Editing and Depression

Editing is a lot like depression.

Explaining depression to people who haven’t experienced it isn’t easy. Mostly because half the time I don’t even understand it myself. The last therapist I spoke to told me my depression was episodic, that it would wax and wane like any other mood. Except this is a lot deeper. I could say it’s like imagining a bad day that goes on for so long that it’s no longer definable as “bad.” It’s just the way it is.

There’s a website with a good explanation that I found tells the story of depression better than I can express. Though it’s related to what I said awhile back about the Midnight Disease. There’s times when I’m so obsessed about and focused on a piece of writing that I barely sleep, that I ignore other responsibilities, and I put everything else on hold until I finish what I’m working on. Then, when it’s finished and the focal point of my life is over, I’m left lost and adrift. I sink back into the depression again and I have no energy or motivation to do . . . anything.

Tuesday I finished the first draft of the fifth book of Arcana Revived. I was in such a rush at the end that I wrote about 10,000 words each two days in a row, cramming the last 20k of the novel in a mad rush at the end. It’s been four days since then, and this blog post is one of the first things I’ve written during all that time. Four days straight without writing is rare for me, and I know it’s because I’ve burned through whatever energy I had.

My next goal is to continue the edits on Manifestation. I’ve been working on them for the last couple of months while continuing my writing at the same time, but now I’ve fallen behind. Trying to get the motivation to start editing is hard when I’m suffering through a bout of depression. Part of it is because dealing with editing can be a lot like the listlessness that comes with depression.

(I bet you were wondering when I was going to start linking the two things together.)

If writing a first draft is like the mad rush and excitement of a new beginning, editing can be a tedious, day-by-day continuation of the same thing for a long period of time. It’s the “hard work” part of writing, where you need to go through everything with a fine-toothed comb. There comes a point where you’ve re-read the same passage so many times that it starts to feel a little bland. It’s like the imagination and excitement are gone.

If you read the page on depression I linked to, you might see the connection here to what the article says about losing the joy in playing with your toys. There’s times where it feels like you’re just going through the motions.

I’m not sure what the solution or cure is, or if there even is one. My current plan is to just keep pushing onward, day after day. But it reminds me of something I wrote for a grad class last year. How sometimes “even hopelessness falls by the wayside when boredom takes over, and you realize that it’s time to get back up and brush yourself off. Not because you want to. Not because you’ve recovered. But because what else is there to do? Nothing, except to keep walking. Sometimes there’s no other choice but to push through and come out stronger on the other side.”

So I’m going to keep on walking, or editing, as the case may be. Because the alternative is to give up and let depression win, and if I did that, Manifestation would never be finished. And that’s not an option. So I’ll keep editing.

In the meantime, here’s the full piece that quote came from. It’s a meta-analytic story called “Gabby & I”:

Gabby & I

Gabby is the poet. I am the author.

Her life is the one I write about. She lives it; I put it on the page. Every tragedy, every tear, every first kiss in a fresh draft seems so new to her. Yet I have seen them each again and again with every revision. Part of me is in her, but it is her that is in the story.

Yet there are times in the story where she is the one who picks up the pen. She is a poet, a creator of her own words. She writes, and the words on the page change from she to I. Her voice comes out, and mine is suppressed. The narrator flees as the words become her diary, her escape from the tragedy of her life, and she pours her heart onto the page. I no longer recognize myself in those words. It’s as if I’m no longer there. She has been released into the page, set free to express her deepest secrets, desires, doubts, and fears:

I thought I might find peace today
But it seems I’ve lost my chance
I wonder if I ever will
Find peace, or hope that lasts?

No, I won’t find peace today
Not ever, not a chance
And even if that peace was offered
I think I’d let it pass

Her poems carry emotions that are not mine. Yet those emotions are so real. People tell me her poems make them cry, and they ask what inspired them. All I can answer is, “Her life.” She uses her writing to express the pain that my writing has brought into the story of her life. Her experiences give her inspiration I cannot claim as my own. When I read her poems, her words bring tears to my eyes. I feel the loss that I have written into her life. I see her loneliness and know that my pen is to blame. I see her cries for help, and know I cannot give her the release that she wishes for. I feel guilt reading her poems, knowing the pain that inspired these words:

Oh, dearest Lord, I beg you please
To you I pray, here on my knees
Forgive my sins, and my mistake
Forgive the life I had to take

Forgive my heart, forgive my soul
And know it never was my goal
To take a life with my own hand
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be damned

I feel shame, knowing that people will read her poems as mine. I know they will look on me with sympathy. They will think I am the one who lived through such loss. They have even thought that it was I, not her, who considered ending it all. That her cries for help were my own.

Maybe they were.

Looking back on those poems, I see a darkness. One that might bring concern, and make others question the writer’s safety. Just as they did when she wrote “I may just do it anyway.” I see poems that speak of blood soaking the ground. The devil’s grin. The emptiness of a soul torn away as hands grasped in the air, trying not to let it go. Someone lost, dropping to their knees, perhaps in surrender, perhaps in prayer. Masks of shadow worn for an entire whole lifetime, torn away until you must face what was hidden underneath. Unmasked, shoulders slumped in defeat, letting the chance for peace slip away. I see a writer left worn raw, exposed to the cruel elements after that mask was torn away. I see a writer lost, with nothing but her words to guide her. I wonder if these will guide me:

So many things are gone today
So much taken from me
So what is left, except to pray?
Whatever can it be?

My words, forever shall they stay
With them I’m always free
The one thing they can’t take away
Because they’re part of me

There can be no darkness without light, and there can be no fall without a rise. Sometimes it just depends which comes first. These poems show the fall. More than anything the fall. Down deep into the dark ravine in a shrouded forest, where Gabby ran and hid. Just as I once had, a child fleeing into the woods to hide from those who didn’t understand me. I came back home each night, hiding no longer than it took for the sun to fall and my stomach to grumble. She had no such luxury; her home was lost and her family slain by her own mistakes. Her path continued onward into the darkness. She fell to her knees in the mud at the bottom of that ravine. It was a place I knew well. A place where I fell to the ground and gave up. A place where she was left with nothing but tears, cold, and the empty stars above. A place with no strength to continue on. Some might say that climbing back out of that place takes courage, or determination. But sometimes all it takes is the fact that you have nothing else to do. Kneeling there, in a wet ditch, without hope, we realized that staying there was pointless and boring. Even hopelessness falls by the wayside when boredom takes over, and you realize that it’s time to get back up and brush yourself off. Not because you want to. Not because you’ve recovered. But because what else is there to do? Nothing, except to keep walking. Sometimes there’s no other choice but to push through and come out stronger on the other side.

I went home. She kept moving onward:

And then I slowly closed my eyes
And cried myself to sleep
My shadow held me like a prize
That she would always keep

But when I woke, the night had come
My shadow was no more
My body shivered, I was numb
Rain had begun to pour

The rain began to fall. She let it wash her clean. This was her turning point, when the words in her poems became stronger. “Bravery is just a word,” she writes through my pen. Just a lie you wear to tell yourself that you can do this, that you can continue on. A cloak you wear to dress up in a warrior’s clothes and pretend you’re something more than a lost writer, searching for purpose. The thing is, though, that cloak starts to feel pretty comfortable after awhile. That armor starts to feel right. It starts to feel real. And so her poem says, “Hold nothing back.” She strides forward. She finds that the bravery she wore, first as a lie, really settles in around her shoulders once she stops holding back. It grows comfortable there and decides to stay for awhile. Lie to yourself long enough, and you start to forget what the truth is. Sometimes I start to forget which one of us found the truth: me or her? Author or poet? Which one of us took off the mask? Which one of us put on the cloak? She wrote that poem, she declared “I’ll keep moving forward,” wielding her bravery like a sword. My pen just set her on her path. She’s the lie I make of myself, giving her bravery and hope and a path so that I can pretend. After awhile, it wasn’t pretending for her anymore. Maybe it won’t be for me either:

Now I can move forward
No burdens on my back
With this axe and this sword
I’ll slay fear in its tracks

This brave soul runs towards
The future, and I’ll act
My burdens are ignored
No, they won’t hold me back

She remains the writer until I write, “She puts down the pen.” Then I am the writer once more, writing about her life. Maybe she’s the cloak I wear, her poems the lie I tell until I start to believe them. The scared little girl who started fighting back, and taught me to hold nothing back.

I think I can live with that.

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8 thoughts on “Editing and Depression”

  1. I know the feeling of emptiness once everything’s done. I hit The End on my third draft and it was just…nothing. I’d spent myself out, written in dozens of emotions that I didn’t think I was capable of writing, and at the end it was just done. No more, no less.

    Which is why I took a few days doing essentially nothing productive, then got back to work on some sort of writing or editing (presently editing a book for someone while the third draft is out in beta). Sometimes the “nothing productive” IS productive, because it brings back into the mind that need to write, to tell the story, to get it to the point that it can be shared with others and hits them in the gut with all the force it hits us.

    1. That regenerative state of mind is definitely important. It’s like we’re all in the Sims, and I just spent days maxing out my creativity bars, but my “Comfort” and “Fun” meters are drained. Gotta fill them back up before moving on.

      1. Yep. My classic “I’m doing nothing productive” move is to play a LOT of computer games…that are generally achievement based. I’m bad at the true no productivity thing.

      2. Half the reason I enjoy video games is because the “Gotta catch ’em all” attitude in so many of them makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.

  2. Really like this post. I go through exactly the same thing. It’s a writer thing.

    I’ll go through the same super writing time, and then suddenly, without cause I’ll just run out of energy and stop. I haven’t written all week, and really had to push to do some editing this morning. I find if I only have to do a little bit, an easy amount, I can start to build back up again.

    1. Building momentum is probably a good idea. I find that it’s hard to stop once I get in a writing-every-day habit, but equally hard to start up again once I break that habit.

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