When writer’s block isn’t

I had writer’s block yesterday. For some reason writers talk about writer’s block as if it’s a disease, some illness you can contract. And everyone has their own way of treating that disease. Special foods. Mindless television. Going for a run. Doing the dishes. Staring at the screen wondering if you will ever, ever write again, because obviously your store of words has permanently run dry. It’s unpleasant, no matter how you try to deal with it, and it’s always a huge relief when it passes.

For me, writer’s block is different. I have bipolar disorder that’s more or less kept in check by medication and behavioral modification. And some days I’m just depressed enough that I can’t write. If I force myself to, whatever goes on the page gets deleted by the end of the day because it’s awful, not just to my depressed brain but to any objective reader. But I’m not so depressed that I’m incapable of getting out of bed (though I do tend to spend the day in my pajamas, but that’s just an indulgence), which means I haven’t lost the drive to write. This is hell.

In a moment of synchronicity, my husband sent me a wonderful blog post by Mary Robinette Kowal, detailing her own journey through depression and how that relates to writer’s block. I repost it here because it’s uncannily like my own, though unlike her I was thrilled to have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and was eager to be treated; I had been suffering for so long thinking I was weak and stupid it was wonderful to have a name to put to my condition. But the essence is the same; you don’t have to let depression rule your life, and there are ways to deal with it. Kowal lists some great coping techniques for dealing with writer’s block that arises from depression, but I think they’re excellent suggestions for anyone struggling with depression, period. And if this is a struggle you recognize within yourself, for your own sake, get help, whatever that means for you. Don’t let the stigma of mental illness keep you from getting well.

I’m still staring at the screen, waiting for this to pass. I’m grateful to know it will.

Why I Wrote Today

Today I’m participating in the Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life. Hosted by Positive Writer.

Today I sat down at the computer and opened a new document. I organized the notes I’d made on story, on character, on the history of my world. And I began writing my thirteenth book.

Fourteen years ago I could not even imagine today. Fourteen years ago my doctor handed me a diagnosis I could never have guessed at: bipolar disorder, type II, rapid cycling. None of which made sense to me, except for the fundamental, absurdly dramatic reality that my brain was dealing with a biological illness that was going to affect everything I did from that day forward.

Fourteen years ago I began huddling in on myself, trying to deal with something no one I knew had ever experienced, even at second hand. I became accustomed to being unable to schedule activities more than a few days in advance for fear I wouldn’t be in a condition to meet those obligations. My friendships changed, my hobbies vanished, and all that was left was to hold on and tell myself I’d get everything back someday, because the medications were working, the therapy was working, I wasn’t losing anything I couldn’t recover.

Today I woke up knowing I had a long day of writing to look forward to. Starting a new novel is one of my favorite things in the world. I do a lot of planning before I sit down at my beautiful little keyboard, with its keys that click loudly and make me feel like I’m Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday, tapping away as the screen fills up with words, then paragraphs, then pages.

Four years ago I woke up feeling as if I were finally coming up for air after ten years of self-imposed solitude. The medication was working. I had my life back. I had a family that loved me. And I’d lost almost everything else. I’d planned to keep up my skills to get a job when my children were old enough; those skills were ten years out of date, I’d lost touch with all my contacts, and worse, I no longer wanted the things I’d thought I did. All that was left was a desperate need to do, to act, to create something that would persist, something I could point to and say “I made this.”

Today I went over my previous project, the one I’d had such hopes for. You love all your babies, and it’s sad when they turn into something you didn’t expect, something out of your control. The reason I started the thirteenth book was that I had to put the twelfth one away for a while. But there’s a beauty in that, too—the beauty of knowing that eventually, you’ll take it out again and see the potential you didn’t the first time. And you’ll find joy in it again.

Two years ago I was in despair over having tried my hand at half a dozen hobbies or jobs and failed at all of them. For different values of “failed,” really; some of them I discovered I didn’t really like, most of them I found I was terrible at, all of them were incapable of satisfying that need that ate at me every day, driving me to try again. But I was getting tired of trying.

Two years ago, on a whim, I started planning a story. It wasn’t much at first, just a character and a city, but it grew, and there came a day when I stood back and looked at it all with a critical eye and thought, “Why not?”

Two years ago today, I sat down at the computer and opened a new document. I organized the notes I’d made on story, on character, on the history of my world. And I began writing my first book.

Today I know what will happen when I start a new project. Two years ago I had no idea how the act of writing would take hold of me, how amazing it feels when the story starts to bloom and you find yourself following threads you never intended to. I didn’t realize what it was like to find myself still writing at 3 a.m. because the images keep unfolding and stopping is unthinkable. After all those years of being lost, writing was a gift. A joy.

Today I write because writing makes me happy. It makes me see the world differently. And it reminds me that some things can’t be lost.