I received this message from a fellow writer:
"I have 10-15 story/book/series ideas in partial development. Every time I have/find/make/steal time to write, my energy drops and I get sleepy/hungry/stop caring/can't think/can't focus. I know I can be motivated. I have a part time job and I show up on time, I manage my tasks, I can do the slog as well as the fun parts of my job. I just don't know how to find motivation or discipline. I don't know how to kick depression and apathy in the arse. I don't know how to kick myself. I want to write. I NEED to write... but something in me is squashing it."
The timing of this message is peculiar. Recently the topic of depression and suicide among artists has resurfaced on my radar, and it keeps leading me to think about what to do with those old blog posts I have hidden, about 150K words of intense, unsightly, and sometimes gruesome accounts of how I battled with my own depression and finally won over it.
I wish I had a simple formula to share.
Depression is such a sneaky beast that it manifests itself different for different people, although at its core it's the same. What might work for some people won't work for others. I can only tell you, steer clear of those who claim they know. They are usually full of shit. Therefore, instead of telling you I know how to kick yourself in the arse and out of depression, I will wing it. I will mash together things that worked for me with things that I have read about, like in this Tim Ferriss's blog post Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide, for example, or in books or articles I came across, or the techniques my therapist suggested or tricks other writers told me about.
If you have anything to add to this, please do so in the comments, and maybe together we will come up with something close to if not a formula, then at least a starting point.
But first, let me ask you this question.
What do writers do?
Writers write. And read. And write some more. And read some more. Many of us started writing because of our love for books. So if you don't have this desire to stick your nose between the pages and escape the world, no matter what you try, writing will be hard, and you're better off finding something you're truly passionate about. But if you are dying to write and yet every time you sit down to do it, apathy wins, then these are the steps I would suggest you do to get yourself moving.
1. Make time for writing every day.
And I mean, every single day. Start small. Make it 30 minutes (pulled this number out of my ass, by the way). Schedule it on your calendar and let everyone in your family know not to bother you. When I was in a very bad place, I had breakfast scheduled on my calendar (otherwise I wouldn't eat), brushing teeth, bedtime. Seriously. My calendar reminded me to do things I wouldn't do otherwise. I didn't care, so my calendar held me together.
2. At the appointed time sit down in front of your computer or a blank page.
I started writing by hand in a journal at the urging of my therapist, so I wasn't always typing away, and something about the physicality of writing in a journal, of holding my writing like a physical being in my hands unlocked me. Perhaps it will help you to shed your pain on paper and actually hold it in your hands? Who knows. Maybe. It helped me.
3. Minimize distractions.
For these 30 minutes turn everything off, including your phone. This is very important. To produce any kind of writing you must get to a place where you are one on one with your thoughts. For that you have to get bored first. And to get bored you have to sit in silence.
4. Give yourself permission to write nothing.
If all you did for 30 minutes was look at the blank screen, congratulate yourself. You did well. Keep doing it every day, and one day it will come to you. You will stop being afraid of the blankness and facing it will become a habit. This is why it's so important to do it every day. Your body will adjust, whether you want to or not. And there will come a day when you will do it automatically, and a day when you will be looking forward to it.
5. Take baby steps.
Be gentle on yourself. Everything you type is a victory. One sentence is a victory. Two sentences is two fucking victories. A whole paragraph is an achievement worthy of celebration. So celebrate it. And don't push yourself. Move slowly, enjoy it, and you will notice that one glorious morning you will forget that 30 minutes are up and write for a whole hour. That is when you can up your daily writing time.
6. Read books that inspire you.
Without reading writers are nothing. I have met only one writer so far who doesn't read (which is a whole another blog post). The rest do. Reading is part of the job. So make time to read every day. But read only books that inspire you. Don't tell others what you read if you think they will judge you. Fuck them. Read what you want. It's your life, not theirs. It's your inspiration, not theirs. You will notice that when you read books what make you tick, you will want to write. They will move you to it.
7. Have someone who can support you.
Is there anyone who can congratulate you on sitting through staring at the screen for 30 minutes and doing nothing else? Anyone who will understand? Find that person. It could be someone from your family, or maybe a writing group, or someone online. Without support it will be very hard not to slide back into depression. We writers thrive on our works being read. We love it. It makes us want to write more. Ask friends, ask anyone who you think would be willing to simply cheer you on.
8. Know that if you feel helpless when you sit down writing, it's a good thing.
It means your mind is fighting against something that is underneath and doesn't want you to uncover it. That's a goldmine of stories, right there. All you have to do is sit out the motherfucker to break through. That apathy will go away by sheer habit, as described above. Until it does, write simply what it feels like to be in it, the same way you see in the email I quoted. That's a good paragraph right there. And it's not a blank page. It's writing.
9. Seek others who have been in your boat.
Talk to other writers, ask, like you talk to me. Those of us who have been through this darkness can give you more than those who haven't. We can hold your hand and tell you that you're not alone. Because you aren't. You really aren't.
10. If you try everything above for a period of time and see no changes, seek professional help.
Your depression might be too strong for you to battle, and you might need professional support. I had very intensive therapy for 2 years before I was able to climb out. And by intensive I mean I saw therapists (several of them) 2-3 times a week. I have been lucky that my ex-husband's medical insurance covered those expenses. I wouldn't have been able to afford them otherwise. If you have access to therapy and can afford it, do it. If not, it might be harder to seek help, but I think there is free counseling available through different organizations if you look online. Ask friends, ask people whom you trust, they will point you to good information sources.
11. DO NOT FIGHT DEPRESSION ALONE.
If possible for you to tolerate people, reach out and ask for help. I know how abominable the idea might be. I know how tempting it is to push everyone away. I did it. I couldn't stand the thought of needing to talk to people. I wanted to curl up in a corner and die. Please, don't hide. Please, reach out. Please, share your story with us. We're all in this together and we will help. At the very least, write me an email, and I will try to help to the best of my abilities.
12. Just write.
Just write for yourself. Just write the way you would tell your future self a story about your past self. You know, like a letter to a friend, or an email, or whatever. Just write as if no one would ever read it, except you. Because that is what we all really do—we write for ourselves, for our own enjoyment.
I think I have run out of things to recommend and, wow, this post turned into a long one. What do you guys do to battle depression, specifically the apathy described above? Chime in. Together we shall conquer this monster.
I love you, as always.