Hi. My name is Freya Bell, and I have officially been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I am also a writer and a publisher. In this blog post I will share my strategies for writing while depressed. We will look at setting goals, keeping forward momentum, and strategies.
Picture it. You are climbing a mountain. A steep mountain. It just rained, so the trail is gone, replaced with mud. On your back is a pack filled with cement and hunks of rock. You want to sit down in the mud and wait it out. But you don’t. You keep putting one step in front of the other because at the top of the mountain is something you want. A publishing contract, a finished novel or short story. An inspirational blog post.
You want to reach that peak, so you keep sludging through the mud. But it seems so far away, and some days the mud comes up to your waist and it takes all your energy just to keep standing, let alone to keep moving forward.
This is where goals come in. No, not the big goals at the top of the peak. Smaller goals. Lower that bar for yourself. No, lower. There you go. Set yourself a goal of a single sentence. That’s it. This isn’t your lofty goal, but it is a handhold to pull yourself up a little higher on the mountain. A single sentence, you can do that. A single sentence and you are done for the day. Close your notebook or word processor.
When times are dark, you don’t need to put more pressure on yourself by forcing it. If you are a reward driven person, reward your efforts. Congratulate yourself. You did the thing! Which takes us directly into our next point.
Keep the Momentum Going
Keep writing your sentence a day until it feels less painful. This may take a few days, it may take weeks. Be patient with yourself. Let your feelings guide you. No, not the depression voice telling you to sit down and let the mud flow over you. I’m talking about that frail little voice that congratulates you when you write your one sentence. It is in there and it is worth learning to hear it.
So a few days or a few weeks have passed, and you’ve written your sentences, and it’s starting to feel natural. It’s time to stretch, to reach for a handhold a little further away than a sentence. A paragraph. That’s just a few sentences stitched together. Reach, and do a paragraph a day for a few days or a few weeks until it feels less intimidating.
Do not stretch too far too fast!. This warning comes from personal experience. I’ll have a good day. The depression voices are on mud, the mud only seems as deep as the soles of my shoes, and the sun is shining. I overcommit. I say ‘one paragraph, one schmaragraph, I’m going to write 1000 words a day from now on.’ I bash the words out, I maybe even maintain it for a couple days. But the inevitable happens. I have a bad mental health day. The mud surges up to my knees and I stumble. That handhold of 1000 words might as well be on Mars. I fail to write 1000 words and the depression voices pounce, chanting ‘failure failure failure’. I’m back at square one, and even a sentence feels impossible.
Phew, that got a little personal. But take my experience as a warning. Be gentle with yourself. Go as slow as you need to. You have to walk before you can run. So pace yourself, build up to a higher goal over time (be that a few days or even months). Expand from a sentence to a paragraph to a page to X words a day.
Successes – Celebrate them! Say them out loud, tell a friend! Because they are successes, from a sentence to 1667 words a day (NaNoWriMo is coming up!). Try keeping a record of your successes so you can see how far you’ve come. A checklist, a spreadsheet, a jar full of skittles. However you track is up to you. Remember, you are in control of this process. You are! When the mud is high and the mountain steep it may not feel like you are in control, but you are the only person who can tell your story. So keep at it, one word at a time.
Backsliding – Whether it is from overreaching or from external influences, we all have bad days where reaching for the pen or keyboard feels like your arms are filled with lead. So there’s the secret – There is no such thing as backsliding. The words aren’t going anywhere. You aren’t losing your place on the mountain. You’ve still made progress towards your goal. Depression can’t take your progress away from you.
So what do you do when it feels like you are falling backwards? You accommodate. If you pull a muscle you wouldn’t try and run a marathon. Try a walk around the block instead. If you’ve been writing 1000 words a day, drop down to a page or a paragraph or a sentence. You get to keep the momentum going while allowing the bad day to happen. Because bad days do happen. Don’t let those depression voices pile mud on you.
This is what works for me. It might not work for you, and that’s okay. But give it a try. You might learn something.
The above chart is something I made for myself to remind myself how fast words turn into achieved goals. This is based on a 90k novel, but it illustrates the concept. Try it out. Got a 5k story to write? It will be done in no time at all!
Your goals are achievable. The mountain and the mud slow you down, but they can’t stop you. You CAN reach the peak and achieve what you want if you:
- Take it slow
- Pay attention to your comfort levels
- Are forgiving with yourself.
I would say good luck, but this isn’t about luck. It is about perseverance and goal setting, and you CAN do it.