Writing with Depression

women_with_gauze As I said in an earlier post, writer’s block and depression are different things. Depression isn’t fixed by a writing exercise, brainstorming, or reading books on the craft. If a writer had a heart attack and didn’t write the next day, we wouldn’t say he had writer’s block. If someone is clinically depressed and doesn’t write, he probably doesn’t have writer’s block either. Depression is a mental illness. That decreased ability to perform even simple tasks–let alone writing–is caused by a dysfunction in the frontal lobes. This article explains it.

Writer’s block can feel pretty bad, but it’s not an illness. It’s just a hurdle. It’s deeply frustrating, but it ends at some point. Depression claws its way inside you and lives there until you die. It might go into a sort of remission, like cancer or herpes, but it’s always there, lurking, waiting, gathering its power for the next attack. At least, that’s how it is for me. I’m bipolar. Unipolar depression might be different. I’m not a doctor, just a writer who struggles with this stuff. Medications work for some people. They don’t work for me.

I’ve been in a low grade depression for a few months. (I say low grade because, although I’ve had days where I didn’t get out of bed, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts. So, this is a good depression.) I haven’t written much. Instead, I’ve focused on self-care. I set a few small goals in the morning and try to accomplish them. Walk five thousand steps. Shower. Do laundry. Walk another five thousand steps. The walking has been really good for me. I’m able to commune with my characters and ‘write’ while I walk. I sweat, which forces me to shower and change clothes. If you’re able to do some type of exercise when you’re in a depressive episode, I highly recommend it. It might just be my superstition, but I feel like that is what has kept the suicidal thoughts at bay. (Actually, that article I linked to above says exercise increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain, so maybe there is something to it.)

Although I do take breaks from writing, I try to push myself to write at least once a week when I’m depressed. It isn’t easy. I’ve noticed that when I’m depressed, I:

  • Make more typos

And some of them are really weird. I’ve understood homonyms since grade school and know the difference between too, to, and two, etc. When I’m depressed, I’ll find words like that switched around in my manuscript.

  • Have trouble finding words

A word is there–then just vanishes. Poof! Usually, I can jog my memory with Google searches and music. Sometimes I’ll ask my husband if he knows what word I’ve lost. Sometimes I simply find a different word that works well enough.

  • Take longer to write a scene than normal

Something that would ordinarily take me a couple of hours to write takes four

  • Have trouble answering questions

Although I construct a ‘rough sketch’ outline prior to writing scenes, I often run into places where I don’t know how something happened or why something is the way it is. It’s tougher to ferret out these answers when I’m depressed.

  • Feel pessimistic about the outcome

When I’m not depressed and in the midst of writing a book, there are spaces where I lose myself in the story. I forget that any other world exists. After I finish, I’ll often have misgivings and worry that readers won’t like it. When I’m depressed, I feel like no one will enjoy it even as I’m writing it. These kinds of thoughts crush creativity.

On the plus side, a depressive episode, by slowing down the writing process, gives me extra time with my characters. (This is mostly with a low grade episode. Deep episodes are a hell I don’t want to even discuss at the moment.) During this current episode, I ended up spending a lot of time with Frank. I would lie in bed and suddenly discover Frank with me. (This wasn’t an hallucination; my logical mind knew he wasn’t there. But…he was. That’s called writer crazy.) Anyway, he was usually quiet, but sometimes we would talk about his friends, his jobs, his lovers. I felt him more acutely than when I did his character worksheet. He entertained me, buoyed me, and we became friends. I usually bond with a character while I’m writing, but not this early in the book.

If you’re reading this and are depressed, please seek help—especially if you’re feeling suicidal. Some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

International Association for Suicide Prevention

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Change

eye-color-change-2852261_640Since I published His Dungeon Discovery a couple of months ago, I’ve been trying to write an urban fantasy m/m romance. Initially, I was very excited. I had been thinking about it for a while and was happy to dive into it.

But then it stopped being fun.

I started worrying about what genre it actually was, because it was also sort of dystopian. I got caught up in one of the subplots–the main character’s mother has early onset dementia. My own mother is schizophrenic, so dealing with an impaired parent is a big deal for me. Perhaps for this reason, I wanted to spend more time with that aspect of the story. The romance atrophied as I wrote dialogues between my MC and his mom. The story spun out of control, and I grew increasingly depressed by it. I would hide from it for days at a time.

So I set it aside. I started writing a contemporary m/m romance with a couple of fun characters. It’s a simple, straightforward romance with a hint of humor. I’m ten chapters in and I’m glad I made the switch. Since I started working on the new story, I’ve gone back to writing every day. I have scenes going in my head at all times; the characters are talking to me. I’m happy again.

For whatever reason, the last project just wasn’t working for me. I want to go back to it someday, but I need to be in a better frame of mind to grapple with it. So, if you’re a writer who’s stuck on a certain piece, try taking a break from it and working on something else. You might find, not only solace, but a great story.

GammaFrost

image
My own blue Loki helping me plot my latest book. 

I haven’t seen the new Thor movie yet. My friends have given it mixed reviews. I have to see it because I wrote a whole fanfic series where Bruce Banner, alter ego of Hulk, and Loki fall in love and are a happy couple living in New York City.  The pairing is called GammaFrost.

I began writing these sweet, smutty stories while in the grip of writer’s block. The warm reception they received from fans encouraged me to start publishing my original works.

If you’re curious, you can find one of them, Loki Gets Blue, on Ao3 here.

Here’s an excerpt. Bruce, a scientist, struggles with loving a god of lies.

People always fell in love with lies. With facades. In reality people were nothing more than gristle and bone, motes of dust swirling around electrical impulses, a superficial collection of atoms, of quarks. But there was more than that. The bass note underneath it all. That spark—the universe straining to understand itself.

 

Writer’s Block or Depression?

Sometimes I get writer’s block because I’m out of ideas for a story, stressed and having trouble relaxing or focusing, or just need to get a better feel for the backstory. These are all things that can be solved rather easily through writing exercises, or simple things like mediation, bathing, or going for a walk.

However, for me, sometimes I have writer’s block because I’m depressed. It’s almost a warning sign that something is wrong with me. In that case, taking a quick inventory of what is happening in my life can sometimes help me track what might be causing the depression. Clinical depression is serious. If you think you may be clinically depressed, please seek help. I’m bipolar, so I see a therapist on a regular basis. I also see a psychiatrist periodically and take medication for my illness.

For me, the red flags that I’m not just having writer’s block but am sinking into depression are:

  1. Either sleeping too much or waking up too early.
  2. Not paying attention to personal hygiene. (Like wearing the same clothes several days!)
  3. Overeating (especially sweet stuff.)
  4. Withdrawing (more than usual–I’m an introvert, so I’m always somewhat withdrawn.)
  5. Not wanting to do anything, not being interested in anything.

Number 5 is where writing comes in. I’m interested in and passionate about many things, but writing is where my heart is. If I’m not writing–and maybe not even wanting to try some writing exercises–I know that’s a big, flashing warning sign that I’m not okay.

One of the worst bits of advice I ever got regarding writer’s block was someone online suggesting to take a break from writing and not write until you feel like it. Maybe that works for some people, but for me it sent me into a downward spiral of not writing that lasted over a year. Not writing led to more not writing, and I became more and more depressed. Once depression gets a toehold, it’s easier for it to get worse.

So, instead, I recommend being mindful of how your body is functioning and how you’re feeling. Make sure that your writer’s block isn’t a cue that something else is going on.

Questions to Ask Your Character When You’re Having Writer’s Block

Sometimes trying to write can be daunting. Here are some questions I ask my POV character when I’m having trouble getting into a scene.

1. Who are you?
2. What are you doing?
3. What do you want?
4. Are you alone? If not, who are you with and how do you feel about them? Why?
5. What are you wearing? Is there anything significant about anything you’re wearing?
6. Where are you? What does it smell like? What does it feel like–emotionally and in a tactile sense?
7. What do you see?
8. What do you hear?
9. What day, month, year, season, time of day is it?
10. Is there anything significant about today?

These things will usually get me moving. Happy writing!