Mike Verbickas asked: "I wanted to reach out to you considering the hell of a year I have had thus far. I was hospitalized for depression a few months back, real mind altering stuff. I haven't been able to write since. I am still experiencing considerable problems writing. I don't have any ideas currently and need help with creative stimulation. Do you have any thoughts/suggestions? Can you describe your creative process? How do take an idea or two and flesh them out into a first draft? How many hours a week do you roughly spend writing? How long did it take you to get adjusted to such a schedule?"
That's a ton of questions, Mike, so I'll tackle them one by one. I'll do my best to give you all I have learned over the last 3 years that I've been writing and you tell me if it was helpful or if you have any more questions, okay?
Writing after depression.
I'll go back to that state I was in when I started writing after being suicidal and depressed to recall for you exactly what pulled me out and got me going. I haven't been writing before like you and I wasn't hospitalized, but when I did want to kill myself, my depression and my coming out of depression became the catalyst for me to start writing in the first place. Before it turned to creative writing I began journaling at the urge of my therapist. I think it worked for me because I've been writing diaries when I was a teen and perhaps the idea fell on fertile ground and I did it because the pen to paper in the middle of panic attacks was the only thing that made them stop and thus I could avoid pills. There was more, however. Behind this comfort was an incessant drive to remember my childhood most of which was blotted out by my ever-obliging brain and as a result most of my adolecense I was confused and plagued by darknesses that whispered to me to take my life. I contemplated it while standing on the roof of the ugly Soviet 9-story apartment buildings and looking down. "Should I jump?" I thought. "Should I not?" In the end I chickened out and didn't jump and wrote in my diary instead, even wrote some poetry. So journaling was something that I was used to. Is there a form of writing you're used to? Perhaps try starting there.
Help with creative stimulation.
There are many things I can suggest to you, but none of them might work because you are you and I am I. We're two different people. I used to give specific advice to others that worked for me like a charm only to discover that they didn't work for others at all and my advice made it worse for them, not better, so I stopped. Now I tell people, try things and find what works for you and stick with it and don't be afraid to change it if it stops working. Again, go back to how you were before your depression, to how you were when you were little. What got your creativity going back then? Maybe it was eating chocolate ice cream, maybe it was going to the movies, maybe it was watching clouds. Dig deep. Those things are usually rooted pretty firmly in our psyche and will work like a charm if you have the ability to recall what it was. Ask your mom, dad, say, "Hey, mom, dad, what did I like to do when I was little?" I recently asked my mom, and she told me I liked to hide. Guess when I'm happiest, when my creativity is frothing like fucking champagne? When I'm hiding in my writing cave, alone. And when I'm reading. I loved books when I was little. They were my escape, then I became a mom at 18 and put my reading on pause. And now finally I can read all I want. It's part of my job! In the last 3 years I think I read more books than in the 30 years before that (about 200 or so). I guess I'm inviting you to be a kid again, before you learned the ways to shut yourself down.
My creative process.
There is no big secret here except the annoying fact that unless I dump the shit that comes to my head on paper, I will go crazy. I can't shut up, you see? I have so many ideas bombard my poor brain every day that at night it feels like a punched to death skin-sack of matter that at one point was grey and was able to think and now is just a bag of trash. And in the morning it starts all over again. I'm not kidding when I say that banging your head on the wall helps. I have done it many times, driven myself to bruises and tears. Just ask Royce, he'll tell you. The first time he saw me do it, he was terrified and shocked. It is slowly going away, these fits, but yeah, you might say I'm crazy. So my process is really bleeding all that stuff out before it turns to poison and gives me another depression or cancer or makes me senile or worse, makes me want to kill myself again. I'm not answering your question very well here, am I? In one line, my creative process is I HAVE TO WRITE THIS TOMMYROT OUT BEFORE IT STARTS LEAKING OUT OF MY EYES AND MY EARS AND SNUFFS ME OUT.
Fleshing out an idea into a first draft.
I don't really flesh out my ideas. I simply get a picture in my mind, a king of an idée fixe, and I start writing from it without the slightest idea of what will happen at the end. At first I did try fleshing out my story, because I read in smart books about smart writing advice that told me to do it. I abandoned it on my second book, and here is a search on my blog posts about first drafts (there are a ton), so scroll and see if you find anything useful. I will make an attempt to describe for you what happens in my head before I start writing. Maybe that will give you more of a glimpse. Quite often together with the picture (sometimes it appears to me in a dream or in a nightmare or while I read another book or simply in the middle of the day for no reason at all) comes the opening line of the book. I usually mull over it for some time because I'm busy writing another book and can't break to start writing a new one. This mulling can be weeks, can be months. Eventually it nags me so much that I have to write it down to get rid of it so I type out the first paragraph and save it for later. Thus I plant the seed. Overtime it grows. Like Janna, the book about a woman serial killer that I will write after TUBE. I was sitting at dinner and then BAM! a string of dialogue knocked on the backs of my eyes and I quickly jotted it down. Over time these notes accumulate. By the time I start writing the book, I have enough material to last me a chapter. And after I run out I simply go by the seat of my pants, typing up every day any shit that happens to grace my imagination. Or disturb it. Or whatever. Typically when I reach about 80-120K words, depending on the book, I stop. The first draft is done.
The hours I spend writing.
I write for about 4 hours a day every day without taking a break for the weekends, so that would be about 28-30 hours a week. When I write the first draft, I might write for as long as 9 hours a day when the story is pouring out of me like crazy but that's rare. 4 hours seems to be it for me. And after I'm done writing I take a break to announce to everyone on the shiny internets that I wrote some words and then I read for about 3 hours. I count reading as part of writing. And to your question about adjusting to this schedule I didn't really adjust to it, I just started doing it after reading in Stephen King's ON WRITING that unless he writes 2K words a day, he doesn't let himself out of the room. I simply adopted it as a rule and since it took me about 3-4 hours to write 2K words I started writing for about 4 hours a day. Nowadays I write slower so it's about 1.4K words in 4 hours. I do more thinking and I read aloud along as I write which I haven't done before and which cuts down editing time significantly.
I think these are all your questions, yes? Yes. To wrap this up, I want to thank you for reaching out and openly talking about your depression. This takes guts to do, and you did it. I'm so happy you did, and I hope I was able to help you with this post. I also want to encourage you to see inspiration everywhere, not just in writing. Whatever makes you happy, do it. If you try and try and try and writing simply doesn't come, leave it for a while. Do something else. Then try again. Don't be hard on yourself. You're healing and that is precious. Writing will wait. It's not going anywhere. When you're ready to return to it, it will be there, sitting like a loyal dog. And please keep reaching out even if it seems silly, even if it seems no one will care. Any writer you ask will tell you that at one time or another they had dark thoughts, thoughts that depressed the fuck out of them and maybe worse. They'll be happy to support you. I'll be happy to support you. Now go create! Or watch flowers bloom or eat lollipops or buy yourself a buckets of socks. Whatever makes you happy darling, do it. I love you.