Saturday, January 21, 2012

Two Things!

I found this old journal I used to write my stories in. It had some art in the sidebar by the amazing James C. Christensen, including this 16th-century-looking dude in a frilly doublet and hose, throwing up the peace sign.

I captioned it "Two things! Your cheese is rotten and your butt is huge!"

So, now that you know that, you can take care of your, y'know, problems.

I wanted to write a bit about depression and creativity. (Two things!) There's a fallacy out there that depression is linked to creativity. You have to be a little psychotic to be an artist. Chop off an ear when things get too dull.

This is a fairly powerful fallacy in medicated now because a lot of people get on antidepressants, get happy, feel better than ever before... and can't think of anything to write about. Still, better to have a dearth of ideas but be happy than have a dearth of motivation and sit on the floor crying. Right?

Ehh, it's more complicated than that. This book explains it better than I can. Depression is a by-product of our alienating and sedentary modern lifestyle. Our ancestors belonged to an incredibly nurturing community and were almost never sedentary.

Rumination is poison to the depressed. Give us too long to think and we'll start thinking about what failures we are. But Skipper, writers need time to ruminate! Writing IS sedentary and alienating by nature.

In order to fight my depression properly, I had to relearn how to write and not get depressed about it.

I took control of other things first. I got a therapist, started exercising, used a full-spectrum light in winter, and dropped some things from my massive priority list. That was when I dropped out of the publishing business. Writing works better if you know you have a few hours a day for it. I also got better meds. Right now I take what is politely referred to as a mood stabilizer, but I used to take an SSRI. It was a bad choice since I've got a form of bipolar disorder that is less crazy than the typical sort. The SSRI swung me toward mania instead of evening me out. I had to see an actual psychiatrist a few times, on top of the talk therapy, to identify these things.

I had found that the worse the depression got, the more likely I was to obsess over a piece. I rarely produced anything, and when I did, I scrutinized the juice out of it.

So I first wrote a novel I knew I couldn't sell. It was safe, like flirting with the hot girl who will only talk to you because you let her copy your homework.

I poured tons of first draft into it, just trying to tell a story. That helped me get my work ethic back, so I could tackle more reasonable goals. Revision was the toughest. I had to figure out a way to revise that did not resemble rumination. Stare at the same Word doc long enough, and you'll hate it and yourself.

Hard copies became my saviors. If I had to write a new chunk of a book, I would handwrite it. If I had to make major changes to a short story, I would print it out, scribble all over it, and actually retype the whole thing back into the computer.

The community of writers around you can really save you; I got connected to a writer's group that was ridiculously close-knit and welcoming, and, I think, still is.

I also had to make this my mantra: it's about telling a story. When I confused my professional identity, my self-worth and my desires for a "real writing career" with the joy of storytelling, I stopped cold. Let the id play, mean Mr. Superego.

I'd be curious to hear how other writers deal with depression and creativity. Can you actually write when you're depressed? Do meds make it better or worse? Is the cheese really rotten and the butt truly huge?


  1. awww you didn't link to thus

  2. I wonder if the rumination/depressive aspect is part of the reason why I absolutely hate revising my own work. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right the first time at least in part because I don't want to have to change any of it. I've been taking lithium daily for nearly six years, so I can't speak to whether the medication makes it better or worse, but I can say that I find writing (and especially revision) harder than I think I should.

  3. Haha, yeah--you really have to confront the inner editor and the inner agent to get a project out the door. That's the hardest part for me. I have to say "I don't care if this could be better in someone else's hands, I've taken it as far as I can."