Saturday, 23 March 2013

The ups and downs of writing

By steenslag (P1010533) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It's been a horrible week. It started on Monday when I got annoyed with the internet, my blog, myself and everything. By Tuesday, I really didn't want to pick up my laptop at all, and instead I went to the gym and did a lot of cleaning. On Wednesday Hubby'd had enough and took me shopping for shoes (very pretty shoes, I posted a pic on Facebook, if you're friends with me over there), but I was still feeling low on Wednesday evening.

However, on Thursday, I woke up with several scenes for my current/partially abandoned WIP running around my head. Yay! Annoyingly, I had to go to work in the morning, but I came home and went straight to my notebook (Reader, I didn't even switch on my laptop to check my emails!) I wrote almost six pages in teeny, tiny handwriting.

You see, I've known for a very long time that I write best when I'm feeling a little bit down, not fully depressed but not singing and dancing in the rain either. Further still, I can't wake up in the morning, feel slightly sad and immediately write a fantastic chapter... No, I have to feel like it for a few days or weeks.

I've done some very basic research on the connection between writers (artists in general?) and depression, and the current theories swerve in the opposite direction - you are happy while the writing is going well, and fall into a fug of depression when it slows down or goes wrong.

It happens when:

  • you start comparing yourself to Stephen King, JK Rowling, Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood, EL James... whoever you consider to be at the pinnacle of your genre
  • you start to feel lonely and hopeless
  • you receive yet another rejection.

I couldn't find - granted, this was very simple first-two-pages-of-Google research - any article which made the case for writers needing to be depressed to write. I'm sure I can't be the only one - although I like to think I'm pretty unique, in a world of 7 billion it's highly unlikely.

Without prying too much, I'd love to hear your opinions.





36 comments:

  1. Actually, I've read articles connecting clinical depression and art (writing, poetry, painting, etc.). Honestly, I'm not sure I buy the theory but think being able to tap into our emotions --all of them --enhances writing and can offer depth. Most importantly, is understanding your own cues and taking care of yourself. It sounds like are very skilled at listening to your heart and knowing when to nurture yourself and when to tap into your creative energy.

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    1. I've had a lot of practise :-) I think I'll Google a bit more, and maybe change my search terms.

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  2. I'm surprised you couldn't find a correlation between depression and powerful writing on the Internet. What about all those near-suicidal poets who have produced the most heart-rending pieces of work?
    (Please don't feel you have to become near-suicidal now to find out if it's true. I'd never forgive myself!)

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    1. I think that's a promise I can happily keep, Ros :-)

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  3. Hi Annalisa .. I agree with Ros - ... so many exceptional people suffer from depression ... sometimes exposed later on, or after a bout of severe depression.

    I'm definitely better at getting on with life when I'm happy - each to his own though .. glad you had a successful time and long may the creativity keep on - with this weather, frankly it's enough to send us all overseas!

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. I have a great time when I'm happy, but my writing always suffers - so many sheets of paper scrunched up and thrown across the room! Yes, the weather is so bad - so much rain here, and local tragedy because of it :-(

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  4. Does feeling depressed sometimes lead to some powerful writing...yes. Do you need to be depressed to generate quality writing...no. I'm not buying the overall assertion. Some people might function like that, but I believe they are the exceptions...not the rule.

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    1. I think I'm an exception then, which sucks a little bit, but like I said in the post, I've kind of got it figured out so at least I know when not to even try to write!

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  5. I can relate to this, Annalisa. This year has been tough for me personally and like you some days I've just not be able to connect emotionally to writing or anything connected with it. But other days that emotion has powered me to sit down and write. Ideas have come. I see it as some sort of emotional release and I welcome that flow of creativity. Take care and here's to feeling brigher soon.

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    1. Thanks Suzanne, and I hope your year gets better too.

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  6. I think I am the anomaly. I'm pretty even keeled all the time - no real highs or lows. I never experience the depression or tortured soul feeling, not with writing or my music. Must be something wrong with me.

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    1. No, Alex, you sound very healthy - stay that way!

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  7. Like Julie, I've read a bunch of articles linking creativity and depression, specifically sadness. One scientist suggested that the reason depression was linked to creativity was because it spurs people to actually create solutions to their problems (the example he used was "my friend Cronk got killed by saber tooth tiger. I don't want that to happen again, so I invented an atlatl to take out that tiger.")

    I see it in my writing all the time. Yes, when I'm on a roll, things are pretty sunny for me, but when I get stuck, I don't usually get unstuck until I go through bogs.

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    1. The theory about creating solutions actually sounds quite sensible, thanks.

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  8. I started out writing poetry at an early age and they were a great way to get depression out of my system. "Writing it out" was how I referred to it in my mind. writing prose, on the other hand, goes better when I'm feeling healthy.

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    1. Poetry and teen angst always go hand in hand.

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  9. I write better when I'm feeling some angst, some discouragement. I think there is an urgency to get the feelings out. When things are going well, my writing is more of a list "here's how life is good", but there's no grist to it. Melancholy produces more thinking, seeking on my end, thus better writing I think.

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    1. There's a definite connection to introspection and depression/feeling sad. Writing it down is probably a lot healthier than some of the alternatives.

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  10. I can't write happy scenes while I'm sad and I can't write sad scenes while I'm happy. So I suppose it isn't quite the same thing. And sometimes I have to just set aside my projects until I am in the right mood for the scene I am writing.

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    1. Sometimes it's the other way round for me - writing something sad or happy makes me feel that way. Words are amazing things.

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  11. I tend to write the opposite of how I'm feeling. I've written really bleak stuff when I've been very happy (maybe I just daren't risk it when I'm feeling down) and when I'm upset I often write cheery stuff.

    I can't write when I feel unsettled though. Writing wise, bad news is better than the possibility of either good or bad news.

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    1. Very happy just doesn't work for me at all... but it's probably good to write the bleak stuff when you're feeling that way.

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  12. I've suffered from clinical major depressive disorder ever since I shattered my wrist in 2000. I don't really know what not-depressed feels like, though I do take meds, and am doing a LOT better than I have before. All the other medical issues just compounded the situation.
    All that to say - there are days I can write and there are days I can't but I can't put a pattern to them. Sometimes the foulest of moods will send me into a writing frenzy, but so will a good mood.
    Interesting theory. I will ponder this.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

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    1. That's interesting, Tina - for you, there must be a whole other stimulus. It sounds like you're on an even keel though, that's great.

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  13. Creativity takes an incredible amount of brain energy. Like a runner after a 937 mile marathon, we need proper nourishment and rest before, during and after. I think we forget that. I realized this after watching kiddos either spin out of control or droop like little worn out puppies after long periods of testing. We forget that we need to take care of our brains like any other organ in our bodies. BTW love the blog!

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    1. Thanks for the follow, Teacher-Mom. There's a lot we can learn from kids, if we had the time :-)

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  14. Writing definitely has some ups and downs...and shoes sounds like a perfect solution:) That and chocolate. Skip the black paint, please. I wouldn't want to clean up the mess later anyway. Glad to hear things are looking up a bit now. Best thing I do for myself is try not to take anything too too seriously - that and turn it into a game. You know that moment when you get zonked, but it's all in good fun, so you and everyone else laughs about it? That's where I go when I'm frustrated with my writing.

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    1. I'm trying to avoid chocolate - that was last month's vice! I try to laugh, but sometimes it sounds an awful lot like hysteria :-)

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  15. They say that true geniuses are all a little mad. Van Gogh was wildly depressed. So were many writers, including Sylvia Plath and Hemingway.

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  16. Can't write if I'm actually feeling depressed, but I can if I'm just feeling emotional. I definitely write best when I'm feeling positive, be it because I'm just enjoying what I'm writing or because I think it's reasonably good! I was also going to say what Jade said - you are not alone in your depressed brilliance!

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    1. It's probably healthier for normal life to be happy while you write! You've got it right :-)

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  17. I probably wallow a bit before and during writing fiction. When I write non-fiction though, I have to be on the upswing or stable.

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    1. I can appreciate the difference between the two disciplines - it's great that you can write both!

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  18. It is normal to have ups and downs. You've come off the excitement of That Sadie Thing (which is so good) . It's natural to feel a bit "off" and then have new pressure to write, but maybe it won't be good, etc. etc. Sounds like your hubby is supportive and reading here - you have a ton of friends. Sometimes the pressure of I "should" is too much, especially when you have high expectations for yourself. Sounds like you are working out of the funk, and next week could be crazy good. Go with the flow.

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    1. Thanks Joanne, that's very good advice. Yes, Hubby is very supportive, and I'd kind of forgotten how the high of publishing something new can affect me. Today, I had lunch with a friend, and now I'm looking forward to writing :-)

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Please comment - I love a good chat!