Monday, April 5, 2010

Managing Expectations: The Golden Heart, Depression, and a Resurrection

On March 25, 2010, a pretty spectacular event occurred in my life: I learned I am a finalist in RWA's Golden Heart (R) contest in the Paranormal category. Far out!

Making the finals of the Golden Heart (R) is kind of like receiving a nomination for an Oscar (R) - maybe you felt like you'd done some good work, and maybe your friends and family thought so too, but this is proof that people completely unconnected to you respond to your creativity and just how cool is that?

In the shower that Thursday morning, I tried to keep my anticipation in check. I listed all the reasons why I wouldn't be a finalist. Didn't let myself think, really, about the possibility of making the grade. It had been so many months since the contest entry deadline, I think my hope-well had run a little dry. Instead, I concentrated on the typos and data-dumping and clunky world-building and complete and utter obviousness of my writing. Surely these had beaten the judges down, and my score too.

I had friends and critique partners still in the race. A sliver of sparkly eagerness left, too. So I dressed appropriately. Gold blouse. Bronze wolf medallion from the Renn Faire in honor of my werewolf hero, Joe. When I read the email informing me of my spot in the finals, I think I glowed more brightly than the blouse. I called family, I emailed friends and colleagues, I posted on Facebook.

As the day unfolded, I kept waiting to hear that some other key folks had finalled as well.

But they didn't.

So in the midst of my high, I felt awkward and lonely and just weird. Like maybe I didn't deserve the honor. Like - why me and not them? Why me and not all of us? I know their writing. It's excellent work. So, why? In the aftermath I started feeling like the fickle finger of fate had stepped in and I was in the line-up not for merit but from chance.

And it occurred to me...

Was I really having a pity-party for being a finalist?

Um, yeah. In fact, I've been pity-partying about it all this weekend, alack, alas. Which leads me to part two, section two of my blog post title: Depression. I'm always a bit dumbfounded about what triggers a bout of depression for me. In looking back on various episodes, it becomes clear that they nearly always involve a victory. Graduation from high school and college? Check. Upon the completion of two marathons five years apart? Check. Buying a home? Check. Typing "THE END" on my first novel? Check, check, check, check, check.

Navel-gazing about the why of the depression-linked victory is a topic for another post (Hallelujah!). Instead, I want to move onto part two, section three: Resurrection. Somehow Easter Sunday seems like perfect timing to slough off the emotional blues and ring in an improved attitude. How? Aha! The million dollar question. Part of the secret is action begets emotion. You've heard people say they are going to write once they feel "inspired" and then you never see them writing? Cuz they've got the cart before the horse. I felt pretty yucky all weekend but I knew I had to make this deadline. I didn't feel inspired to write when I logged on. But I feel renewed by what I've written and will take that into tomorrow with me as part of my emotional resurrection. I am inspired because I have taken action to make mincemeat of my depression.

Are you wondering about the managing expectations part? My suggestions follow below. Would love to know yours, too. Please share!

1) "I can do anything for two minutes." A phrase I took to heart during marathon training. Yes, you really can get through 7.5 hours and walk/jogging 26 miles if you break it down into two minute intervals.

2) "Tomorrow is another day." Whether you're a Scarlett fan or not, the simple truth is at some point the crisis of the moment will turn into yesterday's old news. Keeping that in mind helps enormously to put things in perspective.

3) "It's always darkest before the dawn." Okay, so I'm drawn to cliches. Sue me. And this one may seem pretty similar to the second, I'll grant you. But if you are awake and alone in the middle of the night and thinking scary thoughts, this is a good mantra to have in your back pocket. [listen, if you are thinking REALLY scary thoughts, CALL someone right away - no kidding and NO DELAY!!] Things DO improve in the light a day, if only your ability to reason, to laugh, to take a chill-pill, to reconnect with the realities of your life, to take some kind of ACTION.

Winning the Golden Heart (R) will not give me an auto-pass into published author status.

Not winning won't mean I have to throw in the towel and power down my keyboard for good.

I've journeyed through a bit of a dark night of the soul around this topic, given my anxiety enough "two minute" bon-bons and I'm done. No more dwelling.

Yay! I'm a Golden Heart (R) finalist! And it's awesome. And I get to keep writing my stories regardless. A contest does not a career make. Depression is a part of my life, but one I get better at handling as the years go by. And tomorrow, which is another day, my reality will include Spanish class, work, MS revisions, and (hopefully) responding to your comments.

Latching onto the affirmative,
"Honor Bound"


  1. You're a GH finalist and it is awesome!! Still so proud of you. :-)

    I think lots of writers are prone to depression. It's interesting that you've identified a link between victory and depression for you. Sort of a post-partum letdown?

    Here's to shaking it off and moving forward!

  2. Keely, I had an experience similar to yours after receiving my GH call this year, which came at 8 a.m. on the dot here in California. Because I knew so many writers who longed to get the call from RWA®, I sat glued to my computer screen watching for more names to be added to the lists on various sites, eagerly searching for my friends'.

    When their names didn't appear and RWA posted the final results, I cried for my CP and the many others who weren't rejoicing. It was my CP who finally snapped me out of my blue funk. She told me I should be celebrating. I still feel sadness for my friends, but I'm excited to be part of a new group of finalists and am having great fun getting to know you and the others.

  3. Keely, my experience was sadness for myself (they couldn't get through on my land line); then eleation because I finaled; then guilt because well-deserved friends didn't final; then more guilt because I have already sold. I understand perfectly the roller coaster feelings associated with the GH honor.

    I, too, am excited to be celebrating with all my 2010 GH class. It's great to meet new friends and I'm really excited about both the ribbons I'll be wearing at national this year: First Sale and GH Finalist.


  4. Keli and Angi - I'm so glad to know I wasn't the only one to react this way. Dare I say I think it's a very female response to good news? The nurturing part of us wants to keep everyone happy even as the competitor wants permission to celebrate in a living-out-large kind of way.

  5. Pig-headedness, patience and perseverance - all the tools of a good writer.

    I have this pinned on my wall near my computer.

    For all our friends and CP's who didn't final in the GH, Keely, their turn will come. You've lived the above and it's time for you to enjoy the pay-off, whatever the final results may be.

    Congratulations and see you in Nashville!

  6. To paraphase Mr. Spock: Wanting a thing is sometimes more pleasing than having it. I think depression over victories is normal. We put so much heart and soul and tears into our work that when a really, really awesome thing happens, like finaling in the Golden Heart, it almost takes the wind out of your sail. Just remember one thing: You are a Golden Heart finalist and you will always be one.

    Whoo-Hoo! Congrats! We did it!

  7. Kylie - I love your mantra! The 3 p's of writing!!

  8. Lynda - you are so right - Golden Heart is a forever kind of thing and once the other emotions weed themselves out, pride in a good piece of work will carry through the rest of our days. It's a good thought to remember!!

  9. I think many writers experience some feelings of depression. Even over something that's good and exciting. I always get that whenever my agent sends a manuscript out. Something about the waiting (and me not really writing, but waiting for...someething) gets me a funk that can last awhile. The only thing that works in to start something new.

    As for the GH I am obviously thrilled to final, but I'm realistic enough to know it doesn't mean publication. I know that a large part of the contest is simply getting 6 people to agree that your book is good. I know many - if not most - of the published authors of romance have NEVER finaled in either the GH or Rita. It is a nice feeling, but it's really one step in my goal toward becoming published. And it's my sincere wish that I never final in the GH again...because I'm not longer eligible.

  10. Amen, sister Kristin! I hope this is my one and only final in the GH. And you are so right to point out that most published authors carve out tidy careers w/o ever going the "contest route" be in the GH or the Rita. A career in romance fiction is the ultimate goal - the rest is gravy.

  11. Nicely done, Keely! I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again, half the battle is knowing yourself. Self-awareness can help you weather the storms of life and manage those wiley expectations.

    We're very proud of your GH nomination. Keep your chin up, friend. Well, as much as you can keep your chin up and keep your nose to the grindstone at the same time. ;)

    Several of your sentiments are biblical (darkest before the dawn and each day dawns fresh and new, filled with hope). Lots of great wisdom to keep us all going. Thanks for your post. Good tidbits to remember.

  12. Well said, Keely! GH finaling can bring a weird mix of emotions. I was sad, too, for friends who didn't final--and who are undeniably great writers. And, ridiculously enough, I was sad because my second book, the one I'm really excited about, *didn't* final, and last year's book (which I'd kinda shelved) did.

    It took a few days of feeling a little funky before I got my butt in the writing chair and got to work on freshening up the book that finaled. I thought I'd polished it so thoroughly already, I couldn't get excited about it again, but, lo and behold, once I started working, I found a whole new angle that's sending a charge of electricity through it, and I'm thrilled with it again.

    There's just no substitute for SITTING DOWN AND WORKING.

  13. First, Congratulations on your GH final! I hope, hope, hope you win. But no one can ever take away this final. You will always be a GH finalist no matter what.

    That said, I totally relate to the depression. I've fought it since I was a teenager and I'm 54 now. Plus I'm the Queen of Doom. I'm always looking for the worst case scenario. But I'm working on stopping that bad habit.

    Anyway, enjoy the GH glow and I'll be cheering you on at National.


  14. Keely, your Golden Heart final is a very important achievement! Yes, it is sad that your friends didn't final, but your victory is their victory, too, because, if you can do it, so can they!

    Enjoy this moment, every bit of the Golden Heart experience! It is truly "golden." No matter what, it shows that you have achieved excellence in what matters so much to you. And that is a very good thing!!!

  15. Thanks, Diane. Your words mean a lot. This *is* recognition of an area in my life that I hold dear. It *will* always be golden.

    Thanks too, for your most excellent example of try, try again then break through with a vengence! It's one I hold close to my heart.

  16. Don't you fret about us! We are so happy for you. Enjoy this and don't let it cause you to nosedive. You can do it.

    Lisa McQuay