Recently a discouraged writer asked me how I cope with the depression that comes with writing. This woman, whom I’ll call Mary, wasn’t talking about dealing with rejection; she meant the endless self-doubt. She has spent probably four or five years writing and revising a middle-grade novel, and it isn’t finished yet. She feels stalemated. I won’t say that the story has lost all of its appeal for her, but she has lost her joy in writing it. This past year Mary went through deep discouragement, unconvinced that she should continue writing this novel, perhaps even unconvinced that she should be writing at all.
I know what Mary was talking about, because I spent six or seven years lugging around similar doubts. I was in the midst of long research, difficult writing, and grinding revision. I worked without confidence, and it didn’t help that I kept hearing how dim the prospects were for new writers. Was I just wasting my time? Should I quit writing? These doubts kept nagging me, but I told myself, “I have to keep going.”
But wait a minute . . . did I really have to? Would the world come to a screeching halt if I stopped writing? No. Was there a gun to my head? No. (I was writing about people who might end up with a gun to their head, but fortunately there was none to mine.) Was writing a moral imperative? No, I believe a writer who chooses to stop does no wrong. Would I be letting anyone down if I didn’t finish this novel? Not really. A few people hoped I’d finish it, but if I didn’t, they’d understand. I didn’t have to go on.
I had a choice. With this free understanding, I realized my choice all along had been yes. I had been writing because I wanted to. But had also been a previous “yes,” although for a long time I doubted it.
I am a Christian, and early on in this process I sent up many frustrated prayers–“Why am I doing this? It’s all going to come to nothing, etc., etc.” One day these frustrations were running through my mind yet again. Then, though this hardly ever happens to me, words entered my heart, as though a divine voice had spoken them: Will you trust Me on this?”
I stopped. I could only answer yes. I knew the words were not a promise of success; they were strength for the journey. Many times I would look back on this moment, often doubting if I’d heard right. But somehow in the many dark months I kept writing, and the struggle taught me to write from the heart.
I have a finished, published book now (The Songs We Hide), and another novel in process. My writing will never make me rich or famous. It won’t even make me well-known in my own community. But my work is being read, and I hope–I believe–that it is bringing a small glimmer of light into this dark world.
I wish I could say that depression is no longer an issue for me as a writer. That simply isn’t the case. But I have seen that it’s possible to write through the depression, and there is light on the other side–for the writer and, God willing, for readers as well.