Friday, September 14, 2018
Are Snippets While Depressed Writing?
Does light writing while depressed "count"?
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Our questions might look a little "thematic" in the next few weeks since they come from disassembled Twenty Questions posts.]
I have a srs question.
Let's say someone has many years-long depression that kills most of their will to ever create any kind of art, let alone clean their house or properly take care of themselves besides absolute basic daily needs.
If the best they can do for actual writing is to make pages of notes in building characters or settings, and small snippets of situational scenes for practice, and they keep doing this for years... does this still count as "write every day"?
First of all, I'm very sorry about your depression. I struggle with some down energy that kicks my ass for a couple of days but it just doesn't compare to some folks' struggles, and I avoid the D word. I know that mental illness can affect creativity, daily routine, and even just enjoyment of once-enjoyable things, so I don't want to step in here like I have answers a professional therapist would. I have some advice for writing with depression, and there's more to come after my attendance of Worldcon 76, but take it with a grain of salt as well as whatever level of help you might be able to afford and as much gentle self-care you can get. The best we can do is the best we can do.
"Write every day" shouldn't be prescriptive in the sense that anyone is able to be an arbiter of any particular writing adjacent activity's validity as really real writing, and if it is, you have my permission to snap kick the prescriber in their shin*. In that regard, I am unable to bestow the status of what "counts" and "doesn't count." (And neither will the deluge of comments in various social media [most from those who didn't read the article] telling you that absolutely it counts.)
No one––absolutely no one––has the power to take that judgement call away from YOU, whether they say no OR they say yes. They mean well, and maybe they're assuring themselves as much as anyone, but it's still 100% up to you whether it counts.
(*But not really because I have no authority to grant such permission.)
If this is what you enjoy and what you love and it brings you pleasure or fulfillment, then everyone else can take a flying leap into a vat of fecal matter. It surely counts if you count it. If this is the most you can do because of depression, then it's moot how useful or not it might be, and it might make your mood/outlook worse to be unkind to yourself that you can't do more.
If your goals are to be a famous, well-paid novelist someday then the water might get the slightest bit muddy. Writing these snippets is certainly better than doing nothing at all, but your skill for the parts you are avoiding (like any other unused skill) will atrophy over time, and you'll likely have to step up your holistic game before you start to write anything that you might want to submit. In your particular case, Jere, you are likely to find that you're tremendously good at small snippets, world building, and really neat characters that you've really thought through, but may have trouble tying those together with a cohesive narrative or coming up with a compelling character arc that spans a whole work. And of course that is assuming your depression picks up, moves to barbados, and lets you work for a year.
Imagine yourself as a basketball player who has been shooting some hoops from the freethrow line and the three-point line, and gets into the occasional pick-up game. You might be quite good at sinking shots and decent at the game, but it's not the same as the practice you'd need to go pro. You're going to have to learn to move in on the basket, pass, lay up, and move up and down the court for over an hour. You will be in a much better place than anyone who had done nothing, though.
Then again you'd possibly be really good at micro-fiction or poignant vignettes. Or simply at writing works with strong characters and intense moments but a weak overall plot arc. (You certainly wouldn't be the first published author with such clear strengths and weaknesses. Shakespeare was generally terrible at plot. If the intensity of each moment weren't so fucking awesome you'd probably notice that except for MacBeth, most of his works drag a little.) Perhaps it might work with your mental illness to consider the kind of writing you work well doing, and not trying to force yourself to be a novelist (or write a novel that focuses on something other than a grand plot arc).