The Truth: On Wattpad, Nim's Island, and "Quitting" my Job as an Independent Author


Go ahead and say it aloud, if you like. Odds are not in the label's favor for having crossed your lips recently. Maybe it will appreciate the chance to be uttered outside of short stories, delivery service check-boxes, and obituaries about that crotchety old neighbor who was almost certainly eating cats behind his/her corduroy drapes.

I'll join you. Because, though I've made allusions to my particular brand of crazy in the past (through select interviews and guest posts), I've never actually said it, either.

I am a shut-in.

A stock character like a Feral Child or an Occult Detective, only without the hope of landing my own television series.

A: I look awful in a trench coat.
B: Were this me, you know I'd have set the tie on fire.

On the surface, it seems a simple enough thing to be. You don't socialize. You keep the curtains closed. And you pretend nothing is wrong. Predictably, I haven't been capable of working outside of my home in a very long time (we're talking over a decade) and letting my family members know I haven't had an aneurysm in the many weeks since they've heard word one from my sorry face is still on my to-do list.*

Truer words, mate.

I wish -- as fervently as the well-meaning writers of Nim's Island -- that the drawbacks ended there. But the primal fear that, by the end of this post, I'll be weeded from my office chair like a sucker branch from mankind's metaphoric tree says otherwise. No backsies on the "primal" part, either. My chest is tight, my fingers shaking. In writing this post, I feel I'm making myself vulnerable in a way that threatens the health of the other lion cubs and, ought I not just wander into those jackal-shaped bushes to get this over with and give the rest of the pack its strongest chance at survival? Not in so many words, of course. It's an animalistic urge from a portion of my brain that isn't entirely under my control. Still, in any given moment, the little jerk is crowing danger in my ear like a glitched RPG playing boss music over a tavern scene.


(Strangely, neither lion cubs nor RPGs were included in the afore-mentioned film.**)

The damnable thing about agoraphobia is that it rarely stands on its own.
Mine comes courtesy of a rarely-discussed disease called Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD). Feel free to google it, though I can tell you now that the results are not flattering. Like Social Anxiety Disorder driven to its final form, AvPD is characterized by patterns of extreme social inhibition, a preoccupation with lifestyle stability and physical safety, intense feelings of inadequacy, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, and -- for added flavor -- a heavy comorbidity with the fickleness of a depression that can't decide between emotional emptiness or, for whatever reason (read: NO REASON AT ALL), abject anguish.
To describe it in more relatable terms, it's like being slightly autistic with an ever-growing edge of PTSD. You can't relate socially and your neverending list of triggers is only too likely to just keep growing as the years wear on. The American Psychiatric Association sadly admits that some mental health workers would prefer allowing a person with AvPD to develop an addiction to benzodiazepines rather than asking them to suffer the severity of their pychological distress. Articles about my disorder are replete with fatalistic phrases like "has difficulty connecting to others," "lasting treatment is often untenable," and "ultimately abandons even the idea of self." That last one is my favorite, as it is the most upright way of gesturing in the general direction of suicidality you're ever likely to read.

Discouraging, but accurate.

I'd like to point out that it's a weird thing to see yourself laid out like this; in cold, clinical terms that don't seem to have any bearing on reality. The spotlight seems forever focused on the rarest parts of your life: how you relate to people in the outside world; how you fare in situations of small talk; whether or not you employ suitable coping strategies at work. I don't think of my disease in the context of social structure because I so rarely participate in anything social. (Like trying to understand yourself as a Londoner but only ever having access to texts about Nairobi, it doesn't feel like a viable reference point.)

Here behind these four walls, I don't obssess over whether or not the grocery store clerk will react poorly to my weirdly-warm-but-still-inhibited personality -- the one that seems to leave a lot of people believing I'm masking disdain or otherwise acting disingenuous. 
Instead, I worry about whether or not my son can take the strain of failing grades because his mother can't always handle driving him the four miles to the bus stop. I don't scour the internet for how-tos on preventing blushing over coffee or wring my hands over the casual dismissal of the person who cut me off on the freeway. But I do contend daily with the meanest parts of my brain telling me that my husband will ignore for only so long my plainness, my ineffectiveness, before seeing my love as the burden it certainly must be. It feels as much for their sake as for my own (though I know that my feelings can't be trusted) that I've appropriately practiced the varied ways of keeping my illness hidden - with varying levels of success. 

"Hey, we haven't heard from you in a while, is everything alright?"

"Aren't you going to answer your phone?"

"You know, we don't have to go out if you aren't feeling up to it."

An unfortunate handful of people are completely "in" on the family secret. They always react the same way, at first.

"You have a phobia? I never would have guessed that about you."
"But you seem so together all the time!"

"How can that be? I've always thought you were happy enough."

It's very kind of them to make me feel adept at something, though.

I should explain that people with AvPD are VERY careful to only interract with you when they know they can keep their symptoms under control. That is, only in settings where they feel sheltered from shame, and only on "good" days when the hurt isn't too raw to be tucked away beneath a polite smile.

Inside, we're all doing this:

Pretty much ALL the time, too. Just in greater and lesser degrees.

A few months ago, I had a breakdown featuring this same, ugly cry face. In keeping with the modus operandi of an AvPD postergirl, I withdrew.
Completely and totally. The lovely people of Twitter, Facebook, and (most especially) Wattpad were left with no reason to believe I was still invested in otter pirates, quip exchanges, or working to maintain the small internet platform that (prior to now) I'd worked quite hard to build. Some of those amazing folks have sadly reached the point of apologizing for bothering me with their messages. A painful thought, as the connections I've made on these sites have kept me feeling worthwhile, even when my mind was at its worst, and writing has historically been one of the only ways in which I've really, truly been able to feel heard.

The best boundaries are always arbitrary.

Though I have a pattern of retreating from once-cherished activities the moment my brain labels them as tainted, recognizing the obstacles brought on by AvPD and understanding that the problem is one of chemistry and not of character has allowed me to maintain a fairly
normal relationship with the pitfalls of authorship. Bad reviews sting and criticism is ubiquitous, naturally, but these things are no more unkind to me than they are to other working writers. I've always found it quite easy to excuse negative evaluations of a creative work as being no more personal than a difference in taste or preference of style. So making things up and putting them on paper has been an untouchable refuge these thirty-five years, one that my disease hasn't had much chance of corrupting.

Enter the business end of indie authorship.

As everyone knows, that consists primarily of one thing: marketing yourself along with your work.

Asking someone with AvPD to willfully draw attention to themselves?
Yeah, that'll work out fine.

To avoid getting maudlin, I'll simply say the marketing has gotten... difficult.*** Enduring the spotlight is hard enough on its own, but when your brain frequently lies to you, you have a driving need to know that your efforts aren't wasted. Just as you wouldn't subject yourself to a dentist's drill if you didn't have any cavities that needed the work, my willingness to stand up and shout about the worthiness of my beloved creations is tied to whether or not the shouting produces results. Regrettably, my only gauge for measuring the effectiveness of a marketing attempt is through constant monitoring of income and sales rank. You might imagine that such a thing would be soul-suckingly horrid for a person with ZERO competitiveness, and you'd be right.

But that's what authors do, isn't it? Indie authors in particular. They compete. They vie. Not to say that the community isn't a supportive one -- it absolutely is -- but when the creating is over, there's work to do, and work must be quantified in hard figures or accolades. Following their lead, I assumed that in order to do what I love and not be bound by the impossible pressure of a publishing contract, I had to push my wares and check my sales.

Promotion day.
Promotion ends.
The following week, being dramatic.
Receiving royalties at the end of the month
and realizing you weren't being all that dramatic.

AvPD has one thing to say about hanging your life's work on the swing of a fickle pendulum:

"Better to give up," the little jerk says. "Pack it up. Pack it in. It was only a matter of time before they saw you for the fraud you are, anyway." Were telling stories just a means of making money, it would be only too easy to acquiesce to thoughts like these. But, as everyone I've ever known is quick to point out, even were I homeless I'd be dreaming up songs and scrawling ships on cardboard. So why did I ever allow it to become about the numbers?

I highlight Wattpad in the title of this post because that community has been instrumental in reminding me that a thousand downloads aren't nearly so rewarding as finding that one person who connects with what you're trying to say. The last thing I want from the increased visibility of the Sons of Masguard is to lose those readers in an algorithm that favors not what people are most likely to love but what they are most likely to buy.

All of these long and rambling words are my way of telling you I've come to a conclusion.

Rather than abandoning Secora as she stands, as my disease desperately wants me to do, I'm going to revitalize my love for the pen by excusing it from the rat race. Starting now, I'll be working toward making all of my ebooks completely free on every platform that I can. Those who feel the need to pay me for my work are welcome to buy the paperbacks, if they so desire. (Jerome Jacinto's artwork is certainly worth having in your home.) But I write because I must, not because you pay me to, and it's time that I remember that.

If I'm going to see McKinley and Marshall to the end of their adventures, as they deserve, then I'm going to have to do it on different terms than a traditional indie author.

Maybe others with similar afflictions have already settled on the same path. May it work for them as I hope it works for me. I won't ask that anyone recognize how difficult this level of confession is for my still-shaking fingers, but I do want the waiting people in my life and on those sites to know that:
  1. I am often lonely and very much wish I could reach out to you as you have to me.
  2. For me, panic is a way of life, one that will likely lead to future situations of withdrawal. Please allow me to apologize for those now.
  3. I haven't given up yet. And I don't intend to. 
  4. If, like me, you are burdened with a mental health issue that you fear exposing, maybe it's time to step out of the shadows and live your life on your own terms.

I hope to fare better than the rational predictions. I hope to see the world. Today, I'm settling for the other side of the front door and an honest telling of my current situation.

At least, I hope it was honest. As I said before, my emotions and interpretations are seldom to be trusted. In the end, I probably still tried to gloss it over, pretty it up, make it palatable. But my family has to see all of this in the flesh, on a daily basis. And, "author" or not, that's a hard reality to be putting into words.

*Does blogging about contacting someone count as contacting that someone? It totally counts, right?
**It's almost like they were TRYING to get it wrong.
***Scratch and claw to #1. Experience temporary elation before an algorithm shuffles your work to the bottom of the pile. Rinse. Repeat.

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