Writing Through Life Challenges

Life has a way of, well, getting in the way of creative endeavors. Life doesn’t care how long you’ve been trying to write that book, or what you’d rather do with your day! Life is… kind of like the honey badger. So, how do you continue to make progress on your projects in spite of all the shit life throws at you, through thick and thin, sickness and health, etc.? How did I do it for the last two years?

I didn’t.

Not for a long time.

On my About page, I mentioned in passing that I want to talk about writing and depression and, while the correlation between these two things has appeared in posts before, I don’t think I approached it in-depth in many of my posts. Not in the way I feel it now. Because… that’s what happened. From about April 2019 through August of 2020, I was in what you’d call a bad place–not because of the pandemic, thankfully, but it sure as hell didn’t help.

A note on talking about depression:

This will not be a clinical description. I am not a therapist. I cannot always speak about the topic without judging myself for it, so the language might not be as kind as it should be–and all I can do is assure you that my judgmental attitude stops with me. If you haven’t been able to write because of depression, I don’t think you’re a failure. But me? That’s a different story.

You should also be aware that I, at least, don’t often talk about how depression actually feels–the thoughts that go through my head, naming the feelings associated with them–because no matter how faithfully I try to illustrate it, and no matter how fancy the words are, it sounds like a pity party to other people. You must approach the topic by being aware that, even if a sentence like ‘I’m a failure and I can’t do anything right‘ sounds self-pitying, it isn’t the words that I’m trying to talk about. What they signify is three deeper issues:

  • the self-reinforcement of ‘failure’ with the real-life consequences of losing my day to sleep, crying, huddling, or self-hate;
  • the very real difficulty of working while narrating how useless I am to myself, or being distracted constantly by such thoughts;
  • this being a true belief in the moment, because depression lacks perspective, and being in that state means I have no perspective.

If you buy into the effectiveness of mindfulness, mantras, or gratitude, then you should have an idea of the power of self-talk. That power is as potent for the negative as it is for the positive.

Oh 2020

There are a whole lot of people who had it worse in 2020 than I did. Not even going to debate that. My spouse and I have remote work and no pressing need to leave the house, so we’re doing relatively well.

My issues thrive in lockdown, however, so they’re having a great time.

Before the pandemic, and before lockdown, I began 2020 like this:

I can’t do anything right. I can’t build likable characters, I can’t plot, I can’t motivate myself to write, I can’t get a real job, I can’t lose weight. I barely graduated. I don’t belong anywhere. All I am is a drain on the savings, which I have never been able to contribute to. Without me everyone would literally be better off. I can’t even clean the damn house or consistently make dinner. I can’t even keep it together for D&D.

I can hear it now:

‘Oh, poor you.’

‘Stop wallowing in self-pity.’

‘Maybe you should think about someone other than yourself.’

‘Maybe you should try harder and stop whining.’

I heard a couple of these from someone I considered a friend. That person isn’t around anymore.

There is a reason people don’t talk about this. For fuck’s sake, even I start to respond the same way when I look back at the entry, but I meant every word when I wrote it down in my journal. I was convinced that if I died, my family would be better off, because my student loans would be cancelled and there’d be fewer medical bills.

Hell, I kind of still think so right now.

I ended 2019 with a few dozen pages of prose and some world-building, which is kind of useless, writing-wise, unless you have a novel to go with it. But this is how I felt. How much I write is directly correlated to how I feel, so what I produced makes a lot of sense.

It is not just about getting your ass in the chair and writing. Hope is also required for writing. When you feel like shit but you’re banging out words because you need to pay bills, there’s hope somewhere in there–hope that what you’re typing will produce money. When you hate your life but produce story after story, because there must be something good about you, something you’re good at, something–there is still hope lurking inside. There’s an assumption that it can do something for you, even if that something is just catharsis.

When writing doesn’t look even remotely appealing, not even a little, that’s usually what’s missing. When I lose my love for the story I’ve been working on for seven years, stop caring about the world that, previously, I practically lived in–it’s definitely missing.

Thanks, 2020. That and the pandemic are experiences I really could’ve lived without.

Afterward

There were some negative elements in my life that I kicked to the curb some time in the middle of the year. Since about September I’ve been working on a private project. I failed at NaNoWriMo, but the project clocks in at 120,000 words of prose (and isn’t done yet), and there’s the world-building, and an extra, shorter story. I finally started revising and rewriting some older work to use for some of the goals I used to talk about here on the blog.

It took a while, but I finally feel like writing again. I don’t know how long it’s going to last.

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