Depression and Writing

Depression sucks. That might seem a bit of an understatement, but I think it’s the most appropriate description of it. Because depression is like a vampire on your life. It sucks out your energy. It sucks out your joy. Sometimes it hides from you and lets you live peacefully, but it’ll always return to torment you and remind you that it holds the power to cripple you.

I’ve talked about my history with depression before and how it affected my writing, though in a much more optimistic, resilient light. I talked about how writing and the desire of publication got me through some of my darkest times in recent memory. However, as I come off the worst season of depression since I tried to kill myself nine years ago, I write with more anger than anything else. There is still hope, but t doesn’t outweigh the anger.

Last year I wrote about how, in my last relapse, writing was what kept me going forward. It was the reason I got up in the morning. It was the reason I didn’t kill myself. I hadn’t yet fulfilled my life goals, and until that happened, I believed I couldn’t kill myself or else waiting all this time would have been for nothing.
The desire to write stories and share them with others was what encouraged me to live.

But depression can take even that away. Because depression sucks. It can take away all your confidence and convince you that you’ll never do better than what you’ve already done. It can tell you that you’re not worth the dirt beneath your feet. It can take what you used to use as a reason to live and warp it into a reason to die.

If you follow my blog, you know that I haven’t been posting a lot. I’ve talked about getting back on track and how I’ve just been really busy, but let’s be blunt. The reason I wasn’t posting is because I wanted to die. Updating my blog seemed a waste of time. I could barely motivate myself to go to work or see my friends. Writing became more of a chore than anything else.

While I haven’t been this low in eight years, I’ve been on this roller coaster enough times to know I need to go the doctor. So I went, and he told me how my on-and-off history with medication shows that I’m probably one of those people who needs to be on medication for the rest of her life. He prescribed me some Prozac, scheduled a follow-up appointment, and sent me on my way.

And I’ve been feeling a lot better. It happened so quickly I thought maybe it was the placebo effect, but the doctor said the change in my depression score chart was so drastic that it was more than that. I’d gone from a 15 to a 4 in two weeks. My body had been on these drugs before, they’d worked before, and now I was responding well.

But I was a 4, so I still have some symptoms. But with the drastic change in my attitude over the past couple weeks, I’ve just been left angry. I’m angry that I lost so much writing time because of an illness that I thought I had beaten. I’m angry that I got so low. I’m angry that I have to be on medication for the rest of my life. I’m angry that I’ve neglected the presence I’ve been working so hard to build in the writing community. It doesn’t matter that my excuse is legitimate. I understand that, and I can forgive myself. But I’m still furious with depression and what it’s able to so easily take away from me.

Depression sucks, and it can’t be killed, but at least I can keep it at bay. I’m thankful I was able to ask for help. I’m thankful I was able to recognize how low I’d gotten. I’m thankful I never acted on anything i thought about. But I’m angry all the same.

So I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting, and I’m sorry that my presence has been so lackluster recently. Now I should be able to do better.

If you’re struggling with depression, please go to a doctor. Tell someone you trust.

If you’re thinking about killing yourself, go to the emergency room or call a lifeline or even text chat with them or tell at least somebody.

You deserve to be alive. Depression can engulf you. It can convince you that there is no life outside of it. It sucks out any pleasure you experience, any meaning, and convinces you there is nothing else. But depression is a liar, and even if you can’t kill it completely, you can build a fortress against it. Please protect yourself. You’re worth more than you realize.

When NOT to Write

There’s a lot of advice going around — and I’ve said it too — that you should be writing every day. There are apps devoted to helping you meet your daily word goal. There are websites devoted to motivating you to write. All in all, there seems to be a message that if you’re not writing every single day, then you’re not a “real” writer, and I’m here to tell you that’s wrong.

If you want to get better at writing, is it good to write as often as possible? Of course. Practice makes perfect, after all. However, you need to also know that it’s okay to take a day off. It’s okay to say, “I can’t do this right now.” It does not make you any less legitimate.

If having everyday writing as a goal is giving you anxiety, you can get rid of it. Your mental health is important.

If your writing schedule means that you’re getting behind in work or school, you can scale back.

If you’re losing sleep trying to meet your 2000 words a day, stop and make sure you get adequate rest.

If you want to write professionally, writing every day is important — but in this case, “every day” really means “most days.” You still need to take care of yourself. You still need to make sure that you’re happy and healthy and doing well in other parts of your life. Writing shouldn’t be a chore, and it shouldn’t be something that you grow to resent or dread.

So if you’ve been stressed recently from New Year Resolutions about writing every day, take the day off. Go do something you enjoy. And tomorrow, keep in mind that this is not life-or-death.

Words to Never Use in Writing

There are words that you should never – or almost never – use in writing. Disengaging sense verbs, vague modifiers, passive voice — they need to go. Don’t worry about these words as you’re writing the first draft, but when it’s time for revision, break out the red pen. It’s time to destroy your manuscript.

  • Adverbs: lightly, pleasantly, quietly, dumbly. There’s a better verb.
    • “She walked slowly towards him.” Change to: “She sauntered towards him.”
  • Redundancies: needless to say, screamed loudly, end result
  • Suddenly
  • Vague words: very, really, great, thing
  • Sense verbs: saw, felt, smelled, heard, tasted. Unless someone is telling a story to another character, avoid these words. It’s much more effective and engaging to describe it in more objective terms.
    • “She smelled blood, the stench thick in the air.” Change to: “The stench of blood hung thick in the air.”

You get the idea? Vague is lazy. Many words are weak. Cut it, tighten your writing, and make it better.

New Year Writing Resolutions

This year I managed to complete my big resolution, which was to finish writing and publish book. With reviews out about it and now a much better idea of who I am as a writer, I’ve decided I’m going to create some smaller resolutions for this year:

  • Write more descriptions: Time and time again, I get the complaint from readers that I don’t describe enough. I’m the type of person that prefers as little description as possible, but I know I can’t ignore this when everyone says I need to work on it — especially after I thought I fixed it. So this is my big focus for the year.
  • Read widely: This might seem weird, but I don’t feel that I read nearly enough. While I read more this year than I have in the last few years, it still doesn’t feel enough for me, so my goal is to read a lot more. I’m going to be doing a reading challenge with 52 books on it, and while I’m sure I won’t be able to finish it, I’m going to give it my best shot. I honestly think the best way to improve your writing is by reading a lot from many different genres and authors, so I’m hoping for this to be very helpful.
  • Write every day: I didn’t write every single day this year, but I’m hoping to do so for the new year. I find myself losing momentum if I don’t write every day, so this is to help me stay on top of things, even if it just means that I’m writing a sentence.

What are your writing resolutions for the year? What do you hope to improve on? What do you hope to do?

Good is the enemy of great.

You may have heard this before. It’s a quote from Voltaire, and something my creative writing professor was fond of saying this semester. It is also probably the most motivating thing I’ve ever been told.

I’m a good writer. I know this. However, I am not a great writer, though I know I have the potential to be. My professor pointed this out to me many times over the course of the semester, showing me where my writing was lacking and where it was undoubtedly lazy.

When we know we’re good at something, we will undoubtedly go through a period of stagnation. After all, we’re good, right? And it’s easy to be good. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.

I’m here to tell you that Good is a conniving piece of crap keeping you from being Great.

Great takes effort, and Great takes time — more than Good has ever asked of you, which is why many of us stick with second-best Good. But you are better than that. You deserve better, and you deserve to do yourself better. Do not stop because your work is Good. For writers, this often means that we are content with the first draft of our work, as long as we do some editing to make sure all the grammar is fine.

You are better. You can do better.

Analyze your characters. Analyze your plot. Analyze your sentence structure and word flow. Analyze the shifts in tone in your work. Do not settle for the first draft of your work because it’s Good, when you could put in more effort to be Great. This does not mean you need to revise and edit for years, but long enough until you feel, “This is something I am proud of, because this is a true expression of what I am capable of.”

Do yourself the service of producing your best work, and do not let Good stop you from pursuing the Great.