The Impossible Pursuit of Perfection


I was asked by author, Gail Martin, to participate in the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign discussing mental illness.  I told her I would, but as usual, I’ve been procrastinating.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been procrastinating because the story I have to tell is my own, and therefore, more than a little painful, and one that I have no doubt I will regret posting, but in the hopes that even one of these campaign posts can help even one other person dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, or some other form of mental illness, here goes:

My readers know it’s been over two years since my last book.  It was almost three years since the last book before that. The reason is something I have vaguely referred to publicly as “personal and health issues.”  What I haven’t said, until now, is that a good portion of those “health issues” are mental health related.

Most people, when asked to describe what sort of person I am, would probably say things like “funny,” “outgoing,” “friendly,” and “happy”.  Almost no one would ever use terms like, “insecure” or “constantly beset by feelings of inadequacy” or “frequently contemplates suicide”  Yet all of those would also be accurate.

I have a funny little brain (and by “funny” I mean funny-wonky, not funny-haha).  I guess I always have.  I have ADD.  I have memory and focus issues.  I have trouble remembering many things.  But painful things–those I find almost impossible to forget.  They run around and around and around in my head, bashing me repeatedly. If I do something embarrassing or stupid, the memory of it stays with me for decades and, like one of those little cartoon devils sitting on my shoulder, rears up at random times to undermine my confidence, tell me I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough, not smart enough, that I never will be.  It took me almost thirty years to realize that the only way to exorcise those particular devils was to talk about them, to share my most embarrassing moments with someone close, laugh about them, and thereby deprive them of the power to haunt and hurt me.

But just because I can exorcise the painful memories doesn’t mean the feelings of inadequacy are so easily shed. (Or that I can share and laugh off the wounds that hit the deepest.) So in order to avoid feeling inadequate or get hit on a truly deep level, I try very, very hard to make sure that no one will ever tell me, “That isn’t good enough.  You aren’t good enough.”  Thus, when it comes to things that really matter to me on an emotional level, my writing in particular, I am in constant pursuit of perfection.

My first book was published after being bought at auction.  It spent two weeks on the USA Today list of bestselling books in America.  My second book, out a month later, hit the extended NY Times.  Since being a NY Times bestselling author had been my dream since I was 15, you can imagine how I was floating on air.  I’d never been so happy.  This was it!  Nirvana!  I was finally achieving my dreams.  The world was my oyster!  I had it all planned out. I was going to be a multi-millionaire, bestselling author, producing one great story after another, with movie deals directed by Peter Jackson (I still live in hope, Pete.  Don’t let me down.).  My house would be paid for. My husband could retire and play golf.  My kids could go to any college they wanted.  Everything was going to be PERFECT.

Nirvana lasted maybe two or three months.  Because by then I was deep in the writerly agony of writing the next book and trying to make it even better than the first two (which I’d spent 5 years working on, BTW).  I’d never had a book deadline before.  Business deadlines, yes.  For years, I’d been a Proposal Manager, writing RFP responses and making one hard deadline after another.  But writing proposal responses (ie, explaining how a product meets a requirement and benefits the customer) is one thing.  It’s far different to create entire worlds, people, languages, etc. If we didn’t win a proposal…well, that was unfortunate, but it didn’t affect me on a personal, emotional level.  My writing, however, was and is a totally different story.

Putting a book out there isn’t the same as launching a product some group of guys in R&D created.  It isn’t the same as sticking a proposal in the mail and waiting to see if you won the business.  It’s far more personal than that.  At least, it is for me.  For me, publishing a book is like putting a very vulnerable piece of my soul out there for perfect strangers to pick apart and find fault with.

By now, I’d also had my first run in with vicious reviews.  I can honestly say 95% or more of the reviews for my first book were overwhelmingly positive. But all it took were a few really ugly, nasty reviews from snarky people for the “You aren’t good enough! You’ll never be good enough!” devils to start roaring on my shoulder. It got so bad I would become physically nauseated every time a google alert popped up with a review about my books. I had to turn off Google Alerts.  I told myself to ignore the mean reviewers.  To write the next book.  And to help prevent future nasty reviews, I would do whatever it took to Make. That. Book. PERFECT.

For the next three years, I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week trying to achieve that aim.  Writing, rewriting, rewriting again. My books hit the printed Times list.  Publisher’s Weekly.  Outwardly, my dreams were coming true.  Inwardly, I’d never been so miserable.   I’d been revising so much, for so long, I couldn’t even read another author’s book without going into editor mode.  Me–who’d devoured books daily since before I could read them myself–couldn’t lose myself in a book anymore, not even the ones by my favorite authors!  And on a family front..things had gone south. I was so busy writing, I don’t remember anything that happened with my children during those years.  To this day, my kids will say, “Don’t you remember when we…?” and my mind will draw an utter blank.  My husband got furious with me for ignoring the family.  We’d get into big fights.  The closer I came to deadline, the worse we’d fight.  My publisher would put out publication dates for my books, and if the books were pushed back because I had trouble making deadline, readers would write to me asking why the book was delayed or (or worse, post publicly about how they weren’t going to buy my next book because I was so unprofessional I couldn’t meet a deadline).  By this point my entire sense of self-worth was tied to my writing success, and I was letting everyone down.  Everything I feared most was coming true!  I wasn’t worthy.  I wasn’t up to the task.  I wasn’t even close to achieving perfection. Instead, I was a total failure!   I began thinking about driving to the Sunshine Skyway bridge (Tampa’s premiere suicide location) and jumping off.  I didn’t think about it once or twice.  I thought about it hundreds of times a day.  Hundreds.

I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten until I went to visit my best friend.  When I slept the entire way from Sarasota to Atlanta to San Francisco, I didn’t realize that was a sign of my complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.  When I got to her house, we had fun, like we always do.  Then one morning I woke up crying and I couldn’t stop.  I cried for hours.  Half a dozen times I’d get myself under control, go upstairs to be with my friends, hear their voices and laughter, then I’d burst into uncontrollable tears again and run back downstairs to hide.  I cried for at least ten hours straight.  I was having a complete breakdown.  Concerned about me, my friend came downstairs, and somehow, despite my constant sniffling and snuffling, we had a long talk.  I don’t even remember the particulars any more, but she talked me down from the ledge, and I was able to pull myself together enough to finish my fifth book.

After that, however, I discovered I couldn’t write anymore.  I spent hours sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen, unable to type a single word.  Every creative wellspring in my body had dried up!  Going into my big, lovely, sunshine-filled office to write felt like walking into a prison.  I went to see a psychiatrist, blaming my ADD, and my resulting difficulties with focus and memory, for my inability to write.  I’m not the kind of person who can open myself up about really personal stuff to strangers, so I didn’t mention my Sunshine Skyway thoughts.  The ADD meds helped a little but I couldn’t tolerate them, so had to stop.  I also quit writing period until I could find away to read other people’s books without going into editor mode.

Eventually, I was able to read, and then to write again.  I finished my sixth booth and published it.  I thought I was back on track, only to so spectacularly miss my seventh book’s deadline that my publisher pulled the book from the schedule entirely. I was back in full “You’re a failure” mode.  I tried to pull it together again, but by this time, I was going through a period where my memory and focus were so bad, I couldn’t remember my characters’ names from one page to the next.  I was terrified that I was in the beginning stages of the same dreadful Alzheimer’s that was erasing my beloved father day by day.  And I was so afraid of that, I was (and remain) too cowardly to go see a doctor and have it confirmed.

Then I had another emotional blow that sent me reeling.  At the time, I was once again on the west coast with my friend.  The Sunshine Skyway was a continent away, but the Pacific Ocean was right out my hotel room door.  It occurred to me that I could just walk into the ocean, start swimming, and keep swimming until there was no way I could make it back to shore.  The really scary part?  Contemplating it roused no emotional response in me at all.  I’d spent the last five years struggling to get back to a place where I felt like I would one day have a chance of being happy and strong and successful again, and this blow knocked all of that down. I think I honestly had reached the point where I was ready to just say “enough” and be done with it.

Looking back, I think the only thing that stopped me was my children. I have three wonderful kids.  They are all smart and beautiful and have such good hearts.  And I don’t ever want any of them to think I’m a quitter, or that I’d choose to leave them.

I had another long talk with my friend.  This time, I do remember what we said.  I remember opening up to her in a way I never really have before.  I don’t think she ever really understood how little self-confidence I truly have, or how easy it is to rip it to shreds.  I don’t let very many people that close to me.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to hide my vulnerabilities and laugh off my insecurities, and I’ve gotten really good at it.  There isn’t much I let myself care enough about to really hurt me.

Since that trip, I’ve gone back to the drawing board again, examining why I do the things I do, feel the way I feel.  Writing–being published–has always been my dream, and I am not willing to let it go.  I have to find a way to balance my desire to write and publish with my need to be healthy and happy.  I’m beginning to realize that, for me, that’s probably always going to be a struggle.  I will probably always have anxiety attacks, depression, and days I cannot write a single word.  I will likely always have trouble with bad reviews, so for now at least, I just won’t allow myself to read reviews about my books.

I’m taking one day at a time.

I still have Sunshine Skyway thoughts.  I probably always will, but now, when I do, I pick up the phone and call a friend.  I make a point of spending time with family and friends, to let myself play and have fun, putting some balance back in my life.  I remind myself that, contrary to a statement I once made in an interview, I actually do love to write.  (If I didn’t love it, why would I ever have spent years before I published voluntarily getting up to write from 3-7am before going to work at a 50-60 hour a week job?)  I’m trying various natural supplements to help me improve memory and focus, so that when I do sit down to write, I can be more productive.  (One day, when I’m feeling braver, I may actually go see a doctor to be checked for the possibility of Alzheimers.) I’m working to lose weight, exercise, get healthier.  And I’m trying to make a point of writing at least a little every day, switching between projects when I get stuck so that I can keep making forward progress, and thus (hopefully) have more work closer to being complete so that I can do better at making deadlines.  Because every bit of forward progress is a success, not a failure.

Most of all, I constantly remind myself that perfection isn’t really possible.  I’m not a perfect human being, and no matter how hard I try to make them so, my books aren’t either.  And I tell myself that’s okay.  If someone hates my books, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  If I never write a #1 NY Times bestseller, I am not a failure.  If I never live up to someone else’s idea of a success, I’m not a failure.  If I never publish another book, I am not a failure.

That the only real failure comes from making that drive to the Sunshine Skyway a one way trip.


#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook


To date there are over 77 amazing posts from authors.  Click Here for links to all #HoldOnToTheLight Blog posts.


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Christie Sanders

  on July 5, 2017 : Reply

Thank you for sharing this. I know it had to be difficult to do so. I wish I had the words to tell you how wonderful I think your writing is. I was never a fan of the fantasy genre; most fantasy stories aren’t relatable and there are too many characters and I can’t pronounce any of their names! Your stories are totally different. Your world building is so fantastic and your characters so relatable; readers truly live in your stories and enjoy every moment. You have been given wonderful gifts, an awesome imagination and a way with words that have brought your readers joy and tears. You have brought your characters to life for us and we have rooted for them ever since. Just as we will root for you and pray for you. Please don’t hide you gifts, YOUR light (just like you reminded Ellysetta!) away. Please let it shine for all to see. Know that you are appreciated and valued and your readers will always patiently and loyally await your next story. Thank you for the many, many hours of delight your stories have given me.

C.L. Wilson

  on July 9, 2017

Thanks so much, Christie. I really, truly appreciate the kind words 🙂 xoxo


  on May 14, 2017 : Reply

I just wanted to thank you for your stories. I found your books when I was at a very low point in my life and they helped keep me sane.

You see, I can identify with you because I also have mental health issues, I suffer -and I really do mean suffer- from GAD and that comes with lots and lots of depression. Books have become therapeutic for me, but there are few that can actually banish the unbearable melancholy and helplessness I feel most of the time.

When I read the Tairen Soul series I felt -that’s the only way I can explain it. Pain and sadness are a norm for me, I live with them, so in a way I’m used to them and they make me numb to anything else, and when I find something that banishes those feelings and makes room for better it feels like a light in a very dark tunnel.

So I want to thank you for giving me happiness when I didn’t think I could find any. And I want you to know that you and your work give me hope and have changed my life, never give up, your beautiful words -and therefore you- matter and make the world a better place.

Thank you.

C.L. Wilson

  on May 16, 2017

Big hugs, and I’m so very glad my books have been a source of comfort for you in the hard times. Depression SUCKS. xoxo


  on April 30, 2017 : Reply

Cheryl, you are a gift.

You owe me absolutely nothing. But my life is richer for your stories – including this one, your own – and that is grace.

Courage, strength, and peace to you always.

Jennifer Bowen

  on March 2, 2017 : Reply

I’m glad that you’ve found someone to talk with when things get overwhelming; hopefully, your coping methods will work and everything will return to a somewhat even keel. I know that I adore everything you’ve written, and reread them often; I don’t care how long I have to wait, I will buy anything you write, and I recommend your work to others fairly often (I’m a librarian, so it comes up pretty frequently). So far, everyone who’s tried your books has been happy with them. Hopefully, whenever the negative thoughts/reviews try to take over, knowing how many of us truly love your work will help to buffer the effects. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story.

C.L. Wilson

  on March 3, 2017

thank you so very much, Jennifer. And thanks especially for the continued recommends. I appreciate it more than I can say.


  on February 12, 2017 : Reply

It’s a bit odd. I found your books while I was deployed to Iraq in 2008-9. Some of my own darkest days. At the time I couldn’t place a finger on what made them so particularly compelling in that time and place. I must have read and reread all of them four or five times on that tour. Reading this post felt like a huge piece of the puzzle just clicked into place. I suspect your own struggles are what made the books so real and compelling for someone who was dealing with trauma and depression. Thanks for sharing. Your words and world were my own refuge, I cannot thank you enough for having the bravery to put your soul on display, so the rest of us would know we weren’t alone. Keep your chin up, and maybe get counseling, I know it helped me after I got back.

C.L. Wilson

  on February 12, 2017

Thanks so much, Curtis. It means the world to me that my books were a refuge for you in a bad time. So many stories from the authors whose work I treasure have been that for me. Blessings to us both, and to all who struggle with inner demons. xoxo


  on December 29, 2016 : Reply

Thank you so much for sharing this. You are not alone in your struggles. Please don’t ever doubt your value to this world. You are worthy. Every. Single. Day.

I absolutely love your writing, and fully understand the need for balance in one’s life. I also think you cannot force creativity. I would rather wait years and years for the next book than know that churning out words was harming you.

I also know what it feels like to feel inadequate, unwanted, or that I consistently need to prove my worth. And also to review one’s “mistakes” over and over (I’ve had many a sleepless night that way). This only compounded after living in a very abusive marriage. But, I left, and I am now (7 years post divorce) starting to realize the ridiculousness of other people’s expectations of my performance as a human being. Thank God we are not all perfect and all alike. Let’s all shatter those expectations that drive us to chase perfection shall we? Perhaps the greatest defiance of this society is choosing to love oneself unconditionally.

C.L. Wilson

  on January 30, 2017

Thanks so much, Nicole


  on December 17, 2016 : Reply

I think it was incredibly brave of you to post this! It sounds like you’re an amazing mother and friend as well as an outstanding writer. I pray that you continue to find the courage and strength you need to balance writing with fun, and that you do the things that make you happy and feel like you’re the best you can be!! ❤

C.L. Wilson

  on December 23, 2016

Thanks so much, Payton.


  on November 29, 2016 : Reply

Check list
Typos, maybe (check)
Incomplete sentences, probably (check)
Run-ons, most definitely (check)
Possibly some bad/ inappropriate grammar (check)
Alrighty, good to go then!

So, you’re Khamsin, ya’ll are really similar anyway.

For the love of all that is good in this world, please don’t ever think of depriving it of you. You made me cry with your admission of what’s really going on in your life. Thanks for finding the strength to get that out of you. For the record let me just state that that effin’ blows-bubble-gut-jelly-fish. I don’t have heavy struggles to share but I have fallen on the face of my life a couple of times (life mean-girl stage), I’m good now though (life neighbor stage-this is the one where ya’ll are good; like borrow a cup of sugar but will call the cops if you’re too loud).

You take us away with your stories/books. They are beautiful worlds that I stumbled across with Ellysetta and plunged back into with Khamsin. I like them both but I love Kham her story just got straight to the heart of me. Your words move me in such a profound way. To experience things with a person, you invite us into their lives; we experience their highs and lows, their love and their pain (gah, their heart wrenching pain!!!).

You are not just a star! You are some ones whole damn sky! Yes, I totes stole that off the net 😉 Doesn’t make it any less true. Never forget that life hurts a lot more than death, death hurts those you leave behind in life (but you already know that).

When you live (any person in general), you touch the lives of so many people. You have touched the lives of way more people than that. It’s so crazy because you haven’t just touched those people’s lives you have touched them for life. Striving for perfection is bananas. We know this. Doesn’t make us not want it. Life is so very convoluted. Anything can happen and it usually does.
Also, when you see the bad reviews have you ever tried writing them back, just as nasty as you can be, singe your ears language, and mean as all get out. I’m not saying send it to them (unless you want to), just rant and be done with it.

Exorcise that negative nelly off your shoulder, chunk a bible at it or better yet, hit it with a bit of that khamsin wind. Get better. Get better. Get better. It is my most sincere and heartfelt wish and prayer that you are/get better because a world without C.L. Wilson in it would really be crap! Feel better. Feel better. Feel better.

From the depth of my heart and soul I wish nothing but the best for you and your family, lots of love,

I have a daughter and she is just the sun to me, she lights up my life and my world. She just turned three. We had her birthday at the park on a beautiful, cold, and sunny Sunday. I just love her (and her daddy) more than words could ever possibly express. It’s silly to get teary eyed because you love someone so much but there you have it. You shared some of your personal so there’s some of mine. Live long and prosper my friend.

C.L. Wilson

  on December 23, 2016

I truly appreciate it, Cristel. xoxox

Meagan Ashley

  on November 28, 2016 : Reply

I just wanted to thank you for sharing this piece of you with us. I have been a constant fan of yours and have always loved everything you’ve written. And any reader would have never guessed the struggle you have been going through. I know this must have been hard for you to share but I wanted to say thank you for doing it. As an artist, I’ve always had constant doubts in what I love to do. Almost to the point where I doubt I even love it anymore and that hurts. The pressure to do better and be perfect is constant and to see you write something like this..Well it makes what was an inspiration all the more inspiring. It shows me you’re only human. And it’s okay not to be perfect. And for someone who is so inspiring to me to seem just as human as me and my thoughts just really touches home. Thank you for sharing something so personal to help even one person out there that needs it. Your real fans will always be there. Be it tomorrow or years from now, when your books come out, I’ll be there to buy it and support your passion! Thank you again.

C.L. Wilson

  on December 23, 2016

Thanks so much, Meagan 🙂


  on November 27, 2016 : Reply

English isn’t my native language, so it is hard for me to express my thoughts and feelings, but your post touched me in so many levels.

First, your books mean so much to me. I think I read them as many times as I read my favorite author (Paul Auster), so that makes you one of my favorite authors as well. The books keep taking me away, and keep me awake to finish them before dawn (literally).

As for the depression, and the need and drive and presuit for perfection, I know it so well as well. I keep telling myself each day that my OK is as other people very best, and that I can so many other things with my time if I settle for fine. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it helps.

And last, you are so lucky to have such friends. I’m still in the part where I try to open up to my besties…

Get better, bit by bit, but please don’t quite, the fight nor the writing. You brought such beautiful places to my mind. I really want, and need, to explore them with you.

C.L. Wilson

  on November 27, 2016

Thanks so much, Aye. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your own struggles. xoxo

Rachel Koren

  on November 27, 2016 : Reply

I too have struggled in my life. I don’t have ADD but all those self doubts wondering if I was good enough and why my mom didn’t seem to love me. I also experience the same thing you described as there are some moments painful memories etc seem to be on a never ending loop especially when my depression & anxiety try to take me over.

Like you in high school I had dreams & plans for my life but at age 19 all that ended through my action to help someone else – which in turn ruined my neck & back. Until then I was a healthy & mostly happy young adult with my future ahead of me. Because of that one action decided in a split second my future changed horribly. I never had any real depression or anxiety before this accident but add in almost intolerable pain & the inability to take care of myself caused them to rise up. But self doubt was an old companion. I am mostly happy now because I’ve learned to live with the fact that I have chronic pain depression and anxiety that will never really go away. Learning to live with the fact that I am/was permanently partially disabled was extremely difficult. And although I’ve been able to learn how to handle all these issues my old ‘friends’ depression and anxiety can rear up out of the blue & choke the life out of me.

I will let you know on a more personal note books such as yours and Christine Feehan etc in a very real way safes if not my life but my sanity. When the migraine like headache where tearing apart my world or when the pain & procedures I went through, I was able to escape into a different world or reality through the words you and other authors like yourself created. Truthfully I am long ago when I used books to escape from my mothers taunts & her yelling. I was able to let that all go and escape into a different world, one that was exciting & daring. So thank you for all of your hard work it is very much appreciated and has made all the difference in the world to me and others like me.

I’ll end this by saying this ( although I know it’s easy to say but very hard to do): don’t let what load mouth detractors and nasties say because in my experience they are usually the type of people who get off on tearing others down. Don’t let them influence you or your creativity. An old saying comes to mind as well: you can’t make everyone happy. You owe it to yourself to make sure your happy not only with your work but with yourself. Because if you are not happy and are not taken care of you really can’t take care of anyone else.

Take care

C.L. Wilson

  on November 27, 2016

Thanks so much, Rachel


  on November 7, 2016 : Reply

Your books are rare and precious things to me. They combine a love of fantasy and world building with an attention to human relationships that I didnt know was possible. It can be easy to expect authors to crank out works one after another, but I try to remind myself that I am rarely happy reading those works. Know that the amount of effort you pour into your books is evident on every page. I would also echo Michele in saying that I am not surprised that someone who struggles with her own mind, emotions and fears can build worlds with rich characters and complex emotional landscapes. I understand some of that anxiety and I know that those small decisions -to have a conversation, take a walk, ask a question -are what bring balance back. It is not a matter of just deciding to be better, it is a thousand little decisons to nudge yourself toward a place a relative balance. I will always read your next work. I hope you can hold some of your readers’ encouragement in your mind to counter others’ nettlesome complaints. Criticism has a tendency to burrow. My best solution has been to ask myself, what is the worst that will happen if I fail? Facing that fear, owning it and claiming what you still have – a family, friends, a passion for writing -can release some of its hold. Otherwise, that fear becomes this buzzing, unknowable thing that hovers around me and makes me miserable without ever really being concrete. Naming it makes it smaller, somehow. This might not have helped at all, but please know that there are those of us who are so enchanted with what you so that we will always come back.


  on November 3, 2016 : Reply

Cheryl, I don’t ever comment on people’s sites, but you hold such a special place in my heart for what you have gifted me with your writing, so here is my comment to you.

You are an amazing woman who has proven herself to be an overcomer. I am SO sorry to hear of your pain and suffering, but somehow I am not surprised. The depth of beauty in your books speaks of the real beauty of your soul and shows how you are a richly sensitive person who feels things so deeply. I truly will be praying for you. It is not your portion to have fear and anxiety and depression, but courage and love and joy. May you be filled with the peace of the LORD Jesus, Who loves you beyond life. I also pray that you receive 7-fold blessings for the blessing that you have given me. If you never wrote another sentence, I would still be thankful.