face to face with something he’s avoided all his life: himself. Though miles away, Mimi’s actions run oddly parallel to Daniel’s. Will either be redeemed, or will both careen toward self-destruction?
*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency.
Six out of every hundred Americans suffer from dual diagnosis. Find out just how terrifying it can be, but discover there is hope.
Praise for Conversations Among Ruins:
“Mr. Peters’s writing is effortlessly poetic…The novel presents a stark sometimes cold reality, but has heart and soul and even a mystical perspective.”
D. M. Denton, author of A House Near Luccoli
“The imagery is powerful, the narrative drive compelling, and the language wonderfully lyrical.”
P. J. Wetzel, author of Out of Crystal Ice
“This is an excellent read on its own, but is sure to strike a somber chord with those whose lives have been touched by the dark spirits of substance abuse and depression.”
Tyler Johnson, author of Tales from the Red Book of Tunes
I wish you the best of luck in the contest!