It’s funny, whenever I think about how I manage my mental health as a writer, the things that usually spring to mind are the negatives: how to deal with stress and isolation, how to build myself up when I’m feeling low, how to get through the disappointments and rejections – essentially, how to get back to level ground after struggling up the proverbial hill. But I think it’s equally important to recognise and develop the ways in which I deal with the positive times as well, because without those it’s much harder to overcome the challenges.
This week, I’ve had one of the most exciting experiences any aspiring author can imagine: signing with a literary agent!
If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that last month I was quietly (or maybe noisily) optimistic that the agent I had submitted my novel to would want to take the project on and help me develop it to the point where it was ready for a publisher. Well, that’s exactly what happened, and the elation I felt after I received an email asking if I wanted to sign with her was one of the highest highs I’ve ever experienced. I had to re-read it several times to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, but there it was, the same every time. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I lost the better part of a day phoning and messaging my closest friends and family (my mum was my first phone-call, of course, and she promptly burst into tears – love you Mum), and I think it was sometime that evening that it really started to sink in. That I am, in fact, finally within arm’s reach of getting my debut novel published! Eeeep!
The contract came through via email the same day and I read through it a few times to make sure I understood the legal jargon, then asked my dad to check it as well as he has a background in Law. I asked a couple of questions and got the answers I needed, and I have just now posted off the signed document to the agency to make it all official.
There’s still work to do on the book – part of an agent’s job is to work through the MS and suggest anything that will improve your chances of a) attracting a publisher and b) satisfying the reader – and my first instinct was to focus on what comes next: what I still need to do to move on to the next rung up the ladder.
But then I reminded myself to pause and take a breath. Signing with an agency is a big f*cking deal! How long have I been dreaming about that? How many hours have I spent researching how to give my book the best possible chance of being picked up? How much work have I put into drafting and re-drafting letters and synopses, never mind the book itself, just to get to the point where an agent will be interested and want to take me on as a client to help me build my career? The answer is: too long/ many/ much to count! It’s been my primary focus for years now, and I need to take the time to digest and celebrate the fact that it’s actually happened, and that it’s a huge achievement in itself.
I remember when I first came across the concept of neuroplasticity and its significance in regards to mental health, about 18 months ago in an article on the ‘Forbes’ website. What I took away from it was that the parts of our brain that we exercise the most grow stronger, and the parts we neglect grow weaker, just like our muscle tissues. This means that if we’re constantly focusing on negative things, it becomes easier to get caught up in negative thinking because the neural pathways that access those thoughts become dominant. Similarly, if we focus on positive things, it’s easier to access positive thoughts. Discovering this completely changed the way I perceived mental well-being, because it means that you have the power to reshape and redefine your own general state of being, and that’s a very empowering thing. It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel rubbish again, but it does make it easier to start and continue feeling better, and to have a more positive outlook overall, which makes life far more pleasant and means that you’re more likely to take steps to improve your situation than if you’re always expecting bad things to happen.
One of the things I think we all do too much is focus on our failures, and this makes us miserable because we begin to see those as the defining points in our lives. But how much better would we feel if we spent as much – or more – time dwelling on the achievements? I’m not the kind of person who likes to brag or show off when something good has happened – in part because I’ve had a lot of hard times in the past and I don’t want to make other people feel bad in comparison – but I have come to understand that it’s vitally important to stop for a moment and take a deep, delighted whiff of the sweet smell of success when it comes my way, because that’s the best way to counteract the rancid stench of failure, which – believe me – is all too familiar.
There are so many clichéd expressions for taking the time to enjoy the moment you’re living in right now, but ‘stop and smell the roses’ is my favourite. So bask in the glory/ savour the moment/ have your day in the sun/ live in the now/ seize the day! There will always be more challenges and hardships and battles to overcome, but what’s the point in striving for those things if you don’t stop to appreciate the victories?
So that’s what I’m doing right now. Revelling in the warm fuzzy feeling in the middle of my chest when I think about what I’ve achieved after years of working without any guarantee of reward. I’ll get onto thinking about all the hard work to come in a little while, but for now I’m going to focus on, enjoy and internalise this feeling, because I’ve earned it and because it’s bloomin’ marvellous!
Follow me on Twitter @RoseJamesAuthor if you’d like to keep up with book-related developments. It looks like there will be many more to come – yaaaay! 😀