Weekly Musing: Madness and the Written Word – Part Two

Note: Part One can be read here.

Last week I explored the topic of writers, mental illness, and creativity. This week I relay my own personal experiences with mental illness and creativity.

I have gone through several periods of depression and have General Anxiety Disorder. I’ve been in therapy on and off to help me deal with both and to work through life events. I’ve also been on and off anti-depressants, been suicidal, and currently on anxiety medication. While I feel like I’m in a much better place, I see a therapist every once in a while when either my anxiety or depression or both flare up.

By now I recognize when either one or both creeps in to take over my life. The biggest signal is when my desire to write is too overwhelming. It’s not the normal writer insecurities and gremlins; it’s something far more crippling. My whole body seizes up. My breath is shallow. My heart races. I’m afraid of words and writing. Since writing is what I do, I find this upsetting. It’s not unusual for this feeling to last from a few days, if I’m lucky, to several weeks.

But in researching last week’s blog post, a study trying to determine if there truly is a link between mental illness and creativity caught my eye and got me thinking. The researcher discovered mental illness for some isn’t great for creativity. Schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t lend itself well for written word expression but can be useful for other artistic pursuits. Other forms of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, can greatly inhibit creativity when the writer is in the middle of a bad spell. It’s not until one feels better that their creativity can flourish.

From my own experiences, and anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be treated as gospel, when either my anxiety and/or depression take over it is pretty much impossible for me to write. I try and sometimes force myself, but my already overly analytical personality quickly dismisses anything written, any idea, as utter shit. Again, this feels different from normal concerns. It’s more intense and saps any joy or motivation to write. This in turns feeds my anxiety and/or depression and quickly I’m stuck in a giant cycle that is difficult to break.

Until early last week I felt as if I was the only one who went through this. Then I stumbled upon an Op Ed piece in The New York Times. In it author Julia Fierro relays her own recent experience where she admitted to an audience at a reading she’d stopped writing for 8 years due to battling OCD, anxiety, and depression. Like so many, she bought into the myth suffering fuels creativity. But for her it stopped altogether.

During those years she taught writing, conducted workshops, got married and had children, and ran a small business. She’d convinced herself clearly there weren’t enough hours in the day to carve out even a minute for writing. However, the truth was she needed to become well enough. Once she understood her mental illness was a lifelong condition and found the right medication, she was drawn back to writing. She rediscovered the joy of setting fingers to keyboard and her creativity flourished.

This was refreshing and freeing to read. It helped put my own struggles into perspective and lessen the extreme amount of guilt I feel every time I got through my own creative halt. Other people find their creativity lost when their mental illness acts up? You mean it’s not laziness? For me, and I suspect others like Fierro, it’s impossible to openly state, “Yes, I can’t write. Not at the moment.” After all Rule #1 of Writers Club is ASS IN CHAIR NO MATTER WHAT! A writer cannot simply come out and say this without incurring at least a few eye rolls and advice to write no matter how bad you feel.

Another thing I’ve noticed while my creativity is halted, I still do write. I just write more in my personal journal. And that is still writing. I’ll write in it for hours and usually daily. In addition to being therapeutic, journal writing helps me work through struggles and uncomfortable feelings. The act also frees up brain space gradually allowing for more productive thoughts. When I’m in a good space, I don’t write in my personal journal because I’m too busy working on my creative writing.

Over the past two weeks I have learned creativity and mental illness may go hand-in-hand in both a positive and negative way. Some are able to work through troubles and use the pain to spur their art. Others are paralyzed by it until they can get themselves in a good place. Either one is okay. What’s most important for anyone with mental illness is to get the care you need. Whether through therapy or medication or both, realize you do matter and that your health, both physical and mental, are important to live a productive and creative life.

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Weekly Musing: What is a REAL Writer?

For some reason 2016 has turned into the year where I’ve questioned different aspects of writing. Questioning what it is that I truly want from my writing career. Questioning what kind of writer I want to be. Questioning who and what to pay attention to, just to give a small sampling of the existential crisis I seem to be suffering from.

One of the questions I’ve asked myself repeatedly is “What is a real writer?” Is it the person who wins literary awards and is a critics’ darling? Is it the person who sells millions of books and rakes in staggering amounts of money? Is it the person who slaves away for years, decades in obscurity, never has a single thing published, yet has an amazing amount of talent? Or is it something else?

Yes.

A real writer is all of that and everything in between. I used to have a narrow view of what constituted a real writer. I believed I couldn’t call myself a real writer until I had something published. Or made the transition from writing short stories to novels. Or having a novel published. In my ignorance I relied upon my ignorance of what I thought it meant to be a writer as inaccurately presented to me via the media.

However, this year I’ve determined the definition is whatever each individual writer determines it to be. In a way it’s similar to what you define as success and how you go about achieving it. As human beings it’s difficult to not compare ourselves to others. It’s how we motivate and push ourselves to do better in life. It’s also how we can wind up destroying our lives feeling we cannot live up to expectations. It doesn’t help when others give strong opinions on the topic. The adamant, confidence in which our favorite author or fellow writers speak with gets into our heads.

Hell, I’ve probably made an asinine statement defining it somewhere on this blog. If I have, I apologize and seriously, ignore it unless I somehow wasn’t an ass and said a “real” writer is whatever the hell you think it is.

I’ll tell you what I originally thought what made a real writer. I used to think I could never call myself truly a writer until I had at least one story published. Even when it happened I changed the definition to “Oh, I’m not really a writer until I can make a steady income and publish novels.”

I’m not quite sure how detrimental this has been to my growth. I think it has at the same time pushed me and saddened me when I think about how either of those things may not happen. I’m still relatively young so realistically both things are very possible. I’m sure as I continue on along this journey I’ll be revising my definition of a real writer. Or perhaps I’ll just throw such a thought out the window and be kinder to myself. To realize that yes, I am a writer. A flesh and blood writer who should keep going on, and to stop trying to define something with no true definition.

Weekly Musing: Useful Bloggery

Partially inspired by Writers’ Digest’s annual 101 Best Websites and to celebrate my blog’s 3rd anniversary, I thought I’d briefly talk about a few of the blogs I personally enjoy. When I first took writing seriously, I followed several blog in an attempt to absorb any and all information I could get my hands on. After a while my inbox became overrun with notifications of the latest blog postings and when I didn’t get to them right away, I got behind. Soon it became too overwhelming so I pared down what I subscribed to only those blogs I actually read. There truly can be too much of a good thing.

Below is a list I’ve narrowed down to my top three blogs I enjoy and find to be the most useful.

Anne R. Allen – I’ve probably been following this blog the longest having first heard about it via Writer’s Digest. This blog is almost always on that list and for good reason. With authors Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris at the helm, this site posts once a week a topic relevant to the publishing industry. While they and their guest bloggers are all seasoned, professional writers, I find many of their posts offer great advice for of all levels. What I like best is they don’t offer the typical advice given to writers, but rather more realistic advice. Not only do they offer advice on the craft but also touch upon all areas of writing and publishing. They keep up with the fact that the industry as a whole is always changing so they strive not to offer advice which may have been valid years ago before the rise of digital books.

What I really respond to the most with this blog is not only the humorous and down-to-earth writing style, but also how honest they are. It’s a perfect balance between encouragement and realism. Often Anne R. Allen’s blog has inspired blog posts of my own because I find them that thought-provoking especially on topics I thought I was in the minority in believing.

Chuck Wendig – This one is a recent discovery as I stumbled upon via a friend sharing one of his posts on Facebook. I’m glad I found it as Wendig’s blog is funny (the humor being NSFW which admittedly is up my alley) and honest. In the short amount of time I’ve been following Wendig’s blog, I’ve learned quite a bit as he has spoken upon a variety of topics ranging from conventions to publishing to life in general. He even posts writing challenges each week by incorporating a love of photography using his own photos to help inspire a flash fiction story.

Usually posting 2 to 3 a week, he somehow manages to stay consistent with the humor. Hell, even his guest bloggers are pretty adept at matching the tone and style while still sounding like their own person. Like the other blogs I follow, he brings realism and honesty to what he talks about and is the first person to admit that what his experiences aren’t the only way to go about being successful in publishing. His, like others, are just one example of one path to success.

Jami Gold – Another recent discovery, I quickly became a fan of hers because not only is she down-to-earth, she readily admits she’s a perfectionist. Recently this became a major problem as she talked about writers must take care of themselves. From her own experiences she tells her audience that she was running herself so ragged some serious health issues arose. But she kept pushing those aside due to numerous deadlines and to keep up with the expectations modern writers are told they must do in order to be successful. Eventually this caught up with her as she could no longer put off seeing the doctor as her vision became impaired.

But beyond her tales of running her body on empty for too long, I like she admits she’s a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is a really bad thing if you are a writer. Nothing you write will ever be good enough, no matter who tells you otherwise. It’s nice reading about a fellow perfectionist writer to see how she handles it. Also, while her recent health matters may seem extreme, it nevertheless serves as a cautionary tale about listening to every single piece of advice on how to become a “successful” writer.

 

In addition to the above mentioned blogs, I also enjoy Unusual Historicals (great for those who appreciate the underappreciated people and places of history), Writer Beware (which is more of a website, in my opinion, rather than a blog), Romance University (great advice for a writer of any genre), English Historical Fiction Authors (good source for inspiration), and Writers in the Storm (another great place for general advice).

With so much information out there it’s important to me to find those blogs which won’t waste my time. It’s also important to me to find the kind of information which will be helpful to me not only in this still early stage in my career, but as I continue to grow. And I hope that my little corner of the internet has mirrored my own growth as a writer over the past few years.