Maybe it’s the season – it’s still winter here in Western Australia, and an unusually chilly one. Maybe it’s the sequence of truly horrifying events that have played out internationally in recent times. Perhaps it’s the disquiet that comes from a society that increasingly seems to place populist sentiment above logic or morality. Most likely all of the above have contributed to a phenomenon I’ve noticed over the last few months – writers feeling sad and unproductive.
Writing is a roller-coaster ride, like any other creative occupation; the highs can be stunning, thrilling, euphoric, and the lows can be crippling. On one end there’s the new contract, the fabulous review, the royalty cheque, the feeling of having made a difference. On the other there are the rejections, the opportunities that come to nothing, the one star reviews, the falling sales figures. The unfinished manuscript you just can’t see your way to working on.
I’m seldom subject to depression. My self-belief is generally healthy and my approach to my work is pragmatic. (To put this in context, I earn my living as a novelist.) This winter has been different. I’m not the only writer to find herself despondent and lacking in energy, thanks to the factors mentioned above plus some personal issues. Within my circle of writers, a remarkably high proportion of friends are feeling low in spirits – anything from mild general malaise to full-blown clinical depression. To a greater or lesser extent, that is impacting on people’s ability to get good words down on the page.
I wish I had a magic charm to make writers happy and productive, politicians humane, and human beings wiser. In place of that, I suggest we focus on something far smaller. Here’s an exercise that might help us both as writers and as individuals feeling overwhelmed, whether by the volume of our personal workload, our domestic issues or the tide of world events. Sit down, or lie down, somewhere comfortable. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and feel yourself relax. Now let’s do an exercise with our five senses. [Read more…]