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Writing With Depression

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Writer's Life

Mark Twain. Stephen King. Sylvia Plath. Tennessee Williams. Just a few successful writers who suffered from depression. Let's highlight 'suffer' for a moment because, contrary to the claims of many online articles on the subject, depression is not for spicing up writing skills or sprinkling on for emotional depth. It's often a crippling and debilitating illness. The writers above wrote in spite of their illness, which is remarkable, but most importantly their depression should not be romanticised as a muse for creative outlets. When you find depression is looming, try some of these useful ideas to lessen the load. Important Note: This is not in place of prescribed medication. If your depression is affecting your life and is becoming tricky to manage, speak to your doctor and other trusted medical experts. Mental health is just as important as physical ailments and it is not weak to seek help.



Do It For You


Writing for others, and expecting judgement, is a sure way to kill your confidence. It is time to focus on what you enjoy writing about, what brings you joy and intrigue. This may not be what you are 'most talented' at writing! Experiment with something new or fun, with no goal other than to be part of the experience. Do it only for you and your own enjoyment. Place no pressure on yourself and throw away any outside standards. Write like you are the only one who could read it – and do whatever you want with it when you are done. You can't fail. How could you? You don’t have any expectations to not-meet!



Every Word is a Win


Any productive activity, however small, is a step away from doing what your depression would have you do – namely, nothing. Something is better than nothing in this case. Start with a blank page with the single goal of leaving it fuller than you had found it. Celebrate every paragraph, sentence, phrase and word. The only reason it is on the page is because you put it there. No one else did that. And when you look back on what you did that day, you have something tangible to point to. Writer: 1 Depression: 0.



Do What is Fun


Do you enjoy writing lists of names? Do you want to write a blog on your most recent obsession? Feel like joining a role-playing group? Do it! The best way to overcome the barriers set up by depression is by making it feel like less of a writing activity and more of an indulgence in something that excites you. Change your obligation into a guilty pleasure and you will find yourself more and more immersed. Not only that, you will be honing your writing skills without even trying - possibly developing brand new ones if you are trying something different!



Two Words: Fan Fiction


Fan Fiction is often looked down upon by disapproving cynics, with notions of unoriginality and ‘playing at being a writer’. That is ridiculous! You need skills to write fan fiction. It requires a good understanding of someone else’s creation, ensuring what you create remains within the perimeters someone else has created - even if you take things in a whole new direction. You need to be disciplined. Logical. Empathetic. Stepping out of your comfort zone of 'creative freedom' tests your boundaries. It also requires an original plot, fresh dialogue, scene management and follow-through. This is hard work, regardless of whether you authored the original material. Fan fiction is not amateur hour. So why try something tricky when you are already finding writing such a task? Recall: make an obligation into a guilty pleasure. And what better way to indulge than to focus your imagination onto something that already has your attention? A recent TV show you binged watch would do, as would a book series you have loved for years - in fact anything out there in the world of media can be utilised as you rediscover your creative juices. If fan fiction is new to you, start by selecting a fandom which you know well and enjoy discussing. Hone in on the characters you love most, and ask yourself 'What if...?' questions. There are plenty of websites (Fanfiction.org, anyone?) with almost every possible title under the sun - have a look at the ideas others have had for inspiration.


Set Yourself Up to Win


Writers are their own worst enemy sometimes. Have you planned to write, but found yourself doing other things instead? Do you intend to write down some of that idea you had, but somehow you are on social media? Avoidance! A major part of this is having an intimidating, vague goal with no concrete goal. ‘Continuing my story’ is just not specific enough, I’m afraid. You can, though, still take it easy: Aim for one sentence that – once written – allows you to walk away to another activity guilt-free. This could be a bit of dialogue, a statement summery of a story, or a piece of description for one of your characters – whatever it is, it should take less than a minute. If that’s all you write, you wrote. That’s a win. With the pressure off, you might feel enabled to write even more but remember that is not the main goal here. Writing that one slice is more than enough.



Write About It


And by ‘it’, I mean your depression. And by ‘write about it’, I do not mean getting #deep and metaphorical. Save that for later. What I mean is to write factually. Write about your barriers as if it was a medical journal. Try not to litter it with self-indulgent phrases: be blunt and to-the-point. Be honest with yourself, even if you delete it all after you finish. Try not to organise it before you have got it all out - let it flow and worry about what it all means later. Writing your raw truth helps your brain sort through your many thoughts and feel more in control. Once you have emptied your baggage into writing, understanding yourself becomes much easier. Identify what means the most to you in your life and what are the main 'culprits' of your depression. From there you may start to see possible ways to help yourself. If nothing else, being more self-aware gives you more power over your thoughts than ever before.



Let Support In


Support is out there! Friends. Family. Your local and wider community. From just needing a little pep-talk to having a deep, raw discussion, utilise all those people out there who are ready for a chat. Never feel that you are a burden, even if you have been told otherwise. The last thing you should do it suffer in silence. Not sure those around you would be a good source of help? Reach out to organisations working in your area, research support groups, speak to your doctor and give a free helpline - such as The Samaritans - a call. There is also a fantastic writing community online, and many writers will be feeling exactly like you do. If you need help finding a solid support group, send me a message through the website or via We Got Story’s Instagram message service. I always have time for that sort of thing!



Value Your Outlook


Too often, those who are depressed are made to feel their voice is somehow of lesser value than that of others. Yet, in the same way the world of literature thrives on the inclusion of all races, languages, social backgrounds and orientations, your additions are vital to ensure all readers worldwide can feel represented. Consider Author Lettie Harold's view on the good that can occur when you take your space in the world:

'I realised that my outlook was precious. The way I take in the world and how I put my views back out again - even in the form of my characters - tells you what I deal with. I'm not the only one dealing with it, so how much more special will my words be to someone who can see themselves reflected in my story? I realise now that books I loved as a young adult were written by authors who suffered from depression. Did I subconsciously sense my own struggle in their narrative? I think so. They awarded me that comfort of knowing I wasn't some alien. [I hope to have] the same impact when readers like me pick up my books.'

It is important to value what you have to give. You have the opportunity to inspire in a way other writers don't. Meditate on this simple fact. Understand what you can uniquely offer and allow yourself to appreciate it. There may be a reader out there who will connect to your words in a way never experienced before. Writing in all its countless forms has brought joy to people since mankind began making marks. It's a method of sharing ideas, putting what only exists in your mind into the material world, and can help organise our thoughts. Depression should not stop you from enjoying all these benefits, nor should you let it. Know that you are not alone in the struggle, and that many incredible writers have been where you are now. Depression is not a weakness. It is not something you should feel ashamed of. It can be more difficult letting your creativity flow when you have this sort of barrier, but that just shows how strong you are when you make that effort to write regardless.


Mark Twain. Stephen King. Sylvia Plath. Tennessee Williams. Just a few successful writers who suffered from depression. Let's highlight 'suffer' for a moment because, contrary to the claims of many online articles on the subject, depression is not for spicing up writing skills or sprinkling on for emotional depth. It's often a crippling and debilitating illness. The writers above wrote in spite of their illness, which is remarkable, but most importantly their depression should not be romanticised as a muse for creative outlets. When you find depression is looming, try some of these useful ideas to lessen the load. Important Note: This is not in place of prescribed medication. If your depression is affecting your life and is becoming tricky to manage, speak to your doctor and other trusted medical experts. Mental health is just as important as physical ailments and it is not weak to seek help.



Do It For You


Writing for others, and expecting judgement, is a sure way to kill your confidence. It is time to focus on what you enjoy writing about, what brings you joy and intrigue. This may not be what you are 'most talented' at writing! Experiment with something new or fun, with no goal other than to be part of the experience. Do it only for you and your own enjoyment. Place no pressure on yourself and throw away any outside standards. Write like you are the only one who could read it – and do whatever you want with it when you are done. You can't fail. How could you? You don’t have any expectations to not-meet!



Every Word is a Win


Any productive activity, however small, is a step away from doing what your depression would have you do – namely, nothing. Something is better than nothing in this case. Start with a blank page with the single goal of leaving it fuller than you had found it. Celebrate every paragraph, sentence, phrase and word. The only reason it is on the page is because you put it there. No one else did that. And when you look back on what you did that day, you have something tangible to point to. Writer: 1 Depression: 0.



Do What is Fun


Do you enjoy writing lists of names? Do you want to write a blog on your most recent obsession? Feel like joining a role-playing group? Do it! The best way to overcome the barriers set up by depression is by making it feel like less of a writing activity and more of an indulgence in something that excites you. Change your obligation into a guilty pleasure and you will find yourself more and more immersed. Not only that, you will be honing your writing skills without even trying - possibly developing brand new ones if you are trying something different!



Two Words: Fan Fiction


Fan Fiction is often looked down upon by disapproving cynics, with notions of unoriginality and ‘playing at being a writer’. That is ridiculous! You need skills to write fan fiction. It requires a good understanding of someone else’s creation, ensuring what you create remains within the perimeters someone else has created - even if you take things in a whole new direction. You need to be disciplined. Logical. Empathetic. Stepping out of your comfort zone of 'creative freedom' tests your boundaries. It also requires an original plot, fresh dialogue, scene management and follow-through. This is hard work, regardless of whether you authored the original material. Fan fiction is not amateur hour. So why try something tricky when you are already finding writing such a task? Recall: make an obligation into a guilty pleasure. And what better way to indulge than to focus your imagination onto something that already has your attention? A recent TV show you binged watch would do, as would a book series you have loved for years - in fact anything out there in the world of media can be utilised as you rediscover your creative juices. If fan fiction is new to you, start by selecting a fandom which you know well and enjoy discussing. Hone in on the characters you love most, and ask yourself 'What if...?' questions. There are plenty of websites (Fanfiction.org, anyone?) with almost every possible title under the sun - have a look at the ideas others have had for inspiration.


Set Yourself Up to Win


Writers are their own worst enemy sometimes. Have you planned to write, but found yourself doing other things instead? Do you intend to write down some of that idea you had, but somehow you are on social media? Avoidance! A major part of this is having an intimidating, vague goal with no concrete goal. ‘Continuing my story’ is just not specific enough, I’m afraid. You can, though, still take it easy: Aim for one sentence that – once written – allows you to walk away to another activity guilt-free. This could be a bit of dialogue, a statement summery of a story, or a piece of description for one of your characters – whatever it is, it should take less than a minute. If that’s all you write, you wrote. That’s a win. With the pressure off, you might feel enabled to write even more but remember that is not the main goal here. Writing that one slice is more than enough.



Write About It


And by ‘it’, I mean your depression. And by ‘write about it’, I do not mean getting #deep and metaphorical. Save that for later. What I mean is to write factually. Write about your barriers as if it was a medical journal. Try not to litter it with self-indulgent phrases: be blunt and to-the-point. Be honest with yourself, even if you delete it all after you finish. Try not to organise it before you have got it all out - let it flow and worry about what it all means later. Writing your raw truth helps your brain sort through your many thoughts and feel more in control. Once you have emptied your baggage into writing, understanding yourself becomes much easier. Identify what means the most to you in your life and what are the main 'culprits' of your depression. From there you may start to see possible ways to help yourself. If nothing else, being more self-aware gives you more power over your thoughts than ever before.



Let Support In


Support is out there! Friends. Family. Your local and wider community. From just needing a little pep-talk to having a deep, raw discussion, utilise all those people out there who are ready for a chat. Never feel that you are a burden, even if you have been told otherwise. The last thing you should do it suffer in silence. Not sure those around you would be a good source of help? Reach out to organisations working in your area, research support groups, speak to your doctor and give a free helpline - such as The Samaritans - a call. There is also a fantastic writing community online, and many writers will be feeling exactly like you do. If you need help finding a solid support group, send me a message through the website or via We Got Story’s Instagram message service. I always have time for that sort of thing!



Value Your Outlook


Too often, those who are depressed are made to feel their voice is somehow of lesser value than that of others. Yet, in the same way the world of literature thrives on the inclusion of all races, languages, social backgrounds and orientations, your additions are vital to ensure all readers worldwide can feel represented. Consider Author Lettie Harold's view on the good that can occur when you take your space in the world:

'I realised that my outlook was precious. The way I take in the world and how I put my views back out again - even in the form of my characters - tells you what I deal with. I'm not the only one dealing with it, so how much more special will my words be to someone who can see themselves reflected in my story? I realise now that books I loved as a young adult were written by authors who suffered from depression. Did I subconsciously sense my own struggle in their narrative? I think so. They awarded me that comfort of knowing I wasn't some alien. [I hope to have] the same impact when readers like me pick up my books.'

It is important to value what you have to give. You have the opportunity to inspire in a way other writers don't. Meditate on this simple fact. Understand what you can uniquely offer and allow yourself to appreciate it. There may be a reader out there who will connect to your words in a way never experienced before. Writing in all its countless forms has brought joy to people since mankind began making marks. It's a method of sharing ideas, putting what only exists in your mind into the material world, and can help organise our thoughts. Depression should not stop you from enjoying all these benefits, nor should you let it. Know that you are not alone in the struggle, and that many incredible writers have been where you are now. Depression is not a weakness. It is not something you should feel ashamed of. It can be more difficult letting your creativity flow when you have this sort of barrier, but that just shows how strong you are when you make that effort to write regardless.


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