The Novelist and Depression – Dealing with the Downside

DepressionWe fiction writers are sensitive people – we live on our emotions. We create characters and, if we want to make them to be real for our readers, we see the world through their eyes. We put our protagonist through all kinds of misery. One problem after another. If we didn’t there would be no story. The more we experience our character’s pain, the better the writing will be. We train ourselves to feel the grief, the despair, the anguish. Is it any wonder that we fall victim to a certain level of despondency when life hands us a bad deal? Life is never fair. I like to claim that I’m a glass half full person, trying to see the best side and count my many blessings, but there are times when I don’t succeed.

At some point, most fiction writers feel that life is stacked against them. We are faced with so many knocks – rejections from agents and publishing houses, bad reviews or simply periods when the writing is just not going well. These all conspire to make us doubt our abilities. The resulting state of self-pity and lack of confidence may not be clinical depression, but, if we let it fester, it soon leads to an overwhelming feeling of failure. We might even be tempted to give up writing altogether.


MAIN-rowlingThe number of writers who have been accepted by an agent or publisher on their first enquiry are very few. We all know the stories of famous writers some of whom were turned down over fifty times or more. J K Rowling, Steven King and John le Carré were all rejected time after time. It took Agatha Christie five years before she was accepted, and her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more. Beatrix Potter never did find a publisher and decided to self-publish Peter Rabbit. A book which surely must rate as one of the best known and loved children’s stories of all time.

Many writers may be quite philosophical about receiving rejection letters or emails. We all know such things should not be taken personally, but for most of us, that doesn’t heal the hurt. The quote I love best is from the great Science Fiction writer, Isaac Asimov – ‘Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil.’

When I first started writing, the thud of that heavy envelope dropping through the letter box often came so soon after the precious manuscript had been sent away that there could barely have been time to pull it out and put it straight into the return envelope. It didn’t even get as far as the slush pile on the agent’s desk. Nowadays, email makes things cheaper, but the frustration is still there. When it wings back almost straight away, one could be forgiven for asking if anyone had actually bothered open the attachment? Either that or it disappears into the ether never to be seen or heard of again!

You can only take so much rejection. Is it any wonder that so many of today’s writers bypass the system and decide to selfpublish? After all, there is no longer a stigma to being an indie writer.


If our books are going to find new readers, we need good reviews. We learn to accept constructive criticism right at the start of our careers, but some reviews are downright vindictive.

These are some of the one* reviews I found on Amazon –

  • ‘Not my kind of book’ – so why bother to download it?
  • ‘Give me time to read it’ – why rate it if you haven’t read it?
  • ‘Rubbish – didn’t read beyond the first page’ – so how do you know?

Virtually all of us have experienced a bad review at some point, whether you are well-known bestselling author or one the many struggling writers. It goes with the territory. The odd poor one* or two* is no problem if the average rating is well above the four* ranking. When it can do real damage is when a book first comes out. That happened with one of my books and to several writer friends. The misery it causes bites deeply. It can take a very long time to get over the hurdle.


writers-blockThere are many things that can stop us writing. Illness, other commitments and, sometimes, not knowing where to go next – the dreaded writers’ block.

If you’ve read my recent blogs, you’ll know that my writing had to take a back seat for much of the last year and for six months, I wasn’t able to look at it all. I’d abandoned ‘Blood Hits the Wall’ very much at its final stages, so when I got back, it wasn’t so much getting back into writing mode as to getting the book ready for publication. The launch was a few days ago, I will no longer have an excuse. I will have to pick myself up and get on with the next Fiona Mason.

The trouble is, I have to confess that I haven’t yet worked up the enthusiasm. Normally I can’t wait to get started on a new book. Ideas tumble over one another. First comes the country together with a plot for Fiona and one for Peter Montgomery-Jones, then the other passengers begin to take shape.

I can’t say I’m depressed about it, but it certainly doesn’t add to my sense of wellbeing. Nor does it bode well for the future.


When we fall into that ‘slough of despond’, we need to remind ourselves that we always give our readers a happy ending.  The murderer is discovered, the heroine gets her man, the goal is reached and the future for our protagonist looks bright.

We’ve been here before and things work out right in the end. There is no reason why the next book should be any less successful than the previous ones.


I know I’m not alone in my self-doubt. What are the things that get you down? What helps you get over it?

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