Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Writing Through the Blues

By Kimmy Cole
2003, Kimmy Cole

 

verybody gets the blues sometimes.  Your car won't start, you're late for work, your manuscript was rejected, and dinner burned.  Days like that are enough to get anybody down.  Even worse is when someone you love leaves you or passes on.

Some people, though, feel sad even when nothing's gone wrong.  When this goes on for long periods it is often diagnosed as depression.  Depression is an illness, which is believed to be linked to serotonin levels in the brain.  It is characterized by a lack of energy, changes in eating habits, trouble sleeping (or sleeping too much), feelings of despair or apathy, and a loss of interest in your usual activities.

Anyone can get depression.  It is not a matter of something you don't do or do wrong.  Instead it's just a matter of your body chemistry, often combined with events in your past that made the problem worse, or gave you difficulties in coping with them.  Depression seems to run in families, so there may be a genetic predisposition.  Also, interestingly, creative people seem to be especially prone to the problem.

It is by no means uncommon for writers to suffer from depression.  Along with the every day problems that this presents, writers must deal with the impact on their work.  If you have this problem you may find that you lose interest in your own work.  You may feel as if you (and by extension your work) are no good, and that you have nothing useful to share with the world.

The first thing to remember is:  That is not true!  A tip that a friend recommended to me is to write up a list of your good qualities and achievements.  Be perfectly honest and include small things as well as big.  When you are having a very hard time, pull out the list and remind yourself how wonderful you are.

It is very difficult to write while in the middle of a depressive cycle.  Some authors choose to press on and get the words on the page regardless of the quality they seem to have.  Often they find that the pages look much better the next day (or the next week).

If that doesn't work for you, switching gears might help.  If you routinely write fiction, switch to nonfiction for a few days -- or poetry, or personal essays.  Anything different could work.  Hopefully you will find that this new area of work gives you room to stretch your wings.

Finally, if you find that you absolutely cannot come up with a single original word, quit writing.  Not completely, of course.  But stop trying to produce workable copy from scratch.  Pull out that story you finished last month and do some revisions.  Run through your last nonfiction article for line edits.  Or head down to the library to work on research for your next book.  You may find that this type of mechanical work will help to free yourself from creative expectations that are harder to meet when you're down.

No matter which of those options you choose, the important thing is to keep working.  There are many ways to help make this possible even on the hardest days.

Positive reinforcement is invaluable to a writer in a depressive slump.  Take a look at those acceptance letters, or the positive rejections.  Read the positive comments in your critiques.  Anything to remind yourself of the good accomplishments you've had in the past and are sure to have again. 

You may be asking yourself why you should try so hard to keep writing.  If you aren't in the mood, would it be better to wait until things are feeling better?  Maybe just a few days spent hiding under the covers will make things look better to you.

The fact is that hiding from your depression doesn't help anything.  If you've gotten this far as a writer, you know how important writing is to you.  "Writer" isn't just a term, it's a self description.  It's a big part of who you are.  Letting go of that because of depression will only make you feel worse.

Another reason is a very simple one:  keeping busy.  Most psychologists will tell you that brooding over how you feel is sure to lengthen recovery time.  If you are writing, or at least working towards your writing, you are busy.  You are useful.  You are creating something, and you are moving towards your goals.  That is the best thing you can do for a depressive episode.

Finally, depression can make you feel incredibly badly inside.  Writing is just one way to help soothe that unhappiness.  Just the act of putting words on the page can help to bring a type of inner peace.  Every moment of feeling better that you give yourself is a moment of health stolen from the depression.

Always remember that you are more than your depression.  You are a writer, and you have things to say that the world needs to hear.  Remember that, and strive to make it feel real even on those days when it seems a waste of time.  You are worthwhile.  Your writing is worthwhile.  Strive to stick with it and you can only succeed.