Depression and Other Unsexy Truths

So—I’m behind again. By this point, by my own assessment some weeks back, I should be edging up on 75% done with what is hopefully my penultimate draft for Oath. (Not final, mind you, since that would theoretically negate my editor’s feedback, which is not a polite thing to do.)

But in actuality I’m sitting here at about halfway, if you don’t count the spit-and-polish that’s coming at the end. This is, of course, frustrating. I like things to work out in an orderly way. I have this sense that, by the gods, if I make a deadline, it must happen. You’d think I would know better, but well, no.

A variety of things continue to affect this, and I’d prepared a long post about them last week, but in the end it seemed mostly like whining. So today, since I owe you all an update, I thought I’d touch briefly on them (but with less feeling) and explore how they’ve dug their claws into the process.

Now, I know Conventional Wisdom (and Google) suggests that writer blogs are supposed to be these perpetually upbeat things that tell everyone else out there how to Craft better or how to fix all those pesky problems that (apparently) Brock Bookowitz and/or Writerina McNovelface happen to be immune to. You know, golden advice from Writerly Experts and all that.

But I’ve never liked that kind of thing as much as I’ve liked to know what’s actually going on with the writers whose work I enjoy. Because I’m hopeful somebody will enjoy that same thing from me, I make it a point to be as transparent and honest about my own process as I can. Which is probably for the best, really: I’m not a very good liar when it comes to my own life.

So today, true believers, I’m posting about my old nemesis: Depression.

I try not to give Depression the time of day. He and I have a long history, and he has a tendency to crash parties to which he’s not invited, becoming the center of attention for weeks or months at a time, often with catastrophic results.

I don’t like to admit my depression exists. Who would? After all, it’s one of those things that isn’t easily explained even by someone who’s a long-time case (though Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half does what is probably the best job ever—see Part One and Part Two for maximum effect).

Since Oath was and remains very important to me, my process has included a massive effort to shore up my defenses against such a possibility. Nothing, by Crom, was going to get in and ruin this. Nothing was going to screw this up. Especially not that sneaky bastard Depression.

But of course, like the soul-sucking ninja that it is, my depression found a way to sneak in and wreak its usual havoc. I’m not even going to pretend I’m done wrestling with it, but by this point I can at least pinpoint its role in what has been a multi-month stall on a quick, brutal set of revisions.

I’m pretty sure it managed to slip past my defenses when my fatigue hit. The sheer exhaustion begat fear, and between them they set up a feedback loop of desolation in which everything sounded horrible, every idea was useless, and every attempt to improve the text looked like crap.

I tried to think my way out of it. I tried to write my way out of it. Lately I’ve tried to research my way out of it. But none of those things really seem to help, and it’s occurred to me that this is so because, at the root of everything, I’m sitting at the bottom of a funk.

It’s better than past funks, which I have spent as a disheveled, shambling shell of a human being barely capable of speech (not to mention work or school), but it’s there all the same. And the most insidious aspect of this fact is that it has sucked my enthusiasm for the work right out of my soul.

To make my point, I hit a stage early last week where I no longer cared about the manuscript, the characters, the story—any of it. You know, fuck them, because—well, fuck them.

(I know, I know: real mature.)

This commenced several days of just staring at the screen, despising everything about Oath of Blood, wishing I’d never started it to begin with. This is, of course, irrational.  I’ve put almost a year of my life into this thing, and by the time I’m completely done that mark will certainly have passed.

And if I really think hard about it, I of course do like my characters and the story with which I’ve chosen to torture them. I don’t think I would have hung onto it all this long if the frustration pointed to a real dissatisfaction with the project on the whole.

But the problem was (and to some degree remains) that I cannot find it in myself to care, at least not in the way that carried me before. I’m still working—mostly because I’m stubborn and because I have friends and potential readers who deserve a finished product that’s worth their time.

But functionally? Right now I feel like I have exactly no shits left to give.

Experience tells me this will change with time and effort, but since we’re being honest here (for good or for ill) such is the state of things in the moment.

All of this naturally leads to a sense that I have lost faith in myself, lost faith in the work, lost faith in the idea that the whole thing is worth doing. Another chain of irrational thoughts, yes, but they follow one right after the other, like cigarettes stubbed out in my ash tray, and they are relentless.

I don’t know if others experience the process in this way. Maybe I’m the only one. In any case, the fact remains that writing can be a lonely, desolate thing. You go through the wasteland of your own mind with precious little assistance, and some days, even the best of help isn’t enough.

If I were feeling up to being pithy, I would quip about how I can channel that to write better about being miserable and the existential woe of the human experience—you know, or something. But that’s just a yarn you spin if you want to make infuriating delays and blocks sound epic.

Translation: it’s a bluff. The reality is actually pretty unsexy. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.

But stubbornly, the work continues, and as miserable as I think I feel right now, the hard hand of experience has taught me that I will be more miserable if I quit. Just about nothing in the world is worse than the ghost of a might-have-been. So—onward. But first I think I’ll top off my coffee.