I had to think about that longer than I would have guessed. I write because sometimes I need to hide from the stresses of the real world, the wolves at the door that howl for blood and bone. Writing allows me to sink into an imaginary world I can control with characters I create who are braver than I am. At the same time I’m hiding, I’m also processing things that are happening in my life, or things that happened in my past. So, it’s a different kind of hiding than covering my head with a blanket, although sometimes that’s good, too.
Recently, I released the last book in my Love Songs for Lost Worlds trilogy, Infernal Hope. (The whole trilogy is available on Amazon.) I had traveled through three books, a horrendous presidency, a global pandemic, and an insurrection with Frank and Kasimir. I watched them grow at my fingertips, watched their love blossom. I saw my sweet (okay Frank’s not always that sweet!) boys grow into young men. They were not only my friends, they became a part of me like few characters ever have. I finished their story and let them go.
And then I became quite depressed. I had a new book outlined and waiting for me, but, after writing furiously while the world seemed to collapse, I found myself unable to write now that things were calmer. I wondered for a while if I truly had any more books in me. And if I did, would anyone read them? None of my books are best sellers. They’re such odd little things, they’ll probably never be.
Once I thought about it, I realized that I did, in fact, need to write no matter how many people read my books. I need to write for me. Being able to share my works with the world is a bonus, and I’m grateful for all of the people who read my books and connect with my characters. At the end of the day, though, I need to write to calm that feeling of static that rises from my skin. Writing doesn’t simply keep the wolves from my door, it gives me the power to make them my friends.
Therapists often recommend journaling to people dealing with mental illness and trauma. I’ve never liked journaling. Maybe it’s because I get too self-conscious or because even my old wounds often feel too raw to record in some blunt, dry fashion. Instead, I write fiction. I’ve dealt with my trauma through fiction from a young age. I’ve learned to cover my experiences with layers of grit, imagination, and distance to create weird pearls that I hope others will enjoy. This is how I process pain, both personal and existential; this is how I grieve, scream, cry—this is even how I plead for justice or beg forgiveness.
Right now, someone reading this who has read my books is cocking his head like a confused beagle. “Um…your books are romances about kinky people getting it on and fantasies about people with horns. Some are comedies. How, exactly, are you dealing with anything writing stuff like that?”
While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask.
I change people, places, and things—but the emotions and some of the basic building blocks have my soulprints all over them. While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask. I guess it’s like Oscar Wilde said, “Man is less himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
So, while I’ve never lived in a pre-industrialized dystopian empire like Elarhe in Lover, Destroyer, he and I both know what it’s like to be an outcast, to mourn a murdered friend, to be homeless, and to yearn for things that seem beyond your grasp. While I’ve never destroyed an entire kingdom like Kite, his shame and insecurity resonates with me because it’s how I felt when the relative who sexually abused me died when I was sixteen. I didn’t feel as relieved as I did ashamed—like I had somehow killed him with my quiet, clumsy rage.
I wrote the last pages of the silly romantic comedy, His Dungeon Discovery, with tears streaming down my face because a situation reminded me of the death of my beloved emotional support cat, Sand, after his long battle with kidney failure and heart disease. The situation in the book is actually quite different from my real life tragedy, but the feelings are similar.
In Zen Alpha, a contemporary gay romcom, Bradley’s mother is a narcissist who belittles and gaslights him. My own mother was a toxic narcissist who committed murder by proxy, killing pets to frighten and control her children. Bradley’s mom doesn’t seem quite as evil in comparison, but Zen Alpha is intended to be a heartwarming story, and it was more fun to write about a self-absorbed old belle than it was to write about dead animals.
Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.
Speaking of child abuse and mentally ill parents, it isn’t a coincidence Petal, the heroine of The Inquisitor’s Gift, feels coerced by her abusive stepfather to live a life to which she’s not suited. I imagine most children who grew up in homes with abuse, addiction, and mental illness know what it’s like to keep secrets and to wrestle with becoming the person they want to be rather than the person the secrets shaped.
Dealing with trauma through writing fiction isn’t some technique I created. J.R.R. Tolkien dealt with his service in World War I, and fears inspired by World War II, by writing about hobbits and magical lands. Rod Serling’s WWII traumas helped give us The Twilight Zone. I believe so many fiction writers through the centuries have been plagued by depression and anxiety, not because they’re writers, but because they write in order process their feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I write. It’s also why I read. Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.
So, if you’re a writer, don’t be afraid if your prose is cathartic. I would worry more if it weren’t. And if you’re a reader, thank you for allowing writers like me to don our masks and reveal to you our truest selves.
My website has a snazzy new banner created by the talented Kyleigh Castronaro of Free to Be Covers and Designs. She also designed the logo using my little spirit animal, the fox, and two of my favorite colors. If you’re an author, you should really check out her Facebook page here. She has premade book covers at fantabulous prices, and she also does custom work.
Why foxes? Because I love them. Like a genderqueer person (like me), they are sort of a creature between–not quite a dog, not quite a cat. They are their own unique beastie. I’ve loved them since I was small. My first story written in English (previous attempts were penned in scribbles) was about saving a family of foxes from hunters. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve always been drawn to trickster gods and trickster animals. I suppose it’s because they live by their wits, depending on their brains more than their brawn. They’re also often misunderstood. Two of my favorites, foxes and corvids (ravens, crows, jays), are often seen as nuisances or are associated with evil. No animal is ever evil.
Recently, in my blog entry Writing with Depression, I revealed how depression affects my writing and talked about the depressive episode that has thrown a shadow over my past few months. I was trying to exercise my way out of this recent depressive episode. That didn’t go so well.
In Writing with Depression, I said that medication didn’t help me. I’m bipolar and take mood stabilizers that help prevent manic episodes. They do little to nothing for depression. The popular antidepressants used to treat unipolar depression don’t work for me because they throw me into a ‘mixed mood’ and usually result in a suicide attempt. To treat bipolar depression, doctors prescribe antipsychotics or atypical antipsychotics. I’m extremely sensitive to the side effects of these medications and basically hate them. However, they have their place.
July is a hard month for me. Its anniversaries remind me of death. July, so sultry and sun-drenched, so full of promises of summer pleasure, doesn’t charm me at all. I know that she is full of death and shadows, that her breath is as fetid as it is hot, and her kisses bruise and burn. July quit being my friend years ago.
This July, I was depressed, but I thought I could take care of myself and fend the depression off. If things had been normal, maybe I could have. Honestly, though, things are never normal, are they? I had a stressor that came as something of a shock. Under normal circumstances, I think I would have been more resilient. This time, however, I was already depressed, so I just sank. I went from ‘kind of down but mostly okay’ to suicidal in a matter of minutes. It happens like that. Fast.
I hatched a quick plan and started to implement it. At a pivotal point, I had second thoughts. I actually thought about that depression blog entry and called the suicide hotline that I mentioned. They were really nice and talked me through the maelstrom. Afterward, I called my therapist and made an appointment for the next day, then followed up with my psychiatrist a few days later. During the time between the call and the psychiatrist, I felt constantly plagued by thoughts of suicide. Having suicidal thoughts is called suicidal ideation. (Suicidal ideation sounds like a band I would have liked in my twenties. Sadly, it’s not as fun as it sounds.) I felt like I was caught in some kind of loop. I thought of better plans. I settled on one that met all of my requirements, held it close and nurtured it. The morning of my psychiatric appointment, I dressed in the clothes I thought would work well for my best plan in case she had nothing to offer. I wanted to be ready.
I didn’t tell her that. I did tell her that I was having constant suicidal thoughts. She put me on an atypical antipsychotic called Vraylar. Honestly, so far, I don’t like it. She said it would give me lots of energy, but it makes me sleepy and lethargic. I’m having to drink a lot of caffeine to stay awake. It did, however, stop those destructive thoughts. It stopped them cold. Now, I feel embarrassed for having them, and I can see that it was all over something that shouldn’t have bothered me so much.
I apologize that this entry is even more pointless and self-indulgent than usual. I just thought, since I write about depression and bipolar disorder and have tried to be transparent and honest about my illness, I should admit to what happened with my self-care strategy. I’m hoping I can get off of this medicine soon and go back to trying to self-care my way to normalcy again. Despite this post’s title, I haven’t been writing much since everything blew up. My characters are bothering me to get back to it, and my cats have been trying to get me to go into the office where I do most of my writing. I’m trying to give myself some space, but characters and cats have little patience.
If you’re reading this and having suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately. I know everything might seem clearer now than ever before and that suicide is the only way out, but I can promise you that pain is clouding your judgment. Please call one of these numbers:
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:
So, I’ve been doing some other things besides wanting to strangle Facebook and WordPress for their horrible lack of support regarding GDPR. (They could really learn a thing or two from MailChimp, who provided tools and easy to follow instructions for their users. I LOVE MailChimp!) But I’ve actually been focused on more than just GDPR. I’m creating an audio book!
Soon, my M/M contemporary romance Zen Alpha will be available as an audio book. I found a wonderful voice actor to narrate it, Hugh Bradley.
This is my first audio book, so I’m really excited! Working with Hugh has been fabulous. If you’re an author looking for someone to narrate your book, you should check him out. He not only has an attractive voice, he has a great sense of timing and seems very versatile.
New regulations from the EU are going into effect May 25, 2018. These regulations are designed to protect the privacy of EU citizens on the internet. I wholeheartedly support the spirit of these regulations. I wish the U.S. would do more to protect the privacy of its citizens.
I’m still trying to figure this out. I will probably disable the newsletter sign-up thingy until I’m certain it’s GDPR compliant. The main thing about all of this that I find so upsetting is that the big corporations, who probably present more of a threat to people’s privacy (I’m thinking of a big one right now whose CEO’s last name begins with Z) have teams of lawyers and tech gurus at their disposal. I only have me, a bunch of cats, a dog, and a husband whose reaction to all of this was, “You’re a writer. You don’t really need a website and all of that, do you?” (Um…yeah, I do.) Unlike the big corporations, I do actually care about people’s privacy. I care about my readers. But I don’t know how to navigate any of this.
The more I try to figure all of this out, the more lost I feel. It’s enough to make me wonder if I should just stop everything. I toyed with that idea for a while. Seriously. But being a writer has been my dream since I was very small. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.
I’m not feeling well today, but I’m attempting to write because of my cats. Yes, I said my cats. I have five of the furry divas, but only two to three are allowed in my office. There simply isn’t enough room in there for five cats. Honestly, there isn’t enough for three, but the third gets in sometimes.
The two main office cats are Loki, the little blue god of mischief, and Bruce Banner, who has a PhD in cuteness. Bruce especially loves my office. He looooooves it.
I wanted to die quietly in my recliner all day, but Bruce kept rubbing on my feet and nipping them. This is his cat language for ‘I want something.’ He’ll then look up to see if he has my attention and trot toward the hall that leads to my office. He’s very smart. I think he knows that if he looks cute enough, I’ll follow him anywhere.
The sometimes office kitty is Hecate, my lady cat. She and Bruce don’t get along very well, but she seems to like Loki. Loki is a sweetheart; he loves everybody.
Anyway, my feline masters are insisting that I sit upright like a person with a spine and work on my upcoming gay paranormal romance. Remember to check out my latest release, A Little Sin. It’s available on Amazon and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited. It’s a mystery M/M historical romance with a western flare and steamy sex scenes. (The cats helped write that one, too.)
Today, I saw a post in a writing group in which someone was stuck on whether his MC (main character) would move onto a new relationship following the disappearance and possible death of her lover. Obviously, one should consider the depth of the relationship in question, but why not look to the character to solve this problem? If you have a well-developed character who seems like a real person to you, problems like this aren’t problems at all.
For instance, take veterinarian Dr. Garland Sands from my latest M/M historical romance, A Little Sin. After his lover commits suicide, he is able to move on and find love again. However, if his lover had vanished, I don’t believe he would ever stop looking for him. He’s an idealist and an optimist. He’s a hopeful character. Not only would he be unable to give up hope of finding his lover again, he would probably go to the ends of the Earth searching for him.
A very different character in my epic fantasy novel, Under the Shadow, Mylinka, is separated from her childhood love. Although he has only disappeared, evidence suggests he was killed in a purging of mages. Mylinka is a pessimist. She’s a war orphan with some nightmarish experiences. It’s easy for her to believe the worst. She’s also a highly adaptable pragmatist, so she moves on to other relationships.
So you can see how two very different characters will react to the same circumstances in extremely different ways. If you’re stuck on whether or not a character would do something, just ask the character. If your character won’t talk, maybe you need to develop him more.
How? Fill out some character worksheets. There are tons out there! My favorite character questionnaire is in Will Dunne’s The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. It asks questions like ‘what is your character’s greatest achievement so far? What is his greatest failure?’ Rather than spending a lot of time on your character’s hairstyle, it delves deep into the character’s interior life. It’s my favorite writing book despite the fact that I don’t write screenplays. Another fun way to learn more about your characters is to take online personality tests as if you were them.
Once you’re really in touch with your characters, you won’t need to ask how they’ll act. You’ll just know. And if you’re still not sure, just ask them. I often have trouble getting mine to shut up. I’m trying to write a paranormal romance, and Garland from A Little Sin and Ward from Zen Alpha keep bugging me. They want me to write more about them. That’s the only drawback to creating characters that become real people—they don’t always do what you want.
I just wanted to throw this quick tip–that many writers probably already know–out there: music helps. I don’t always write with music. Sometimes I just like to hear my keyboard or the wind outside.
Lately, however, when I sit down to write, I don’t have writer’s block, but I feel overstimulated and overwhelmed. I think this is because of my increased use of social media. I’m an introvert, so the social aspect of social media is difficult for me sometimes. If I’ve been on Twitter or something for a while, then try to write, I often feel agitated and nervous. Going for a walk helps with this some, but not enough to write.
Music, however, helps. With the right music (this varies) I’m able to get back into the story and feel that world again. So, if you’re fidgety and restless when you try to write, see if playing some music gets you back in the zone.