A lot of writers deal with depression. I’ve never stated it outright, but I am one of those writers. Fortunately, my depression is seasonal. Even during the worst bouts, I still have the ability to function day to day. It’s more like an itch I can’t scratch than a broken hip. Sometimes the itch is all I can focus on, and this hinders me, but it doesn’t cripple me.
I used to get down on myself if I didn’t hold to the mantra that you must “write every day.” And of course, this self-deprecating attitude would lead to more depression and lower productivity. But writing is far too personal to generalize like that. Still, it took me some time to be okay with my own process. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the current moment in time and looked at myself in terms of a whole year here, a whole year there, that things finally, blessedly, clicked into place.
I am a seasonal writer. There are large chunks of time–days or weeks at a stretch–that I do little to no writing at all. And when I do write during those dark days, rarely do I finish what I start. Sometimes it is not even worth saving, let alone pursuing publication.
These low periods are balanced out by the highs. The months when I am finishing everything I start, while also reading stacks of books every night, multitasking work and home, family-ing, day-job-ing, and rescuing puppies on the side. If I didn’t know so much about bipolar from being married to someone with bipolar, I’d think I was bipolar. But I’m not. I am a victim of the earth’s annual weather cycle in the region that I live. It’s called seasonal affective disorder, and it pretty much rules my writing process.
Does this mean I am not a professional writer? No. It means I have a mental circumstance to work around. My skill is not dependent upon living in an ideal situation, and neither should anyone’s be. But all of our circumstances are different, so each of us must learn how to embrace our own process, and how to not compare it to anyone else’s.
In the chaos, I found order. I found the reason my process works for me.
These are my most productive months. During the spring quarter, I’ve completed all but one of seven novels.
This year, my productivity shifted toward the positive on the exact day we changed the clocks. So it was literally “like clockwork” when I felt my brain spiking in the right direction. Spring may not technically arrive for a few more days, but I’m already reaping the benefits of March. A project I’d been struggling with since September is suddenly a blast of fireworks. I’ve produced more of this book in the past week than I did all through fall and winter.
When the air is so thick and hot you can’t breathe, I start to wind down, somewhat exhausted by my expense of creative energy in the prior months. The good thing is, I have a finished draft that I can polish into something beautiful, and my mind is still willing to work because the daylight hours are long. Sunlight positively affects brain chemistry. My productivity is lower, but not necessarily low. It evens out into something more sane.
Outside of writing, fall is my favorite season. Within my writing life, it’s an odd state of in-between. Whatever projects I’d started in spring are finished by now, and so I think, naturally, it’s time to dive into the next one. But no matter how hard I try, nothing sticks. This is when doubt starts pouring over my head like cold maple syrup, slow and steady, difficult to remove. New ideas are still rampant, but I can’t ever seem to finish what I start. Was I wrong about myself? Am I really a hack? Was the book I just finished simply a fluke, never to be repeated?
Daylight shrinks and the monster of doubt grows. This is an ugly ugly time. I cry a lot. I fake smile a lot. I do nothing a lot. I consider deleting my social media accounts, daily. This past winter was my worst yet, likely because the past spring/summer was one of my best yet. The higher the high, the lower the low. I am lucky to have a good husband to lean on and good books to read or the winter months would crush me completely, grind me into dust.
The best thing about winter is that it’s followed by spring, and the cycle starts over again with fervor.
If you have seen anything of yourself in my ramblings, there are a few things you can do to ease the process:
1. Understand that it is a cycle. The bad times will repeat, but so will also the good.
2. Understand that it is okay to go with the flow of your brain. You are not wrong for taking time off. You are not wrong for not forcing yourself to “write every day.” You are not wrong for producing one new book per year, or less, while others are producing six within the same time frame.
You. Are not. Wrong.
3. Do not compare your process to anyone else’s. Much easier said than done. Reread number 2.
4. Step out of the current moment in time and look at what you’ve accomplished in the span of a year. Or longer, if need be. Determine the ups and downs of your individual cycle. Embrace your process. Own it. Make it work in your favor.
It can work in your favor. You can be a professional writer even if you take time off, regularly. You can be a success despite this mental hurdle.
Is anyone else out there dealing with seasonal writing disorder? How have you embraced your individual process and made it work for you?
Live well, my friends, and write on. Spring is here.