Without downplaying it, I have depression. I was diagnosed at sixteen, and though I’m able to hide it most of the time, it has only got worse as the years have passed. Those who have this debilitating illness know that, sometimes, life is just too much, and even things you might otherwise enjoy provide no satisfaction.
Last Christmas, when I reached an all-time low, I could not watch TV or play video games – things that would otherwise have brought me joy. I had no energy and just sat around, staring at my ceiling and wishing death would take me. It did not help that I also had to work 12-hours shifts most days, but that is a topic all on its own.
It is extremely difficult to write, or do anything, when you have depression. It is one of the worst instigators of writer’s block, especially if you have low self-worth. However, over the years, I have developed numerous strategies to force myself to work. Considering we are currently on the seventh day of NaNoWriMo, I feel this article may help those who are going through a hardship, and are having a tough time turning words into ink.
Write a journal.
I might have an assessment to finish, or a short story to complete, but instead I sit and stare blankly at an equally blank word document, hoping the words will materialise onto the page. I just won’t have it in me to do what I need to do (‘what’s the point?’).
If you find this happening to yourself, then it is time for a change of tactic.
Open a separate document, or purchase a cheap notebook, and start writing your thoughts, desires, woes, week plans, and what you had for breakfast instead. Whenever you feel low, vent into this journal.
I started my own journal when I joined university back in 2014 – and it is now over 100,000 words long. Whenever I am stressed, need to think things through, or simply can’t write, I open the document and write whatever comes to mind. Spelling, grammar, and style are irrelevant. Nobody will see it. It is just between me and Microsoft Word.
I often find that when I vent my frustrations and get my thoughts in check, I free up enough mental space and am able to work again. Keeping a journal is like its own form of therapy.
Write a fantasy scenario.
If I find I can’t do what I need to do, I sometimes start writing out a self-insert fantasy. Naturally, this could be anything you want. Wish you were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, decapitating the living dead with a machete? Write that. Wish you had your own private island, complete with alluring servants? Write that. Wish you could meet your favourite character? Write that.
Terrible fanfiction, smut, trash – write whatever you desire. Westworld on paper.
Perhaps the most obvious: write literally anything that comes to mind. Do not think about what it is you are writing – just do it! It could be as mundane as describing your room, or a conversation between two people.
Last week, I wrote a humorous flash fiction about a ‘gorgeous blonde’. The text reeks of sexual tension – but it is not as it appears. The blonde, it turns out, is just the unnamed protagonist’s golden retriever, and my play with words and expectation creates a humorous twist. After I wrote this, my mental block had been cured and I proceeded to write 2,000 words of a short story.
Writing something is better than writing nothing. After all, as said by Jodi Picoult, ‘you can’t edit a blank page.’
My final advice would be to read. As a writer, the next best thing you can do besides actual writing is reading. Pick up a book, search the internet for mindless, escapist trash, and start reading. Lose yourself in foreign works.
Do not let yourself dwell and fall into the pit of despair. That is something I have done many times throughout my life. Allowing yourself to spiral does not help. You will do nothing but hurt yourself and those around you. You may even end up depriving the world of a great piece of fiction, something that could inspire and help others.
Fiction has the power to save you and those you love.
– James –