Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: writers’ block

Depression and Writer’s Block

In a way, I don’t know where the past few weeks have gone, though I can tell you what I was doing for most of them since my last post here. The essential thing is that I’ve been in a depressive funk and struggling to do pretty much everything from rising every day to writing on anything to indulging in hobby activities like crocheting. I’m not out of the pit yet either.

What I’ve been doing is getting out of the house a lot. Between Christmas and the beginning of last week (the 7th). Most of the time, I’ve either been going to the offices where the Utah Pride Center moved their therapy services, or, even more often, to Oasis Games, which bought the pride center’s old building and fixed up the first floor. I’ve been going there mainly to read Dungeons and Dragons books; I finished reading the Player’s Handbook and have been making slow progress on reading the Dungeon Masters Guide since about the first week of January.

I’ve also been continuing crocheting. My primary project is now complete, and I’ll be giving it to my friend who I decided to give it to soon if I get an opportunity. To be honest, I’ve done most of the work on it at the pride center’s therapy offices.

But even with those things, I’ve been in a depressive funk. The main reason is because I received a decision from the VA on my Compensation claim. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last year, but I started the claim in order to try and connect my bipolar disorder to my Naval service. Well, they didn’t even bother opening a case; they simply denied it without investigating. I’m fairly certain that is what threw me into this depressive funk.

It’s still with me. And, unfortunately, it’s not a state of mind I’ve been able to simply write through. I’ve tried. The first 4 days of this month, I wrote at least 500 words a day. Managed to complete, I think, 2 scenes on Unwritten Letters. But I didn’t feel like writing. Even with plot cards, I had trouble grasping the ideas. I felt no joy in getting the words down. Even though the quality was up to my standards, I hated what I’d written because I’d written the words when I felt bad. Gah, talking about it is dragging me down again. Enough.

Anyway, I haven’t touched my writing to do more than read stuff since then. Most days, I haven’t even been able to read my writing. I will not go into detail about how that makes me feel—it’s even more depressing than my description of writing, and I really don’t want to get as bad as I was last weekend over it all.

So, I foolishly thought writer’s block was a myth. That people who had it were undisciplined and lacked initiative in their writing. Well, since September or October, I’ve seen what it’s like to be undisciplined and lack initiative. And now I’ve been treated to my own grand case of writer’s block thanks to this depression.

Let me go over this again, to make it clear. Reading my writing depresses me, primarily because I see all its potential and am not actively capitalizing on it. Writing on anything depresses me any more because it’s not THERE—the ideas are vague, no matter how well-prepared I am for writing, and I hate the act of writing, and having done so makes me feel horrible because I didn’t enjoy doing so and I think I should. So it’s easier to just not write. I’ve gotten to the point where I dread writing, and I figure when it’s that bad, there’s no point in torturing myself.

Oh, I won’t be this way forever. I have faith in that. Maybe I’ll tuck myself into the inpatient mental ward at the VA, maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll get by and this depression will pass. It’s already started to lift—a little—the past few days. I have a good long-distance friend I can chat about this with, and if that doesn’t help, I can always call the Veterans Crisis Line, and I’ve already notified my mental health care team about where I stand emotionally. All I need to do is stick it out long enough for the clouds to pass, and I’ve done that before and know I can do it again. In the meantime, I’m getting out, cuddling with my cat, and doing what I can to distract myself from my depression so I don’t do something stupid.

Writer’s Block or Project Block

If you’ve followed my blog any length of time, you know I suffer from an unpredictable, periodical, and severe form of writers’ block, driven by my bipolar mood swings, which I call “writing downswings.” I happen to be in the middle of one of these right now, and while it hasn’t been completely dry creatively, it has pretty much wiped out my creative mind. What little progress I have made, on my 2yn15 project, has been stilted at best; I’m in the middle of a series of exercises meant to help me build the world of Mukhamutara, and it takes me days to figure out how to meet the expectations of the lessons given.

But this is, for me, inherently different from another, milder form of block which affects specific projects or, more frequently, all the projects on one particular world. I’ll call this Project Block, and I think it may be just as driven by my bipolar as my writing downswings are, which means it’s never going to be controllable.

Typically, in my writing, things go like this: My writing swings “up” out of a downswing with a focus on one particular world. Sometimes with a focus on one particular project in any given world. Regardless, this does not permit deviation from the particular world I’m focused on. So, if I come “up” out of a downswing focused on, say for example, TPOM3, I’m unable to work on anything besides other Chraest stories.

I may read every single stalled project I have set in each and every world I have a Scrivener file for. This includes even those Scrivener files where I’ve just copy-pasted old wips from years before that I plan on looking into completing at some later date. I will frequently even come up with ideas for the storyline, characters, or other things related to those stories, and I write these notes down. But I don’t actually write on these stories, or in these other worlds.

So, typically, my focus remains either TPOM3, or possibly some other Chrest project or two.

Rarely does my creative mind provide me ideas for plotting/writing on projects set in two different worlds; that’s generally when my writing is running a bit manic, and it’s more frustrating in some ways than it is helpful, because it makes it impossible for me to focus on one or another particular project enough to make decent progress on anything at all.

Much of the time (though not all), I’m happy with my creative mind’s willingness to focus on one particular project or a number of them set on one particular world. That’s when I make the most progress on anything. So, for the most part, Project Block is helpful. There are times when it isn’t, but those are rare, and that’s typically when I have the desire to write, but no ideas for plotting or handling plotted out scenes, and this is something I can’t get moving even if I move to a project I happen to be pantsing for the most part (I do have a project or two for which I have no outlines—but they usually have notes and other background work).

The frustrating thing is when my Project Block migrates from world to world. This happens pretty frequently—sometimes even more frequently than I post about on Twitter or here on my blog. I’ll be happily writing on one or more projects on a given world, then, over a number of days, I’ll lose creative focus, then come out of the fugue with a focus on another world.

I’ll be honest here. I really wish I could be like those writers who can focus on one project from beginning to end before moving on to something else. I’d probably have a lot more books done if I could do that. And I have tried to do that. More than once. Each and every time, I ended up hating my writing, and I stopped forcing the words so I wouldn’t drive myself into depression. I do not want to be depressed and in despair over my fantasy writing. It’s my first love in writing, and the work I really want to make work, so I’ve learned to go with the flow. If my creative mind doesn’t want to work on something, I don’t force it. I know I’ll eventually come back to it, and I’ve learned to accept that.

When I Get “Real Writers’ Block”

I spoke briefly in a previous post about why my plotting sometimes doesn’t go well. But, while writing downswings are one of the most common reasons I struggle with my writing, they aren’t the only reason I do.

The other major reason why I have difficulty with plotting is because I simply haven’t thought something through well or deeply enough to see what else is possible in the story. Frequently, I’ll get so far in the outline and hit a block point where I come across something I haven’t given adequate thought to. Well, not conscious thought; frequently, in scenes I’ve written up to this point, I’ll later find I’ve set up the plot point I’m now working out.

This situation requires a little more effort than stepping away from the writing for a while. What I frequently discover when I hit a block like this, is that I want to read another story, either complete or not, set in the same world. I think this is my subconscious wanting to do two things: 1. take a break from the main WIP; and 2. refresh itself on what I’ve written previously. This is good for a few reasons, but one of the primary ones is that often I’ll come up with worldbuilding “facts” about the world or plotting ideas for other stories, including my current main project, while doing this. It’s a break from things, but one which pushes the current project forward in some way.

Then, once I’m done reading other WIPs, I’ll return to the current main project and read through it. This may or may not spark any fresh ideas, and I don’t always get them as I’m reading through what I have written already. After I read to the point where I stopped writing, I’ll do a little something else—say play a simple mind-numbing game, or devote some time to chatting with a friend on the phone or online. The key here is to keep myself busy, but not so much so I’m filling my mind with other information. Too much other information, even if it’s in my conscious mind, tends to interfere with my realizations of what the plot can do.

Once I’ve backbrained things for a bit, I read through the plot cards I have with an eye for pulling out subplots and emphasizing the main plot. Sometimes, when I get to the point where I’ve stopped the story’s outline, I have ideas for a plot card or two. Most of the times, it’s not so easy. I’ll go through this process several times before I try other tactics, because this usually eventually works, even if I have to repeat the process more than a couple times.

So I go do something mindless again while things percolate. I’ll go for a walk, do housework. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do something which totally occupies my mind at the same time it leaves it open for inspiration. Best thing for this is showering. I’m so busy thinking about what body part I need to scrub next and singing along with the radio, it gives my conscious mind a total break from the writing. I never come up with ideas while in the shower, but I’ve come back to my desk plenty of times after one, settled down in my after-shower robe, and inspiration will strike while I’m clipping my nails or mindlessly chatting with friends online.

If none of this works—and sometimes it doesn’t—I read a book I’m very familiar with. Old books I know well leave the mental door open for ideas for my writing, and sometimes even spark ideas. Books I’ve not read before aren’t so good for that. Also, I’ll try watching a movie I’ve seen many times before—for the same reason. It inspires and leaves the creative door open. Generally speaking, though, I’m much too focused on my writing to step away from the computer to watch a movie, so I don’t do that much.

But usually, I’ll figure out a plot card long before I have to resort to the movie-watching method of creative inspiration. I wrote it “Real Writers’ Block” because I don’t think there’s such a thing as writers’ block. I think we can all work our way past the difficulties we’ve written into our stories if we remain focused and determined and go seeking the inspiration we need—which is why most of my efforts involve remaining at the computer and actively concentrating on my work somehow. The other methods generally don’t work quite as well, and I when I return to the computer, I end up going through my WIPs and outlines a number of times again before inspiration does strike.

I firmly believe you have to hunt down inspiration and beat it on the head before it’ll work in a habitual manner, which is why I think having a regular writing schedule and habits around the writing process is a great help. Frequently, even when I’m doing something mindless—I’m doing that so I have a portion of my conscious mind free to devote to working out the plot issue that’s stopped me.

(WIP = Work In Progress)

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