Have you heard about this thing called writer’s depression?
I’ve been reading a lot of books about writing from some of my favorite authors, and I keep coming across a theme that really hits hard with me: Writing is lonely! If you talk to anyone who makes money with their words, they will eventually tell you that writing comes down to sitting alone with a computer, typewriter, or pen and paper for long periods of time.
If you want to achieve fiction writing success or writing success by any definition, you have to learn how to shut out the world and focus on your work. Even if you collaborate with others, there are times when you need to concentrate on your share of the work in order to get in touch with your best writing ideas.
So, successful writers spend hour upon hour, day after day, and week after week in solitary confinement. They may peek into the sunshine during short breaks or take time off to enjoy their loved ones, but their brains are still focused on their work in progress most of the time. Then they sneak off to hide in their office, their corner of the house, or perhaps even a closet.
Is it really a mystery that writer’s depression is a real thing for many successful writers?
I actually don’t buy into the cliché that all writers are mentally ill and one step away from suicide.
First of all, there is no scientific proof that writers are crazy. Second, I know many writers who are actually quite healthy and sane. I would say that I’m included in this group, but some of my family members may object *wink*.
My belief is that writer’s depression can easily become a problem due to the fact that writing is lonely. Humans are social creatures, and we need interaction with others to feel satisfied and happy.
When a writer is immersed in his or her work, the tendency is to shut out all other voices and simply focus. While we may feel so close to our characters that they seem like real people in our minds, communicating with them on the page isn’t the same as spending a day at the park with your toddler or going on a long vacation with someone special.
Let’s look at some of the most common causes of depression:
- Long-term isolation
- Stress over finances or unemployment
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Long-term work stress
I cherry picked these from a reputable source, but you get the point. Some of the most common causes of depression are things that many writers go through on a daily basis due to the lonely nature of the profession.
When you hear or read a writer say that writing comes down to sitting your butt in the chair, turning off social media, muting your phone, telling your loved ones to leave you alone, and simply getting those words on the page no matter how painful it becomes, it sounds inspirational. It sounds romantic and intriguing.
In reality, it’s a recommendation for long-term isolation.
Stress over finances or unemployment? Very few writers are true “one-hit wonders.” They struggle for years with their craft before making any substantial amount of money, and many will never get there.
There is plenty of stress when writer’s block sets in, you have a deadline looming, or you get little support from loved ones who don’t understand why you aren’t a successful published author already. Let’s not forget about Small Fry Syndrome. That’s stressful in its own right.
Many novel writers also experience some level of depression when finishing a book. You work for so long focused on one project, and it takes a big adjustment to switch your mind away when the book is finished.
Not all writers abuse drugs and alcohol, but I have read may fair share of posts on social media where writers are celebrating “the end” or just the completion of 500 words with a stiff drink. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink for adults, but too much celebrating could lead to issues for anyone. I still don’t believe that writers are more prone to those problems than anyone else.
Put it all together, and you see why I believe that writer’s depression is a real thing. I also think that we can try to avoid it by making healthy lifestyle choices to combat these common causes of depression. For example:
- Commit to limiting your hours of writing lonely. Make a point to interact with your loved ones, go out to dinner with a friend, or simply take a walk to soak up that vitamin D. You can even use your loved ones to help you come up with new creative writing ideas, so don’t think of it as wasted time away from your work in progress.
- Take steps to achieve financial security. This often means cutting way back on expenses so that you can live on less. It just gives you more reason to focus on writing, right?
- Learn to control the impact of stress. Try meditation, journaling, drawing, gardening, or other activities that relax your mind and body.
- Make sleep a priority. I know firsthand that sleep deprivation is one of the biggest influences on depression, but it’s something that you can control even when a deadline is looming or you just want to keep writing until you pass out involuntarily.