by Nita Sweeney
The hotel carpet itched the back of my neck as I lay on the floor with my eyes closed. To persuade my back muscles to relax, I’d folded my legs in the Egoscue Method “static back press” across the seat of the stiff armchair and noticed my breath go in and out.
The morning before, our Dead Runners Society (DRS) group ran four miles through the Amish countryside of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. We dodged buggies and horse manure while enjoying views of white board fences, white-washed barns, bearded men, and dress-clad women toting tidy children.
That afternoon, twenty people gathered at a Lancaster, Pennsylvania bookstore to hear me talk about my running and mental health memoir. A few minutes into my presentation, a friend appeared. She had driven an hour and a half—one way—and I had to stop reading to clear the tears from my throat before I could continue. I signed book after book. My face hurt from smiling. After the audience dispersed, the store asked me to autograph ten more books. I thanked them profusely. I would have gladly stayed all day.
The next morning, our DRS clan ambled through the rolling hills across several covered bridges. I stopped to snap an Instagram photo of an immaculate farm in the open countryside and let my insides expand with warm sensations.
When I was a little girl, I loved books so much that I dreamed of writing my own. In May 2019, Mango Publishing made that dream come true by releasing my first book, the memoir Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink. The months since had been filled with book tour joy. Interviews. Blue skies. Packed readings. Emerald green fields. Expo and workshop appearances. Two or three puffy clouds. Podcasts. Good friends.
Standing in the Pennsylvania countryside, I savored this rare bit of calm amid the book promotion frenzy—my new “normal.”
Then I turned to rejoin the group, and my back went out.
Hours later, as I sprawled on the hotel floor, my spine now a sideways “s-curve,” I stifled a giggle (between curses) since laughter would surely send my back into another excruciating spasm.
“Welcome to the glamorous life of the published author!” I thought.
In Thunder and Lightning, best-selling author, Natalie Goldberg issues a “Warning.” She says, “I have not seen writing lead to happiness in my friends’ lives.” If I were to warn writers, I would simply ask them to expect the reality to be a bit different from the dream.
At times, being published is such a high (seeing 31 holds on 16 copies of my book in the local library). Other times, the low is stunning (writhing on the floor of that hotel room). While bipolar disorder mood swings always punctuate my life, the ups and downs of book promotion required me to add tools to my already brimming tool kit. That’s how I wound up lying on the floor with my legs on a chair. I needed more tools.
Exactly how does a compulsive person who desperately seeks outside affirmation stay sane after her book is published? Here are my suggestions, in no particular order:
Cultivate Your Inner Cheerleader:
Talking to oneself is a hallmark of the writing profession. It helps to develop a sense of humor and an inner cheerleader capable of shaking pom poms at every tiny victory. Said pom poms may also work as magic wands to ward off painful moments.
Expect Happiness to be Stressful:
A friend reminded me that too much of a good thing can also cause stress. She didn’t go so far as to say I had brought this on myself by pursuing every possible promotion avenue all at the same time. She didn’t need to. I’d been thinking it for weeks.
“What’s it like?” a friend asked, referring to my teensy bit of new-found, low-level fame. “Like drinking tasty liquid from a fire hose,” I quipped. Imagine your wildest dream coming at you at 175 gallons per minute. Lovely. Fabulous. Nearly enough to drown in. My back knew I wouldn’t stop on my own. It stopped for me. I recommend you stopping yourself.
Stop Raising the Bar:
Stop moving the goal. In racing, a coach will tell you to “run through the line.” A runner looks beyond the goal while she finishes. But if you suffer from chronic depression and have compulsive tendencies, it’s best to stay focused on the thing at hand. Right here. Right now. We’ve all heard the saying. But that is what needs to be done. Trying to get on a podcast? Contact the podcast host before you start thinking about which book should be next.
Invest in Self-Care and Other-Care:
That husband? He needs a kiss. That dog? She needs a walk. You? You might need to go for a run or take a nap or eat a vegetable or go to bed earlier or log off social media or leave your phone at home. If you let it (and have compulsive tendencies) your book promotion ambitions will suck you dry and pull you away from everyone you love. Push back. Take care of yourself. No one will force you to rest.
Expect to be Tired:
This is hard work. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. You really don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll have to learn as you go and ask for help. If you find yourself whining, remind yourself that a million other authors would give anything to be in your shoes. Then, go find a trusted friend to whine to (or scream with) in private.
Ask stupid questions. Don’t apologize. If you screw up, thank your publisher, editor, friends, family, and everyone else for their patience. This IS your first rodeo. You can’t learn to cope with something until you’re actually going through it. If you’re not already in therapy or on medication, this might be a good time to consider it.
Stop Checking Your Book’s Rank:
Stop grasping. It causes suffering. Sit still. Be with it. Be where you are. But wait, you ask. Don’t I have to go after what I want? Don’t I need to grab and grip and push and pull? No. Do the work. Follow all the leads. Ask for the opportunities. Meanwhile, develop a quiet place inside yourself where none of it matters. Meditate. Chant. Light candles. Trust the process. Trust YOUR process. You will find the right way. Compulsive checking of your book’s ranking gives you the illusion of control. Sorry, but you can only do the work; you can’t predict the outcome.
Push your edges, but not too hard:
This may seem to contradict my earlier advice, but you have to try scary things. Push your edges, just not to the point that you burn out. You don’t know how to make a PowerPoint since you haven’t had a day job since 1994? Find someone (your husband perhaps) to teach you. Then make one and practice (or, as in my case, wing it) and knock it out of the park. Do your best.
Embrace Your Audience:
Not everyone will love your book. Friends you thought would adore your book will not, while random strangers will fawn over it and say you climbed into their minds. Love them all.
Now that you’ve written a book, you’re an expert—in everything—in things completely unrelated to your book! People will flock to you for advice. People will ask you questions you can’t answer. People will not want to pay for these answers. Or, they would love to pay you, but you will not have the time to let them. Admit your uncertainty. Authenticity is contagious.
When the books of friends, acquaintances, and strangers receive reviews, awards, placement on high profile lists, mentions, and other successes, notice if you feel envy. You might feel a sinking in your stomach and a burning in your throat. If you know the author, congratulate her. She did the work; she deserves the glory. And be prepared for the opposite—others might envy your book’s success. Allow yourself to savor your glory even when others don’t.
Remember Your Purpose:
What was your original goal? Why did you want this in the first place? What did you think would happen? Chances are, in the midst of being blasted by loveliness, you have forgotten.
Reclaim the Joy:
This may have sounded like an ungrateful rant. But it’s my truth. To counter the days when I forget why I’m here, I have developed a delicious practice. I spend five minutes, every day, holding my book. I take her in my hands and clutch her to my chest. I stare at her lovely cover. I read each blurb out loud. And I run my finger over my name. MY NAME. Then I croon, “Aren’t you just the loveliest thing ever?” I like to think she enjoys it as much as I do.
I’m home now and my back has almost returned to normal. While I would have preferred not to limp like a hunchback for two weeks, I took the experience as a wake-up call to rein in my stress, amp up the self-care, and refocus my efforts.
I hope you don’t wind up lying on the itchy carpet of a hotel room far from home. But if you do, call me. We can laugh (and cry) together.
Nita Sweeney is the author of the memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, which was short-listed for the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in magazines, journals, books, and blogs including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review, The Taos News, Spring Street, Pencil Storm, WNBA-SF, It’s Not Your Journey, and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, Bum Glue, publishes the monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Columbus, and coaches writers in Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Nita has been featured widely across media outlets about writing, running, meditation, mental health, and pet care. She was nominated for an Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award and her poem, “Memorial,” won the Dublin Arts Council Poet’s Choice Award. When she’s not writing or coaching, Nita runs and races. She has completed three full marathons, twenty-seven half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than eighty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and their yellow Labrador running partner, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).