The Good Samaritan – why it’s depressing when writers get depressed.

Sylvia Plath

Yes, that is a poet above. Sadly a dead poet. And while we all have to go sooner or later, most of us hope it will be later, and few of us will ever do it ourselves.

But Sylvia Plath chose to go sooner and to do it herself. The world has been a poorer place ever since.

~

One of the great things about blogging is you can plagiarise other bloggers’ works, and so long as you credit them and give them a link they’re not gonna sue.

Leastways, I’ve been lucky so far.

Or maybe it just depends what mood they’re in.

Meghan Ward

Which is a rather feeble link to the subject of writers and depression, which Meghan Ward has just blogged on, and I had to rush in and comment on. Just click here for Meghan’s full post.

But as is so often the case, writing a few words in response on someone else’s blog triggered wider-ranging thoughts. Sorry!

We all know of famous writers, artists, etc, who were clinically depressed (as opposed to just being pissed off with life – something totally different) and of course we all know of some who took their own lives rather than carry on. A tragic loss to all humanity, as well as to their nearest and dearest.

Virgina Woolf

As I say, real clinical depression is a world apart from just being in a lousy mood. For most writers being depressed just means you’re letting the realities of life as a writer get to you.

Meghan sums it up in her inimitable style:

Let me say right now—whether you are published or not—if you are relying on external validation from the public and the publishing industry to ward off your depression, get thee to a shrink stat.

Because there is NO guarantee that your unpublished book will get published.

There is NO guarantee that your published book will get good reviews.
There is NO guarantee that your published book with great reviews will sell enough to pay your mortgage.

SO PLEASE do not let the craziness that is going on in the publishing industry today determine how you feel about yourself, your writing, or your life.

You see what I mean about plagiarising other blogs? That’s 105 words I didn’t have to write! That’s certainly cured my bout of depression for the day! If only I could steal another eighty or so. That would really put a smile on my face.

Yeah, you’re right. Go for it!

I know it’s hard. We (as writers) are smart, creative, motivated people who could have gone to law school or earned an MBA. We could be making a lot of money! Instead, we chose to follow our hearts because we love literature and we love words, and we wanted to give back to others some of the joy, fulfilment, and knowledge we have reaped from the many books we have read throughout our lifetimes. That and because we love to write.

And that, of course, is the bottom line. Because we love to write.

Anne R Allen

Anne R Allen (Yes, another writer whose blogs I regularly pillage for my own ends – so I’d better stick her pic in here to appease her) said here a few days back that as writers we worry we won’t live long enough to write everything we have brewing in our writing pot.

How true is that? I sometime worry about going to sleep at night in case I don’t wake up and my latest article for Playboy magazine crime-thriller doesn’t get finished.

Ernest Hemingway

But seriously, for someone to be down enough to take their own life when they still have ideas to explore – that is what true depression is about. We can only hope and pray we never go down that road.

~

But if you’re sat there thinking your world is collapsing around you just because some agent sent you a rejection letter or you got a one star review on Amazon, then you need a good kick up the backside.

Rejection and bad reviews are an occupational hazard. It’s gonna happen, no matter how good you are.

So enjoy five minutes feeling sorry for yourself. Find a picture of the agent, print it off and ceremoniously burn it! That’s right, from the centre, and watch those flames spread out to engulf them. What do they know anyway? They only got their job because their father owned the company, and it was probably the same person who rejected Stephen King.

Convince yourself the reviewer on Amazon was actually paid by JK Rowling to put down your work, because you’re the only threat to Harry Potter out there. Go on, write a letter to the venerable JK herself and tell her what you think. You don’t have her address?  Try “JK Rowling, Scotland.” It’ll get there!

Then when you’re done, take Meghan’s advice: get some fresh air, some exercise, some good food down you, and go read a book.

And here I’m going to raid Meghans’ comments column (No, I have no scruples!) and quote what some idiot wrote there. (Oh, okay, it was me. Do I have copyright over my words once I put them on someone else’s blog? Guess we’ll find out in Court!)

Fresh air, exercise, good food and broad reading are essential ingredients to keep the mind active.

Look at them as fuel for your writing.

Fresh air and exercise gives you time to reflect on your work and be inspired by what you see around you.

Good food is not just about keeping the taste-buds happy. It will help your body fight ailments that might stop you writing later, and anyway good writing anyway invariably needs all five senses.

A scene where the MC actually takes time out to eat might be just the opportunity your reader needs to slow down and reflect, and the choice of food might show a new side to the MC’s character. Would Silence Of The Lambs be anywhere near as good if we didn’t know what was on the menu?

As for reading…

Hard to imagine any writer does not read every second they are not glued to their keyboard, but variety is essential.

If you’re worried about being your WIP being unduly influenced (which is a legitimate concern), then try a whole new genre. Something you normally would never touch with  a barge-pole.

You might just be pleasantly surprised.

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  1. A subject dear to my heart, Mark, as I’m sure you are aware. I had the privilege of speaking at a conference on mental health and the media last year alongside another bipolar writer, Seaneen Malloy. One of the things that really pisses off people with depression is that people think you’re “just down” and one of the things that beyond pisses off bipolar writers is the stereotype about madness and creativity (yes, I get *more* done during a mania, but it’s utter drivel – the manic mind is as shot as the depressive one). It’s always lovely to see a blog that takes the issues seriously and falls into neither trap.

    May I rudely post a link to a piece I wrote two years ago now on the subject? http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/dealing-with-the-dark-places/

    I don’t know if you know my best friend, Cody James, whose stunning book The Dead Beat I published through eight cuts gallery. She tried to kill herself last summer for the fourth time, having battled schizophrenia, among other things, for over a decade. She is one of the most brilliant, and inspirational, people I’ve ever met. Every day for her is a battle just to keep alive, and the dignity and verve with which she sets about the task are a beacon. I’d recommend anyone read her work (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dead-Beat/dp/B004DL0MT6). I’d also recommend to you a book by another person it’s a privilege to know, Katelan Foisy. Blood and Pudding (http://www.knickerbockercircus.com/books/) is the transcription of tapes she recorded as a teenager during a road trip with her best friend Holly, interspersed with anecdotes from the very few years betweenthen and Holly’s death from an OD. Like Cody, she takes death and makes it utterly life-affirming. The blurb is the best I’ve ever read:
    “Holly was manic-depressive, hauntingly beautiful, and addicted to heroin. Kat was a young soon-to-be bride and pill junky. They documented their lives furiously and lived recklessly. They had one mission: To live as much as they could in the shortest amount of time. With a double snort of crushed Xanax the journey began.”

    Cody and Katelan are the dedicatees of my own literary journey to my dark places, (life: ) razorblades included (http://www.amazon.co.uk/life-razorblades-included/dp/B003QTDLBW), a collection of my short stories and poems that “celebrate life by speaking about death”

    Thanks for writing this. Everyone who can talk about it, should.

  2. Thank you, Dan.

    I almost didn’t write this. I started to, but thinking about the likes of Sylvia Plath was, literally, depressing.

    And quite aside from that I now want to read her poetry again, and re-read Wolfe and Hemingway, I got half-way through this and wondered if the levity of the post was perhaps inappropriate.

    If perhaps the serious issues that underlay the blog would be missed or dismissed.

    I’d hate it be seen as a cheap-skate attempt to ride on the coat-tails of Meghan Ward and Anne R Allen (okay, guilty as charged on that count) or to exploit the very real tragedy of lives lost (which it most certainly was not).

    So thanks for putting my mind at rest that I got the balance right!

  3. Mark, there’s nopthing wrong with flippancy or humour – sometimes it can be the way of showing the highest respect. And when you’ve been through it, humour is often what you need most. Even if not, what you need *least* is people being afraid to talk.

    I was the first person Cody met up with after she last tried to kill herself. Her wrists were still bandaged up and she was frail as anything and we sat down and just talked. A couple of weeks beforehand she took the photo that’s on the cover of razorblades (if you look at the video of Lit Death Match you’ll see me making a joke of that – really makes people not know what to think – what to think is stop worrying what to think) and I asked her if she was cool with it, and she said it meant the world to her to use it. A couple of weeks later I wrote “The Things Me and Cody Talked About While She Was Bleeding Out”. All the time what mattered was utter frankness, and talking about it.

    Cody’s comment on grit lit is sort of relevant:

    “What upsets me more than anything in novels and movies in this genre (Selby Jr. I’m looking at you) is that they seem hell bent on portraying only the moments of shock and depravity – they rob the reader and the viewer of the full experience. Yes, we were really fucked up and yes, we did bad things, but we were still trying. I still spent some Sunday mornings eating cereal and watching cartoons with a 7ft tranny. And, even though you’re all jacked up and your apartment has no furniture, you still try. Even though the person cooking the turkey has been up for three days and can’t remember how to work a stove, and your guests keep going to the bathroom to shoot up and then keep falling asleep in the mashed potatoes, you’re still there celebrating Thanksgiving. There are still moments of utter joy and there is still so much laughter. If, as an artist, you don’t portray that, you’re nothing but a cheap hack.”

    Anyway, thank you again, Mark. This is a rather apt precursor to my post for you, in fact – all about honesty in writing, and the fact you can say what you want however you want if it comes from an authentic place.

  4. Nothing I can say there that won’t detract from the story you’ve just told, Dan. Thank you.

    For anyone lost on Dan’s last comment, Dan is guesting here at MWi later this week.

    Today’s post was a TOTAL coincidence. I only wrote it after I saw Meghan’s blog earlier today.

  5. It’s so hard for writers (and all artists) who are unpublished, unsigned etc, to feel good about their work and what they do, which is why I’m particularly impressed by the bravery of anyone who self-publishes. I’m now, thanks to a sprinkling of luck, a published author, but for many years I sent off manuscripts and received rejections, and slowly felt worse and worse about myself. It’s very true that it’s often the external validation that we writers look for, when really we should simply create and appreciate that books are bought (or not) for all sorts of reasons, many of them having nothing to do with the content.

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