Books, Depression, and Writing: My 2016 Resolutions

I don't often make New Year's resolutions, but there's a few things in my life that probably need changing if I'm going to try and be not only more effective in leading myself around in this world, but also happier. Happiness is a big issue for me, as I've become keenly aware of over the last few months of being a new and sleep-deprived parent with an ever increasing temper. I suffer from depression, have, in fact, for quite a long while now and for the last two years or so I have been able to keep it mostly controlled with a prescribed medication called Lexapro. I haven't written about this before, and I actually don't think anyone, until now obviously, has really known about it beside my wife and doctors.

Some days are harder than others. I haven't experienced truly crippling depression, the kind where I can't even make it out of bed, although I've gotten close and my thinking process can get a touch dark and haywire at times. And if I'm not careful I could make (and have almost made) some pretty devastating choices regarding my interpersonal relationships simply because saying 'fuck it' seems much easier in the short term.

The medication helps, but there are still some proactive steps I need to take to ensure my own mental well-being. I've noticed over the last few months, particularly in the wake of our near-year-end shootings and the frothing hysteria of the far-right, anti-Obama, it's-the-end-of-the-world, hooray-Biblical-Armageddon fear-monger types, that if I'm not careful I can let the world cripple me a little too easily. Thus, my first resolution of 2016:

  1. Limit my use of Facebook. This is the big one. My top priority. It's often advised that those who suffer from depression not watch the news. The endless stream of reportage on how awful the world is only helps to reinforce the depressive's viewpoint that the world really does suck and that everything really is hopeless. This is a problem. Facebook only helps feed into this. As bad news circulates, friends, family, and followers begin chiming in across your social media platforms, interjecting their own viewpoints. Which would normally be fine, until you realize just how many of them are either ignorant, spiteful, hateful, and generators of filth and believers in nonsensical conspiracies, as their BS begins to overpower and drown out the more rational minded. Some are just talking to the wind, others are preaching to the choir. And if you disagree, those who have never commented or Liked anything you've posted in the past, are among the first to hop on board and remind you how stupid you are. Over the last few weeks there's been some posting about how bad the insular nature of Facebook friends can be, as we tend to seek out those who are similar to us, particularly in the wake of posts calling for Trump supporters to unfriend non-Trump supporters, an act that, I must admit, I am guilty of. Some question why this is a necessity, and my response to that is, why, exactly, do I need to have all these homophobic, mysgonistic, xenophobic, racist bullshit posts capturing my eyeballs? Why is unfriending the asshats so bad? It's just proof of the awful state of the (in this case, very limited) world, and for a depressive it's likely better to not be seen or heard. As it stands, my timeline is often cluttered with these asinine, bullshit '1 Like = 1 Prayer" memes, worries about how Obama is coming to take our guns (he isn't, hasn't, and won't), pro-Trump rhetoric, anti-Muslim rhetoric, All Brown People Are Terrorists rhetoric, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and...fuck, why are these people my friends and followers again? It sometimes gets more and more difficult to parse out why I associate with these people (even in the loosest sense possible). If anything positive can be drawn from it, then it's that these people can at least serve as a good reminder of the type of people I desperately hope my son doesn't grow into, and the type of person I do not want to be. Because, let's face it, if either of us become so damaged that we're willing to support a fascist for president, we've seriously lost it and I've failed as a parent and as a human being. Frankly, though, the bottom line is that I don't need this crap in my life, and Facebook, or at least my particular Facebook feed, seems to have devolved into the unmoderated comments section of any given website. The central question is, is this something I need? Is there a positive net effect to being active on Facebook? And right now, I don't think there is. It's a time-hog, useful largely only for procrastinating when it's not all about people telling me how I should feel bad about whatever their cause du jour may be, or why I should feel bad because they don't like my cause of the moment (Internet protip: you can ever only care about one thing at any given time, and that one thing is determined by the most vociferous follower/friend/family member who barely interacts with you online or off). While I won't be scrapping my Facebook account altogether, I must make a concerted effort to, at the very least, limit my use of it. I think I'll also be unfollowing, possibly even unfriending, a good number of people for my own sanity (and also because it's my Facebook page, and I can choose who is connected with it). So, there's number one.
  2. Write more. Writing makes me happy, and one of the best ways to stave off depression is to do things that make you feel good. 2015 was a bit of a banner year for me in terms of productivity. I wrote and published Emergence, appeared in three anthologies, and completed a new manuscript that should make its way to market sometime in 2016. I've also been invited to take part in a new anthology set for late spring/early summer release and have begun work on a new science fiction novel. Writing helps me cope in a lot of different ways, but it is also, first and foremost, a business. I'm a professional author and this helps me get food on the table and gas in my car, in addition to funding the release of my future projects. Or at least it would if I had enough sales to support myself and my family independently as a professional author (see #6 below). Hypothetically, the more I write, the more I can sell. Maybe 2016 will be the year I can good and truly test this claim, but there's only one way to really know.
  3. Read Less. Now this is a bold proclamation! Let me explain though. I'm a compulsive book buyer and a bit of a NetGalley addict, which means in addition to purchasing a large number of novels and ebooks, I also have an enormous stockpile of ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies. Too many to read, in fact. So my goal for 2016 is to request less ARCs and work on catching up with the titles already on my Kindle. I want to put ARCs on the backburner entirely, sooner rather than later, so that I can focus on the incredible backlog of owned titles that are presently sitting in my ever-expanding digital To-Read pile. Forgive me for making a rather misleading claim with this one! The goal isn't actually to read less, but to refocus my priority and to read less ARCs, and give my attention to books I already have. I love reading. However, I don't love it when reading feels like a chore.
  4. Read More. More non-fiction, in particular. While I have a whole ton of fiction and plenty of ARCs to get me through 2016 (and beyond!), I really need to peruse more non-fiction. For the last few years, in my annual reading round-ups, I've noted that non-fiction titles are a large deficiency in my reading habits, and this is something I want to address in the new year. I've got plenty of non-fiction titles on my Kindle, and a good number of them in my Audible wishlist; I just need to make more time to absorb them.
  5. Buy Less Books! This is a huge, huge, huge issue for me. I'm a compulsive reader, and, almost by default, a compulsive book buyer. I do recognize that psychologically, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with one-clicking a Kindle title and having it appear almost instantly on my tablet. This got out of hand in 2015, and with a three month old vying for household resources and attention, I must be much more conscious of budgetary needs and buy way less books. As it stands currently, I have an enormous backlog of titles both bought and in ARC form. I also signed up for a library card a few months ago, and it's high-time I started using it. My local library has a pretty good digital collection, so I can score plenty of free reads - a number of which have populated my Amazon wish list in hopes of a price drop - without even leaving the house. It also makes it that much easier to balk at the asinine purchase price the Big 5 publishing houses tag most of their ebooks with, selling titles for the same cost as a hardcover novel and many times for more than the paperback version. This became a source of frustration in 2015 when I wanted to buy John Scalzi's Lock In for my Kindle, which cost around $9 whereas Amazon was discounting the paperback down to, at one point, less than $5. I refuse to pay $15 or more for an ebook. And I won't buy an ebook that costs more than the paperback, which means if I want it right then and there on my Kindle, I won't be buying that book period. After perusing my local library's digital collections, I've found a terrific way to continue reading my favorite authors and titles of particular interest without breaking the bank. And for those bemoaning me with "But $15 isn't a lot of money," well, no, in the grand scheme things of it's not, and if I only bought a single title a year maybe I could excuse it. But I'm practically a bulk shopper. And with a three month old in the house, $15 is half a container of formula - so if I have to choose between buying the next Clancy or keeping my baby healthy, it's a no brainer. Also, I have to save up money for publishing my own titles and hawking my own wares in 2016! The local library and the Kindle Owners Lending Library are most certainly the way to go from here on out!
  6. Worry Less About Other Writers. Writing is a business, but fellow writers are not competition. We're all in this together. This resolution is all about trying to not compare myself to the success of others - I can certainly try to reach the same level of success my friends have achieved, but I also need to not berate myself over my own (perceived) failures. So far my work has been fairly well received by critics and readers, but sales are lackluster. Sometimes in talking about this business with my writer buds, they'll lament about how they're "only" getting 50 sales a day, and I just sort of cry into my beer wishing I were getting even 50 sales a month. What am I doing wrong? Do I really suck that badly? Is my work uninteresting, dopey shit? Are people finding my work? Or do they maybe discover it and just ignore it? Why? What am I doing wrong? It gets to be a cyclical bit of recrimination, and in the nature of cyclical things, this resolution points a bit toward resolution #1. While I certainly do not want to limit contact with other writers, I do want to limit my own feelings of failure and inadequacy. Some of this can be addressed by writing more and putting more work out there, opening up my chances of discoverability even wider. I was invited into several anthologies over the course of 2015 and was tapped for another one set for 2016, so I maybe don't suck that badly. But still, I'm not getting any movie or TV deals; my stories don't debut at #1 and their staying power is ridiculously short lived. Sales come in tiny spurts, one or two a week if I'm lucky. Clearly, I am so very much not an insta-best-seller like several of my author friends, and while I celebrate their success and am truly happy for them and immensely proud of them and their work, there's a part that stings. I'm not owed a single goddamn thing - I realize this. I also realize that my feelings are nothing more than petty envy. I need to stop wishing for success and figure out a wait to earn it. Maybe success will come, or at least a modicum of success, and maybe it won't. Until then, I need to stop worrying about it and remind myself that I'm just not there yet. It'll happen one day. Maybe this resolution should have been titled Quit Being So Fucking Insecure. Yeah, that's a bit more accurate...

So, there you have it. My resolutions, coupled with a peek at my damaged, scarred psyche. What are you big resolutions for 2016?

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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