Writing through Depression

For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling through a bout of depression, and it’s no secret that this is a common affliction for writers. Many of the most famous writers have struggled with and written about depression, and some of the most famous, such as Hemingway, have killed themselves. Others use writing as an escape, and it saves them from their depression–this seems to be the category most of the writers I’ve met fall into.

No matter which camp you fall into, it can be difficult to write when you’re depressed. Some days it’s difficult to do anything, but you have to push through it. Nine times out of ten, pushing through and writing will make you feel better.

Over the years I’ve suffered several bouts of depression, and I’ve learned several strategies to get my mind back into writing mode. It has been a long struggle, and it will always be a struggle, but I’ve learned to survive and grow stronger each time. If you’re struggling to overcome your depression and get back to writing, maybe it’s time to try a new tactic.

Here are a few for you to try:

1. Stop caring what you write. Sometimes you can’t work on a given story or novel. It happens to the best of us. There have been several times when I’ve motivated myself simply by switching projects, starting a new one or simply brainstorming in my notebook. I often find that writing in a notebook is the best method, because when I write in a notebook I care a lot less about what I’m actually writing. Anything worth salvaging will have to be typed up afterwards to be much use, so it already feels somewhat like discarded work.

This may look different for you. Maybe you need to let go of quality control and accept that the first draft of anything of crap–and usually the second, third and fourth drafts are too–or maybe you need to try a new method of writing. I find I usually only write poetry when I’m depressed, and it’s also always in a notebook. Sometimes depression makes a long story even longer, so it’s easier to work on short pieces than a novel. Try changing up what you’re writing, and maybe it will get you motivated to start writing again.

2. Do a writing challenge. Often a challenge will get you motivated to go again. November is usually a hard month for me because it’s the month my dad died, but I get through it every year by participating in Nanowrimo and writing an excessive amount of words. Maybe you need a smaller challenge and a smaller community, but ideally you want to select a challenge that comes with a community of people you can talk to who will encourage you to keep going.

Obviously it’s not November, but there’s also Augnowrimo going on this month, where you can choose your own goal, and there are tons of other writing challenges based on Nanowrimo. I could list them all, but why would I do that when there’s already a list here?

3. Bring your work everywhere. Right now I have two stories printed up in the bag I take everywhere with me, ready to be edited, and two pens on me at all times(sadly, neither of them are red). This way if I’m ever inspired to work while I’m in transit or out and about, I have something fairly easy to do with me. I find myself spending a lot of time out and about because staying busy keeps me happy, so it’s important to carry this work with me everywhere.

Getting out of the house is a great way to cheer yourself up, at least when the weather is nice. Go for a long walk or just to the nearest park, but bring your work with you so that you can work while you enjoy the weather. I’ve been doing this all summer and not only is the change of scenery good for me, it’s very inspiring. On particularly windy days it can be frustrating trying to write outside, but that makes it a bit more interesting. Once again, challenging your brain to think in different ways is the key.

4. Write about your depression. Sometimes what you really need to do is write through the depression in a more literal manner. While keeping a journal is a good practice all the time, it’s key when you’re suffering from depression. Write about what is making you unhappy and ask yourself how you can fix it. If you don’t know, write that–and then write out the steps you can take to find out.

You can do this whenever and wherever you want, but the key is to write until you start to feel better. Don’t stop until you feel the weight lifted off your chest. You might want to actually turn this into a daily process, where you write for a certain amount of time each day and go through all the things that are making you unhappy. I’ve never been able to keep a daily journal, but I always make sure I have a notebook I can write in when I need to, and my various bouts of depression are all chronicled across several notebooks.

5. Find people who are also struggling. I’ve never gotten therapy, but what’s truly helped me is finding people who understand my depression. People who have also struggled to take rejections lightly, to be optimistic about their writing careers in an unfair publishing world, and people who have lost parents. People who have truly struggled to overcome depression, to continue working at a life that often seems hopeless. Those are the people who have helped me the most. And the most amazing part is that these people are almost always willing to talk and to help you out–I know I would help if one of you emailed me looking for advice or just a listening ear.

Still better are the people on the other side, who have also struggled with it but already overcome it. People who are living the lives they’ve always wanted, who have beaten their depression. In my case it is likely that it will always come and go, that I will never fully be rid of it, but I know that it will get better, that the bouts will come less often, because I know I will succeed. There are thousands of people who have overcome similar problems to live their dream lives and I know that with enough determination I can do the same. You can, too, and maybe all you need is to read the story of somebody who already has to remember that and get back to the work you truly love: writing.

If you are struggling with depression, just remember that it can be overcome. Try everything you can until you find something that works. There are hundreds of resources available through the internet, and many more books on the subject. It’s important to learn everything you can about depression so that you know what to expect and you have several strategies in your arsenal.

The key is to believe that you can do it and to never give up. After all, I haven’t given up, and I believe all of you have the potential to be great authors, so you shouldn’t either.

Have you struggled with depression before? What coping mechanisms have you used?