Writing in the dark ... The pros and cons of being a writer.
As we approach the summer months, I’m looking forward to writing bathed in sunlight. But, even on the sunniest of days, we sometimes write in the dark. Not literally of course. Writing as a career has some definite perks and some gnarly cons. It’s something they don’t tell you in the handbook when you decide to pick up a pen and start writing. The perks usually outweigh the cons, but there are times when the darker side of writing takes its toll.
This week, I want to explore some of the pros and cons of writing as a career. Some of these are trivial. But, at least one, can have far-reaching effects on your life.
Perk # 1
I don’t need a fancy uniform or set of clothes to write in. A typical day of writing will see me dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Some writers write in pj's and some in their birthday suits. It’s a perk. We don’t have to spend extra money on outfits to impress clients or bosses. We get to go to work wearing whatever we want.
Con # 1
It can be extremely difficult to motivate myself to get dressed in the morning. If not for my son and his need to get to school (or have friends come to our house), I would probably spend most days in pajama pants and a sweatshirt. Doesn’t sound too bad, but it means forcing myself to get dressed when I’m required to be presentable. It can take a great deal of self-convincing.
Perk # 2
My hours are flexible. This is a big bonus. I can volunteer in my son’s classroom without having to ask the boss. I can schedule appointments whenever I need to. The only deadlines I have are self-imposed. This is a definite perk. Sounds like a great deal, right?
Con # 2
My writing time is not sacred to other people. They assume that I’m always available and am willing to go and do at the drop of a hat. Writing is my job, and while I have more flexibility than most, I do need to write every day. I don’t get paid if I don’t produce and I don’t produce when I’m not sitting at my keyboard. That means I have to stick to my guns and keep my writing time sacred.
Perk # 3
I don’t have coworkers (which isn’t always a perk), and I’m my own boss. Don’t get me wrong. I love and miss most of my former coworkers. I even miss a couple of my former bosses. They are wonderful people. But, being able to have the freedom to work at my own pace is incredible. I have full control over my work and what I produce (or don’t produce). But ….
Con # 3
Writing is a lonely career. Unless I force myself, I rarely have face-to-face interactions with other people. Which means, no office chit-chat. No water cooler talk. No updates on the latest celeb whatever. No political convos or news discussions. Seems silly, but when the only people you have to converse with during a workday are your cats … well, you get the picture.
Perk # 4
I can work wherever I am. From my couch. From the backyard. From a sunny beach somewhere tropical. Sounds great! Where do I sign up?
Con # 4
I don’t have the luxury of having a separate workspace. Meaning, I can’t leave work at the office. Work follows me everywhere I go. The ideas don’t turn themselves off just because I’m on vacation or it’s after work hours. I have to set guidelines for myself, so I take needed down time. That means coming up with a set schedule of when I write and when I’m “off duty” and sticking to it. While my hours are flexible, I try to stick to a regular schedule both for my sanity and for that of my family.
Perk # 5
Having a writing epiphany gives the best high ever. Seriously. When I’ve worked out an awesome plot twist or written something that really zings, I’m on cloud nine. It’s an amazing natural high. There’s no beating the feeling when writing an awesome line of prose or dialogue. There’s nothing better than typing ‘The End’ and knowing that the 85,000 words you finished writing are one step closer to being a book.
This is the biggest con on the list and the one that I will spend the most time on because it’s the most dangerous. When the words aren’t flowing, life sucks. It’s gloom and doom and grey, cloudy skies. The muse has packed her bags and left on vacation, and I am left wondering what went wrong. This is probably one of the worst cons of being a writer. Of being a creative in any way. This is where the stereotype of the broody artists comes in.
See, creating is like breathing for our souls. When the words flow, we’re alive. When they get stifled, we tend to wilt. There’s a great deal of self-chastising and self-loathing that happens when a writer is in a slump. Most don’t talk about it, but the majority of us deal with it. It’s the elephant in the room that creative types don’t talk about.
There are many reasons why the words might not flow. Just as there are many ways to blow through whatever is causing the block. But, one particular cause of writer’s block is depression. Depression doesn’t stem from the story and can’t be solved by reworking the characters or story idea. Depression is something else and is often unrecognized by both the writer and the people around them. Not every writer or creative deals with depression, but many do.
Depression is like a wet blanket to creativity, and it hampers the creative juices. As creatives, we tend to linger over thoughts, pondering and reflecting until we come to an understanding. That process is what helps us single out details that escape most people's notice. It’s what allows us to put into words, music, or art ideas that other find difficult to express. But, in doing this, we can lock ourselves into repeating cycles of depression and anxiety.
There are times when I’m writing an emotionally charged scene, and when I’m done, I’m exhausted. It can take me a couple of days (and sometimes weeks) to regain the momentum to continue. Why? Because I was exploring emotions in-depth. Part of being a writer is being able to put yourself in the character’s shoes so you can convey what the character is going through to the reader. In doing so, we expose ourselves to some heavy duty emotions, experiencing them as though they are happening to us. It can be hard to separate yourself from those emotions at the end of a writing session. Depression tends to put us deeper into those emotions, creating a spiral that can send us deeper than we intended to go. It makes it harder to climb out of that pit without help.
I've had many discussions with other writers about their depression and anxiety. They fear being judged. They fear they will never be good enough. They fear they only have one good story in them. They fear that they will never find a way out of the abyss that has swallowed them. Both success and failure can cause a spiral into depression. Some spend months or years battering helplessly at the walls of their depression, trying to break through and get back to being creative.
This darker side of writing isn’t meant as a deterrent. It is meant to bring awareness to the isolation and depression that can be a large part of writing as a career. It is something to be aware of and watch for. Writing as a hobby can be cathartic and fun. Writing as a career can be stressful as well as cathartic and fun.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing the darker side of creative pursuits, please get help. It isn’t weakness to see a professional and take steps toward climbing out of the depths of depression. Take time for yourself. Give yourself permission to be. Writing is hard work. Make time for self-care and play.
Check out these links for more information about dealing with depression: