M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer and author of The Protector series, a young adult mash-up between urban and epic fantasy that has drawn rave reviews from fans around the world. In this essay, he gives a raw accounting of the struggles encountered by many artists to remain creative and productive.
Coming back from anything can be difficult. If you’re a professional athlete that takes a year off, you don’t jump in with whomever the front-runners are when you come back. Not right away. Not without some practice. The same goes for writers, but in a slightly different light, and it isn’t easy.
After personal tragedy struck home eighteen months ago, I found myself circling the drain. I stopped writing, stopped promoting my work, and in reality, I stopped connecting with people—both online and in real life. At the time, my first Young Adult Fantasy series was doing well, but after a few months away, like anything if you don’t tend to it, the garden begins to wilt. In this case, the books faded in sales each month and in turn, dropped ranking which affects visibility. Everything author-related began to fall apart and I started to lose confidence in my work. This affected my desire to write, which put even more distance between my books and myself. I continued to tell myself I just needed a little space and I’d come back to it.
But the longer I waited, the worse it became. A dozen times since then I’ve come and gone, struggling to find my place.
Now it’s been over a year since I published anything and I’m fighting to get back, but it certainly isn’t easy. I’ve learned a few
hard lessons over the last two years, and there are a few pills I’m still trying to swallow. I had a solid routine of how things worked: how and when I wrote, who I worked with, how I promoted, edited, etc. However, regaining confidence can be a rocky path. Returning to the Monday-Friday workforce substantially cut into my time to write. Add to that my kids are older now, which means school, homework, new activities, and even less time available. For a while I found myself wondering if I would return to publishing at all. I would always write, but I wasn’t sure about doing it on a professional level. Then I realized I could never truly let it go. I loved it too much. It had been a dream come true for me, and just as I fought to have it in the first place, I’d have to fight to get it back, which meant even more hard work. Somehow, regaining traction after the race has started seems more difficult than starting at the beginning and setting the pace. But at least I’m in the race.
In the past two years I’ve learned something: giving yourself a break isn’t always the answer. On occasion you must power through whatever you’re struggling with. Had I forced myself to keep up appearances and kept up with my routine, eventually I’d have found my next story and perhaps fought off a wicked and lengthy depression. One I still struggle with. If I’d done that, I might have written a lot of crap before I found my place, but I didn’t have to publish it.
But we won’t get in to the ‘what if’ game. Instead, we’ll stay with what I learned. Although I already knew it, over time I was reminded that pain isn’t a bad thing. It reminds you that you’re alive, wakes you up to the good times and the things in your life you can appreciate .Those emotions are gold when it comes to the creative process.
More importantly, I learned two irreplaceable lessons.
The first is that readers are incredibly loyal. In this age of publishing, two years is too long to wait for an author, but my readers have. Some of them still reach out to see how I’m doing. They consistently remind me how excited they are for my new book, Sacred Cities, and it’s amazing. Their support has helped me along as I slog through the battlefield that has become my manuscript. At times when I think about giving up again, my readers…my friends, keep me going.
The second lesson I learned is so very important, not to publishing, but life. This is the lesson I always knew but never truly understood until recently: friends and family are a godsend. Nothing replaces them and nothing can do what their love can do. Nothing. They’ve saved my life in the darkest of times, and I am eternally in their debt. So please, no matter where you are in life, don’t ever treat them as an aside, and don’t give up. Their hands are there for the holding. They’re the ones that will be there for you no matter what, so hold them tight when you can, miss them when you can’t, and love them always.