I have to admit it's strange looking back at where I was eight years ago. It seems a bit of a cliche to say I had a different life back then, but it's true. I'm not the same girl. I'm older (I have the crows feet, aching bones and a goodly portion of my body seems to be heading south, if you need proof) and (theoretically) I'm wiser. Heaven knows, my writing career has been a steep learning curve. Whose isn't?!
I do like to think I've mellowed, though I'm still as bloody minded as ever. I've made a good start on my crazy cat lady collection but at the same time am starting to find a balance in my life. At least I hope I am. I'm also a lot more battered and bruised, emotionally speaking. But we'll get to that last part in a moment...
I can still remember the first discussions I had with my writing buddies, Ally Blake, Natasha Oakley and Nicola Marsh about setting up The Pink Heart Society. We were authors on the 'up', with books under our belts. We had drive and enthusiasm and were keen to make our mark. It looked like co-authored Blogs had become the next big thing, but we wanted to try something more ambitious. Bigger. Wider reaching. Something which celebrated everything we loved about series/category romance!
It was a lot of work. Way more than we'd realized. But we did it.
My first post for the brand new PHS was on September 9, 2006. By then, I'd published six books, five for the Harlequin/M&B Romance line and one for the brand new Modern Romance Extra line. My first had been released in the States the year before and won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award. I'd just made the decision to quit my day job and write full time. And the following summer I made my first trip across the pond to the Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas.
Writing had literally opened up a whole new world to me and I'd been incredibly lucky, especially when it came to the friends I would never have met if I hadn't become a writer. I was so very grateful for that. I still am.
But two years later, I learned a very important lesson. And I learnt it the hard way.
Frankly, I think it's a problem for a lot of writers. We don't like to say 'no' to anything, especially if its an opportunity which could help us sell more books. What if we say no and they never ask us again? What if we get a reputation for being uncooperative? I wanted to be the 'go-to' girl when it came to books with short deadlines or filling slots when one suddenly became empty or being included in a linked series. I didn't need sleep or food. I had coffee and a keyboard! My family and friends would understand. They knew it was my job. I'd see them after I sent in the book and slipped into a coma for a week. Everything would be fine.
So, in 2008, when M&B celebrated their centenary, I didn't say no to anything.
Newspaper interviews, Radio, TV, Library talks, I did the lot. My editor had also mentioned they would like to see three books a year for each line from me and while I'd balked a little at the suggestion, I was determined to try. I also did a short story for EHarlequin and one for the center pages of the Sun newspaper with its-gulp!-three million readers. I blogged as often as possible, I did all my website updates. I went to the RWA conference in San Francisco. And I learned everything I could about writing from a screenplay, novel and comic book perspective at Comic Con in San Diego.
Don't get me wrong, I managed to squeeze in a heck of lot of fun that year, despite being sick as a dog and confined to my hotel room in Los Angeles. Looking back, I should have seen the latter as a warning sign. But by then it was too late. The damage was already done.
I had nothing. Nada. Not. One. Single. Word.
I'd hit The Wall.
With a great deal of effort I improved to the point where I was moving a single word up and down the page. There were numerous push backs on my deadline. And every time I opened my laptop, I spent a good fifteen minutes to half hour crying. But eventually-and somewhat miraculously-I managed to finish the damn book. I was a writer, after all, and writer's write. Even when it really, really hurts.
Suffice to say, I didn't make my six book goal that year. And to make matters worse, while I was still struggling to complete the last book in my contract, the rest of my life went to hell in a hand-basket. There was a major split in my family - heartbreak, arguments and upset on a daily basis for months on end. There were financial worries. Times when I couldn't afford a pint of milk and read by candlelight because I couldn't pay my electricity bill.
Then two of my beloved pets died, the people I cared about most in the world moved away and I had to cut some life-long ties for the sake of my sanity and mourned the loss like more deaths. All of a sudden I found myself alone, in a deep, dark hole of depression. I cried every day. Sometimes, all day. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't sleep when I was in bed. I had no appetite. The only time I left the house was to feed my animals. I became a recluse, didn't want to talk to anyone, alienated some of my closest friends and at the lowest point, even wondered if there was any point in being here anymore. It would have been so much better for everyone if I wasn't. That's the way I saw it.
How in hell was I supposed to write happily ever after's with all that going on?
Climbing out of the hole has taken a lot of time and a great deal of effort and there are still days when I can feel myself slipping back in. I couldn't have got this far alone. Without the support of my family and friends, I doubt very much I'd have survived. By the time my next book was published, it had been a year and five months since I had anything new on the shelf. It would be another eight months for the one after that and another seven months for the one after that. I wish I could tell you it gets easier. But here we are, a year and seven months later and once again, I'm struggling to finish a manuscript.
I keep telling myself that publishing three new books since I crashed is a good thing. I just need to keep going. And I have more story ideas now than I've had for several years. Those are all positives and I try to focus on them. I still have bad days depression-wise, but it's not every day and with practice, I can handle it a lot better, so that's good, too. If I want to keep writing, I just have to get up, sit down at the keyboard and continue fighting my way through The Wall.
I also have to make an effort with friends and family, take care of my health, remember to take time off to do the things I love and leave the house more often. Learning to ask for help when I need it and to accept help when it's offered is another of my goals. I've always sucked at that. But I'm working on it. And I'm much, much better at saying no these days!
One step at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. That's how I handle things now. It might not seem very ambitious and there may be people out there who think I should just grow a pair and bloody well get on with it, but it's what's working for me. And that's all that matters.
Depression is pervasive. It reaches grubby little fingers into your mind and fills it with a combination of lethargy, paranoia, self-doubt and numerous other delights until it can literally feel like you're going insane. I've been there. The panic attacks were a particular favorite of mine. No-one had warned me about that. If you've ever suffered from depression, I don't have to spell it out for you. You know exactly what I'm talking about. But if you're suffering from it now, I'm here to tell you that you're NOT ALONE. And as impossible as it might seem, you CAN get through it.
I didn't think I would. But, here I am.
Yes, there are still times when I worry I might have thrown away my career and that no-one will remember me when I release my next book. The romance writing world is HUGE and even when I was flying high, I knew I was just a face in the crowd. And yes, since the demise of the KISS/Modern Tempted line it has felt like I have to start all over again. My difficulties with the last book on my contract might have something to do with that. End of an era and the loss of my safety net, etc. etc....
But you know what? It's not about how you fall. It's about what you do when you get back up. Another cliche, I know, but again, it's true. I might be bruised and battered. I might even have some scars which will never fully heal. But if I've succeeded once, I can damn well do it again.
I haven't given up. On life. Or writing. And neither should YOU.
How do you deal with the times when words are difficult to find? Have you ever taken on more work deadlines than you've been able to handle? Do you have any advice which might be useful to others? Jump to the comments and join the discussion!
Trish's latest is an old book in a new anthology with fellow authors Myrna McKenzie and Dianne Drake. The Bachelor's Cinderella is available to buy at Amazon and all the usual outlets.
And just to prove there's still life in 'old' books, another anthology, Bedded For His Pleasure, with Pink Heart Society Columnists Kate Hardy and Heidi Rice, made it onto the KOBO best-sellers list this week. Congratulations, ladies!