Writing and Depression

Depression and writing is a topic I’ve been sort-of simultaneously hesitant and motivated to discuss. My friends and family are affected by depression, and its something I come into contact with through work more often than not. And I think the topic is something most if not all people have some familiarity with one way or another.

It’s also a common thread and discussion point online, people asking about the relationships between writing and depression (and anxiety) how to write on despite the black dog, questioning whether anti-depressants will curb creativity and so on. The hesitation I mentioned above stems from wanting to discuss, but also being a little uncertain about whether I can address anything on such a complex and nuanced topic.

Well, here we go. Please note that nothing here is intended as professional advice, it is intended to be legitimate and helpful, however a blog post simply cannot take the place of individualized 1:1 professional help. (accountability statement done)

The Tortured Artist Stereotype

Writing and depression, and other issues have long been associated. Many professional writers past and present have had struggles, often to the point of substance abuse and addiction. Yet how exactly these issues fit together is a cause for some controversy. For every Stephen King (long history of alcoholism) there’s a Kathy Riechs (generally successful academic and professional and no substance abuse as far as we know).

Personally I think there is a double-edge to writing for anyone struggling with depression. Generally speaking simply writing as a pastime, hobby and/or form of expression is something that is very good for a person – especially for those of us without any other outlet, or perhaps who experience invalidation from those around us and need a blank page.

BUT, and it’s a big but. There is a risk with the idea of the tortured artist stereotype. Self-acceptance is a very good thing. We’re all only human with all our faults and foibles and there is little point to beating ourselves up constantly for them. However there is also the potential of going too far and becoming self-excusing. What’s the difference? Think of acceptance as being the acknowledgement of past mistakes – say like forgiving oneself for having a relapse after past drinking problems – whereas self-excusing is justifying or making an excuse for continuing to commit mistakes (oh I’ve had a hard day I’ll just have another drink).

The point I’m trying to make is that writing can be a great form of expression and has been shown to help with depression, however there is a risk of clinging to the idea of being a tortured writer – and perception, especially self perception is significant for emotional health.

Which brings me to the next point:

Wellness needs to be a goal

One of the common threads for those with depression, writers or not, is that people have put aside their own wellness as a priority. Whether its through a belief that one simply cannot be well, not believing one is worth the effort, or simply everything else has been put first, often one of the main “treatments” (scare-quotes used because treatments sounds scary but really isn’t) is simply to convince a person to put their own wellness on top again. As a side note its almost funny if it wasn’t a serious topic, how many people that suffer depression who have other people as a huge priority, people who will honestly throw themselves out of bed first thing in the morning to help a friend out, yet won’t eat because they just don’t see the point of caring for themselves. (To which I always say you can’t take care of others if you don’t care for yourself).

Back to the topic at hand however, writing can overwhelm a person’s priorities. I think particularly when people are looking to do more than ‘just write.’ I confess I’m often alarmed when I hear about people struggling with depression and anxiety who are keen to get traditionally published, not because I’m being judgmental but in my opinion writing for publication is incredibly stressful, and often lonely – not exactly the best recommendation for those with depression and anxiety!

So you can see how there is another double-edge here: writing is good for the soul, but aiming to succeed professionally requires a lot of solitary and stressful work. I think that anyone embarking on a journey towards traditional or self-publishing needs to put their own wellness as a top priority, as even the most resilient brain can be pummeled to mush by the pressures of publishing.

What about creativity?

To be perfectly honest I don’t know the answer to whether medication like anti-depressants, or seeking treatment for depression will curb creativity. Personally I think there is no real trade-off here. Yes sometimes being in a tough space creates a strong motivation to create, however I find it hard to believe that depression could be an asset beyond that initial angst, successful writing after all requires perseverance and a thick skin. It also maybe true that seeking wellness may take time away from writing, but again I would argue that it’s worth it.

 

In summary I think that writing has some dangerous allure for those of us struggling with depression – it’s a typically solitary task that the compelling idea of a ‘tortured artist’ could help drag a person into more isolation – equally however writing has been shown to be good for a mind in need of an expressive outlet.

Finally I think if a person’s goal is to achieve some outside success with writing, the rigors are very real and one needs to keep well first and foremost to endure the challenge.

 

That’s my (tricky and controversial) post for today – I hope that it reads with the sensitivity I wanted to present. I was somewhat prompted by a recent famous (that I have never heard of until then) kickboxer who declared on Twitter that depression doesn’t exist – and felt the topic was timely.

 

As always it would be great to hear you thoughts, experiences, and insights. Take care of yourselves people 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Remember: Writing is a Positive and Constructive Process

I know it doesn’t feel that way…

 

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Just look at all the pithy advice: show DON’T tell, DESTROY adverbs, KILL your darlings. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that forums are filled with people panicking about all the things that could be wrong with their writing.

Now I’m not saying that writing doesn’t require a thick skin, that producing some good material isn’t going to require some combination of wrecking balls, flame-throwers and/or hacksaws.

BUT

I am saying that its easy to forget that the whole point of merciless editing and critique isn’t exactly to purge all evil from your draft or WIP but to polish that which is good. I’m sure some folk will read this and go “waaah thanks for reminding me there is noting good about it!”

My point is not to really rub in the harsh critique, what I’m trying to get at is: stories work because there is a powerful, enjoyable, heartfelt whatever tale in there that people like to read. Because us writers tend to hang with each other and because our concerns are often ‘what’s wrong’ with our WIP its easy to get into a mindset where writing isn’t about doing something good, its about avoiding all those nasty problems my last pieces had.

But readers aren’t looking for a perfectly polished story, editing isn’t about (or in my opinion shouldn’t be) preventing criticism but rather ensuring the goodness has as much oomph as it could.

There are two reasons I think this is important to remember – 1: It’s easy to get lost on the path of ‘no mistakes’ and lose what makes a story good in the first place. and 2. I think the general culture of ultra-criticism (i.e. honest trailers, cinemasins and various literature critique posts etc) which I confess I do indulge in myself, is a great recipe for writers block.

None of this is to say that I think we should all go full hippy-dip and just celebrate the beauty of our writing without any consideration of critique – after all all these writing critiques exist for a reason. What I am saying is remember the reason for editing and critique is to give the most POWER to your story, not a pointless exercise in trying to avoid criticism.

 

Best of luck with your writing projects everyone, thanks for stopping by and – as always – let me know your thoughts! 🙂

 

 

Q&P Episode 6: Agent V

Someone rep this guy’s book, he deserves it after all this analysis 🙂

C. Hofsetz

In the publishing industry, many badly-written queries are considered especially heinous, and they are probably the reason why you didn’t get published yet.

The dedicated people who reply to query letters are members of an exclusive elite squad known as literary agents.

These are their stories.

A big thanks to agents who take their time to tweet their queries. This series would not be possible without them.


Agent Analysis – Part 6


Previously on Query and Publish…

Navigate to posts in this series:
Part 5:Agent W.
All parts here.


Agent V

Agent V a literary agent that posted information about 222 queries on twitter over the last few years. I usually limit it to 200, but I couldn’t remove 22 queries easily this time (e.g. in chronological order), so I didn’t.

She’s looking for Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers, Action Adventure, Historical Fiction (not WWII) and Fantasy

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11 Things You Should Never Say to a Writer

Hmm no-one has ever asked to be in any of my writing (I think they’re onto me!)

A Writer's Path

by Annie Earnshaw

As you can tell, I was pretty irate while writing this post and I’m not even published yet.  (I have to say “I’m not even published yet” because I’m trying to be positive after writing this excessively salty post).  Putting my personal vendettas aside, here is a comprehensive list of eleven things you should never say to a writer:

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On “The Narrative Path”

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So I’m always keen to identify writing tips and such that I don’t see talked about that often, and I’ve noticed something that really good books seem to have.

Something I’m going to call The Narrative Path.

Fiction is somewhat unique among other arts in the nature of how the subject is presented to us. Aside from skipping ahead, and people (like me) who sometimes accidentally skim other pages and ahead during reading, written stories are presented to us sequentially and in a piecemeal fashion. Granted great writers often manage to pack large amounts of meaning into brief sentences, but unlike film where you are given entire images with accompanying music and dialogue to digest, and music where any particular beat may have any number of notes or individual instruments playing, or even a drawing which you are just giving an image as is and the way you scan it is entirely up to you, writing comes at you word by word, sentence by sentence and so forth.

This is really important for how you present stuff to the reader. What I’ve noticed in books that I often find myself getting lost, and struggling to keep track of whats going on (as a side note I always have this thought that I’m not reading well enough when this happens!) is that the narrative is often shonky, introducing material in orders and ways that are hard to absorb.

For example in one novel which will remain nameless there was a scene where the MC describes the scenery, mentions their sister walks in (in the middle of the paragraph) and goes back to observing the scenery. I can kinda see what effect the author was trying to create with this sequence, but for me it was easy to miss the appearance of said sister and the confusion compounded when the MC started talking assuming the reader had remained conscious of said sister.

My plan of mentioned that example is not to completely poo poo that sort of sequence, but to highlight how a reader traveling through the words of that novel could get disorientated, I’ve noticed several other typical Narrative Path errors in various other works too:

  • Laundry list introductions – especially characters
  • Head hopping
  • Scene hopping
  • Scenes that feel like the author has flipped a coin for whether each sentence is going to be told or shown

Again my point is not to slam any particular sequence, after all some authors pull off all of the above brilliantly. Like all things writing its about being mindful and intentional about what we’re doing on the page to create the best story.

So for me the idea of Narrative Path is being aware of the journey that a reader will be taking through the words you put on the page. This is at the scene, paragraph and individual sentence level. I believe that many authors (and this is a theme that I talk about all the time) know their story a little too well, and aim simply to get all the details onto the page, which is fine as say an early draft, but consideration of what the reader will experience is vital.

Take the opening pages of Gone Girl as an example. The writing starts with a slightly odd discussion about the narrator’s wife’s head, moving onto thoughts on marriage, to the character snapping awake. Personally I find the path a little jarring, BUT it clearly executed with thought to what is being presented to the reader is a coherent fashion.

What I’ve noticed in some Wattpad works of friends I looked through recently is that the narrative was essentially all over the show, jumping between character’s thoughts, actions past present etc.

Again not that jumping around = bad writing, however often it shows a lack of thought or refinement in creating a clear Narrative Path.

Narrative Path is similar to how a movie tricks us, even though we know actors are playing characters we still have a sense that they are going through the story linearly, a good movie hides the fact that each scene is created distinctly, even shots next to each other in the film could have been shot completely separately.

I think that a strong Narrative Path is vital for any story, because without it all the good other aspects of a story can get lost and jumbled.

 

So what you do think? Have I just invented a term that is already covered by simply saying ‘narrative’, ‘style’ or ‘voice’

As always let me know your thoughts!