There are certain moments a writer dreads. Reading an email that begins "Thank you for your submission, but...." Seeing a one-star review pop up on Amazon. Finding one of your own books in the remainder bin — or, even worse, realizing you're not in the damn Barnes & Noble in any way whatsoever.
I've been through them all. More than once. More than twice. More than...well, lots. And for a long, long time, I let each experience mark me. I'd see the rejection, the bad review, the nothing where my books ought to be, and I'd feel the rubber stamp smacking into my forehead.
Back when I used to go to mystery conventions like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, it would happen, too. I'd muff some conversation, screw up an inscription, notice that Writer X was signing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more books than me, and I'd feel it.
It got really bad a while back when I found myself, for the first time in years, without a book contract. Money got tight. Mickey Rourke's cheeks after his fourth facelift tight. So tight my wife started to give me a running countdown to doom.
Her: "We have six months before we run out of money."
Her: "We have five months before we run out of money."
Her: "We have four months before we run out of money."
Her: "You got a royalty check today."
Her: "Yeah. Yippee. We have five months before we run out of money."
It got so that every bag of groceries I bought, every round of drinks I picked up, every book or movie I treated myself to — each one was simply another step closer to an empty bank account, foreclosure, disaster.
Eventually, I reached the moment every professional writer really dreads. The moment you realize you can't be a professional writer anymore. Not of the "make up fun crap in your pajamas all day" variety, anyway. It was time to go back to a day job.
Of course, Fate being the perverted biyatch she is, the second I landed a 9-to-5 gig, contracts started flying at me. Suddenly I had three series to write...and no time to write them. So a "Tarot Mystery" was a little late. Then a "Nick and Tesla" book was really late. Then another "Tarot Mystery" was reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllllllllly late. I was a pro again, as I'd defined it, but I was stressed out and burned out and disappointed in myself for letting my editors down. And you know what?
I'd reached the ultimate FAIL, in fact: Writing was making me unhappy. It had been for a long time, I realized. Because how can you be happy with that FAIL FAIL FAIL constantly whacking you in the face?
And who was doing the whacking? Not editors, not agents, not snarky reviewers, not even Fate.
It was me.
I'd sold X books and X + Y stories and I'd been a finalist for X - Z awards and I had X x X readers who like my stuff. And, yeah, O.K., I had to have a day job. But it was a stable one I actually liked. Which meant I didn't need book contracts to feed my family anymore. Yet somehow I was still a failure?
Nope. That kind of thinking was a FAIL right there. It was time to knock it off.
The countdown to financial doom has been aborted. I have the freedom to write whatever I want. There are people out there who've been patiently waiting for me to do something with that freedom. And I'm done judging myself.
My new slogan: MAKE WRITING FUN AGAIN. Which makes me happy.