Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sun Also Sets—Writers and Depression

Maybe it's because of all the time we spend in our heads, riding our characters' emotions as well as our own, but writers are notoriously prone to depression. Just think of all the big-name authors who have died young, either from suicide or other causes, like abusing their bodies. Ernest Hemingway and several songwriters spring to mind, and that's before I even check the Wikipedia lists.

I don't know about you, but it scared me, when I was in high school literature classes. Made me wonder if I was doomed to a gloomy life of depression and angst. (So I was a melodramatic teenager. Shoot me. And be glad I don't inflict my first few novels on you.)

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I'm prone to depression, too.

You may recall the hormone disorder I've mentioned having. Sometimes, it makes me giddy and inexplicably happy, but more often…

If my laundry lingers unfolded for more than a day, I'm depressed. If it lingers folded but not put away… Well, I'd better get some vitamin D ASAP. (Vitamin D's technically not a vitamin; it's a hormone that your body creates out of sunshine exposure.)

That sunlight's often the most effective treatment for depression—for me, anyway. Going out for some frozen yogurt or to visit some friends can help, if neighbors are mowing their lawns, since I then cannot go outdoors. (Alert: if you take melatonin to help you sleep, that can make depression worse, too.)

Okay. Great. Depression's not unusual for writers. Why am I bringing it up, and how does it relate to self-editing?

First, why I'm bringing it up: nobody was interested in my giveaway. That's pretty darn depressing. I'm figuring that it might've been an idea that was better in my head than in practice—or maybe I don't have a large enough following for it to work, yet. So. No more giveaways for the at least the next few months, unless I get personally invited or see an opportunity that seems too good to pass up.

And I'm pointedly distracting myself with songs like "Another Mad Science Love Song" and "Oh, Michelle" by Seanan McGuire* when I start dwelling on the "Nobody wanted a free story!" aspect. I know I can write well. *(Be warned that "Oh, Michelle" has PG-13 cursing, and I'm a fan of black humor.)

Second: how does writer depression relate to self-editing?

If you have to ask that, you've never faced a "sea of red"—a good editorial pen. (And if you've never given yourself a "sea of red," you probably aren't the best at self-editing. Are there exceptions? Yes. Some folks produce very clean first drafts. Are you likely one of them? Not unless you've already a voracious reader and you've written a ton.)

Look, it's not unusual for me to work as tutor or editor. And all the less practiced writers I work with are convinced that they're the most terrible writer ever when they see the corrections I make—even when I reassure them that they're not. (I could tell tales of fan fiction so bad that… Never mind.)

It's the ones who've faced it before that have some sense in how to conquer that "Oh, I suck!" sensation that comes when you're looking at a piece that needs to be edited.

Because not everything needs revision.

It's like A Fistful of Fire. I mercilessly marked up a printed copy of the book, then realized when putting in the edits that most of the changes were downright optional. Which I noticed because I'd bothered to take a step back and to take a deep breath before I dove into it.

If I'd been depressed, I would've applied every little change, some of which would've altered parts of the story into the voice of Destiny's Kiss. (…Ooops?)

When you're writing, when you're editing—whether it's self-editing or with a beta or with a paid editor—you need to pay attention to your personal cues. You should have something that you can pay attention to, to notice when you're getting depressed.

Nip that depression in the bud.

The sun does set.

But remember that it rises, too.

What cues you in when you're getting depressed? Do you notice? How do you counter your depression?


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