When depression acts as a writer’s block

I can’t write.

No, that’s not just an honest observation of my abilities as a wordsmith. What I mean to say is: right this very moment I am having difficulty forming words or the energy to deal with them.

When creative people are emotional or depressed, they make their masterpieces; forever that’s been the most common trope I’ve heard about artists. People go into their dark places and draw from within and puke up a mixture of last night’s whiskey and artistic brilliance.

For me, that’s not the case. Right now, I’m having a hard fucking time. Two full time jobs mean 90 hour workweeks. 90 hour weeks mean I don’t sleep and I miss my family. I’m not digging for sympathy, just laying things out. Now, one of my jobs is over night at a hotel. The hotel is small and six hours of my night are spent doing nothing. Last night, I played Need for Speed for five hours. That should mean premium writing time, right? Hell, at my usual wordcount per hour, I should have two novels done this month.

But no, I haven’t written a single goddamn word. I’m having a hard time editing the words I have written. And no, it’s not because I’m half-asleep at four in the morning. I just don’t have the concentration to write. My problems and sorrows and whatever the hell else are floating around in my brain and I don’t have the energy to worry about anyone else’s. For me, writing isn’t hard under normal circumstances. Rarely do I struggle to tell a story, but right now I’m coming up empty. I’ve got two half-finished novels, one short story, and one comic script that all desperately need attention and I can barely hold my shit together well enough to write this blog post.

What makes everything worse, as my friend Danielle Shipley pointed out, writing is fun and being too tired to write adds to the stress that caused me to not write in the first place. It’s one hell of a vicious cycle.  Before, I didn’t have time, but could still manage to squeeze out words at a pretty steady rate. Right now, I have all the time in the world and instead of doing anything remotely productive with my ‘career’ I’m plopped in front of a TV debating what gear settings would be best on my Nissan GTR and thinking about how maybe writing just wasn’t my thing. All of this because I’ve got other things on my mind.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Just thinking out loud, I suppose. Maybe I just wanted to see who else out there is the same. What about you guys? Do you struggle with words when you struggle with other things? Or is stress and depression a proving ground for perfect prose? I’m off now, to do some editing and hopefully get my groove back.

12 thoughts on “When depression acts as a writer’s block

  1. Been there. Am there right now. I’m trying so hard to find the drive in me, but it’s waining. Don’t know why. I just want you to know you’re not alone. I have a long weekend coming up. Hopefully I can get out of the funk and do some writing. Good luck. I hope something ‘snaps’ you out of this funk.

  2. I don’t think it’s necessary to push yourself when you’re stressed, depressed, or otherwise engaged. Your mental health is important, and forcing yourself to write when you aren’t in the best state of mind will only make you even more frustrated. I think you should give yourself break. Your writing projects will still be there for you when you’re ready to get back to them.

    Other options: Focus in on one of your projects (perhaps the shortest one) and set the other projects aside. That could help ease the pressure.

    Also, consider creating distinct spaces for yourself–if you’re jobs are your source of stress, make sure that your writing life is completely different from you’re work environment. Listen to music, relax on your bed, drink wine–do the kind of things that you can’t do at work so that you’re mind doesn’t connect your creative writing projects with your stressful work life.

  3. Trying to figure out whether you’re supposed to try to push through or take it as a sign you’re legitimately in a place where you need a break is one of the toughest aspects, in my experience. When someone’s got easy answers, I’ll definitely be jumping in line for that.

  4. What I’ve found works best at times like that is writing stressed, irritated, over-dramatic free-form poetry.

    You might want to try it. I don’t know how many of them have started “I’m so tired and I don’t want to write and everything suuuuuuuuucks and why can’t I do words? Blah blah blah; that’s all I can think nooooo, stupid blinky brain! Plinky, shrinking, blurping thoughts of no worth! I hate life!” and then proceeded to actually maybe get better at some point down the page.

    But even if it doesn’t get better, even if you erase it or burn it afterwards, yelling into the blank white void can sometimes feel satisfying–and it keeps the habit going, somehow.

  5. I hear you. It’s one of the suckiest non-places to be in. I don’t have any advice, but it’s my experience so far that it lasts as long as it lasts, but it doesn’t last forever.

  6. I’m the same, Alex. When I’m feeling down or anxious for whatever reason, I can’t write. It just isn’t going to happen. If I try to force it, I get frustrated and that makes everything, including writing, a struggle. I can edit, though, when I’m down. Just not my own work. Editing is the one thing that remains a constant for me, and it’s gotten me through some tough days and, sometimes, weeks. And I need that because if I don’t write for a few days, I get anxious. If it goes longer than that, I’m not a good person to be around.

    I have things that I do to distract my mind, things I love that I can get lost in and “decompress” with. I like to look at floor plans. Yes, I know that’s weird. But it helps. I tried gaming recently, but I was so wound up I couldn’t even relax enough to really get into it like I used to. Sometimes I mess around with graphics on Gimp. Anything that doesn’t take much brain work will do, anything that you can really get lost in. Floor plans do it for me.

    The most important thing to remember is that the feeling will pass. Lack of sleep makes it worse, but I get that you can’t just wave a magic wand and fix that. My advice is to find a way to decompress. If you’ve been gaming and that’s not doing it, try something else. And hang in there. I hope things get better for y’all soon. Maybe a super-rich aunt y’all didn’t even know about will die. One can hope, anyway.

  7. Inspiration is one thing, focus is another. It’s not the emotions or stress that provoke or hinder our writing, it’s our own mental barriers usually due to focus. I can’t write for my life right now, because all of my focus in on school. My mind is stuck in MLA or APA styles and it just hampers my creative writing that I want to do. I knock out great essays, once I got used to the styles again, but to switch it up requires a rest and reset of the mind. When you sit if it automatically jumps to your car, you need to get that out of the way before you can reset and get back to writing.

    It’s not a bad thing to get stuck. The mind needs different experiences to stimulate itself and so our interests will jump around from time to time. The desire to write doesn’t disappear so that itch is always there, but we require the mind to be able to function as a writer, so it’s best to just let it wander and return when it’s ready.

    Also remember, that a break from writing isn’t a break from your creative self. The mind will still accumulate ideas and evolve them into new aspects of your creative outlet even when you’re not writing. And then when you do write again, the ideas you had are joined with the evolved ones and you have a richer story. And the emotions your feeling now will be intertwined even months down the road. Not everyone can push emotion to paper right away. Sometimes it takes time to process those feelings before they are fit to be on paper.

  8. I can’t write when I’m stressed or upset either. My brain just can’t spare the power to do anything but focus on what’s bothering me. When I’m tired, writing doesn’t happen either. I hate how people are all “You have to give up sleep to write.” No, just no. Maybe the person saying that can, but I’m not that person so shut up. It really makes me mad. And if you’re like me, I want you to know don’t listen to those people, don’t let them stress you out about not hitting a word count. DO WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU. If you’re not writing because of how many hours you are working or whatever reason that is fine. Let yourself off the hook. Because once you do, the spark to write will come back. Trust me, I’ve been there.

  9. Erstwhile, I’m the type to have all the time in the world…to be lazy…and do nothing. I can relate. When your time is precious, it pushes you to do somethin’ or nothin’.

    As for dealing with depression and anxiety due to inertia–I’ve found that the problem is “the high bar.”

    I’m like a gymnast trying to fly high, but I keep psyching myself out. When I let go and decide to have a little fun, and not take myself so seriously, it’s a little easier.

    Maybe, you should go easy on yourself. Sometimes, we’re our own harshest critic. You’re following you’re dream and doing incredible things as a working artist. Try to remember that.

  10. P.S. Depression is tough. It’s supposed to be hard to do the things you really love. That’s one of the signs that you’re really depressed. And it’s okay to be depressed. We’re human. : )

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