Writing While Depressed

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I’m not a clinician, and this post is based solely on personal experiences.

Sometimes depression is about more than simply being “down.” Sometimes it means nothing has meaning for you anymore. As a writer, it can be especially frustrating because thoughts are jumbled and words don’t come. You have a deadline, but all you want to do is sleep. Or, you are so distracted by other things or unable to maintain your focus to sit down and bang it out. Dreams and expectations go flying out the window. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you feel.

For me, when I get this way, I’m like, screw it. I just want either to scrap my work or query it to get it off my desk. It’s “good enough.” But no, the sentences are choppy and mundane. I can’t paint a picture of what I envision my characters doing, or of their surroundings, because the words aren’t beautiful in the least. Or maybe they are, and I just don’t notice because I’m unfocused and concerned with how terrible I am as a writer.

Depression sucks, and it often requires treatment. If you are feeling so down you can’t function, or if you have any thoughts about hurting yourself, it’s imperative you call 911 or talk to someone in your life who can help you get care. [It especially sucks because psychiatrists often have 3-month+ waiting lists for getting into treatment. Try going to your general practitioner/internist, etc. in the interim. They may be able to give you something to tide you over and make a referral so you don’t have to wait as long to see the psychiatrist. — Topic for a different post!]

Here are some ideas to try when your depression gets in the way of your writing.

  1. Challenge (don’t force) yourself to sit down with your writing, even if just for a few minutes. Set a timer for 30 minutes. You can do anything for 30 minutes! If that feels like too much, try 10 or 15 minutes. Try to focus, and give yourself an opportunity to put some words down on paper.
  2. Don’t worry if they’re not the best words. Sometimes our beautiful, flowery language just isn’t going to happen when our brains are muddled with depression. Focus on getting something down on paper. Even if you have to draw arrows and boxes on paper to help yourself see the story, this exercise is useful because it helps get your thoughts out of your head and into the world.
  3. Accept that you are going to have to edit your work to get it where you want it. We all have to edit anyway. Give yourself room to be imperfect. Just upchuck the story for now!
  4. If sentences don’t come, write sentiments. Write key words and phrases. Write ideas. If even those won’t come, write what you feel when you think about your plot or your characters. Just write something.
  5. Don’t scrap anything. Use Track Changes, or save your new work as a new version of the document. Your judgment isn’t the greatest when you’re depressed, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what “good” is. Keep everything and make that decision when you are feeling more stable.
  6. Have faith in yourself. You will pull through this time by being gentle with yourself. Don’t force things. And if you really can’t do it at that time, give yourself a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Meditate. Talk to a friend. Go easy on yourself and know you haven’t failed. Knowing that you tried and couldn’t do it at this time means you didn’t fail. There will be many other times. Baby steps.

Remember: Depression lies. It tells you you’re not good enough. Not smart enough. Incapable. Don’t listen! You’re worth much more than that. See the lies for what they are and refuse to give into them. Sometimes just labeling the lies as lies can help beat depression.

For me, when I feel this way, nothing is ever good enough. I want to rip up my story. I try to seek external validation for something I know (in my rational mind under a normal mood) is already awfully damn good. It helps to know my mind is just playing tricks on me. It doesn’t make waddling through the mire any easier, but it does help me keep my head straight about there being nothing wrong with me or my writing.

And by the way, writing can be a form of therapy. It makes some of us feel stronger, better.

What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Feel free to leave comments below.

Best wishes in light and creativity,

Jaimie


Copyright (2020) Jaimie C. Hunter

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I am a writer of Young Adult fiction and non-fiction. I'm also a public health scientist and educator.

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