As a writer, there are times when the words simply won’t come. Call it writer’s block, call it a lack of inspiration, call it procrastination, or a workflow process malfunction. It’s all amounts to the same thing – a stalled word count.
There’s very little more demoralizing for a writer than not making any progress on their latest Great Work. Personally, I find it even worse than a bad review.
With time, patience, and a good deal of training a writer can learn to work around these blocks. A proper work ethic and structured plan for the writing process can all but eliminate the issue. But it never really goes away, does it?
Writer’s Depression kills more good ideas than all the naysayers and trolls on the internet, often before they even get onto the page at all. I have talked a little about depression’s evil twin in the past, but this month I felt it was time to delve into a little of the dark weight the confounds many writers – and what to do about it.
Disclaimer: I do not have any answers on how to solve depression. I am not a psychologist, psychotherapist, counselor, or life-coach. Any advice contained herein
comes from my own personal experiences with depression
as it pertains to writing. Hopefully, you will find some light of your own from my story.
There is nothing like the high of writing “in the zone”. Those moments when your words seem inspired by the Muses themselves and prose spills forth from your fingertips like fire from Kilauea. You are the mighty, magnificent writer, and all shall bask in the glory of your words! Until… you stop.
In some terrible twist of fate, you fall off the beam and can’t seem to gain any traction. You’re blocked.
I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me. Invariably, I will lose my pace and take a step back. I promise myself I will take a day to regroup and I will look at my story again with fresh eyes tomorrow. Only, tomorrow comes and the words still don’t. I begin to feel uninspired, then dispirited, then unmotivated, and finally… blocked.
Days, even weeks, can go by while you’re blocked. If it’s a big project you know you want to get back to it. If it’s for someone else or you have a deadline, there’s some added pressure to get back to it. At worst, it’s just something you do for you, there is no outside force motivating you to finish, and internally all you have is a small voice saying, “you should be writing”.
Unfortunately, that voice almost never looks like this:
If it did, a lot more of my works would be on the market right now.
I don’t know what writer’s block looks like for you. For me it is simply an empty space where the drive to write should be. A thought with a cloaking device stronger than on any Romulan Warbird that disappears before I even realize it’s missing.
For some writers I have talked to, it can be an impenetrable wall, infinitely high, and infinitely wide encircling the idea or story they’re trying to work on. However you see it, finding a solution seems practically impossible.
Depression is the Mind Killer
Without warning a block can turn into a depressive episode. What started out as not being able to find the words or motivation to write bleeds over into other aspects of your life. Soon you aren’t doing your laundry, and you can’t focus at work.
I don't actually know if the Litany Against Fear works on depression or not, but it was designed to help focus the mind, so it's a worth a shot, right?
Candid moment; my depression has never been the kind to make me think of self-harm or suicide – if yours is, please consider seeking professional support. I am a HUGE fan of therapy and counseling and if you want to hear my thoughts on it, feel free to send me an email. No, my depression is of the kind that saps away all energy until all that you can manage to do is lie in bed thinking about all the things you aren’t getting done. At it’s worst, you aren’t even thinking about that, it’s simply a void where you life should be. This was where I spent last week.
Pulling Out Of The Tailspin
You are reading this article, so clearly the vice of inaction that my depression had clamped onto me last week let go enough that I could find a few words to string together for this article. Here’s how I spent the last three days getting myself here.
Step 1 - Depression: Two days ago, on Saturday, I realized I needed to write an article to post here in order to have it ready on the 21st. That was it. I didn’t do anything else. I had one brief fleeting thought that I really should get that done, I have people who read this blog who seem to look forward to it each month. - Internal pressure.
Step 2 - Motivation: On Sunday I didn’t even think about it. All I did was find ONE THING to get me out of bed and moving. In this case, I had dinner with my best friend who I haven’t really been in contact with this summer. This gave me something to do outside of myself. I can’t stress enough how important that is. When everything in your head is screaming at you, get out of your head.
Step 3 - Action: Those two things together were enough to get me sitting at my computer. Which I did. For almost 3 hours straight today I sat at my computer. I didn’t write. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was really distracted. But I stayed there. I sat at my desk, thinking.
Eventually, after my 3rd cup of coffee, and about the dozenth time I walked around my office, I found a spark. It wasn’t an idea, it wasn’t motivation; I think in this case it was pure stubbornness which propelled me back to my keyboard. It is 9:22pm as I’m drafting this article. I generally don’t try to put it off this long – and really, if you look at the content of this month’s edition, I don’t have much to say. I’ve been blocked. I’ve been depressed. Work isn’t working, and my word count has been non-existent for nearly 3 weeks. But here’s why I decided to tell you all this:
It’s still worth it.
Even at the height of my depression-induced block, I didn’t give up on writing. I can’t give up on writing; it’s too much a part of who I am. I suspect you are the same, or you wouldn’t be here.
My advice is simple: When you are so blocked, so uninspired, and so broken that you can’t even bring yourself to open your document and look at it, don’t give up. Cut yourself some slack, and put a mental pin in your progress. Tell yourself that no matter how long you take off you WILL come back to it. Then, do one thing – even if it’s completely unrelated – to get out of bed and get moving. Once the momentum is there, it will lead you back to your story.