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When Depression Murders Your Muse

Well, friends, it’s been awhile. Based on today’s title, you can probably guess (at least one of the reasons) why I’ve been gone so long.

Full disclosure? I haven’t worked on a creative project in weeks. I haven’t updated this blog in almost two months. I’ve neglected Twitter and Facebook.

Why? Because, well, I don’t really see the point.

Depression murdered my muse…

Depression whispers some truly nasty things in your ear:

“There’s enough fiction in the world, every story’s been done to death, why bother…”

“Why write about people who only exist in your imagination? There are much better uses of your time.”

“The planet is dying and we’ve got trigger-happy buffoons in charge of the free world. REAL SHIT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. And you still think your short story collection matters?”

As much as I hate to admit it, depression has some solid points, and sometimes, it wins.

I’m pretty stubborn, though.

…so I made depression the muse…

I thought I could cheat depression’s chokehold on my creativity by making depression itself the creative project.

I started writing a short story based on my mental illnesses. I turned them into characters and made my mind the setting.

Persephone, the Scarlet Queen. Borderline personality disorder. Named for the Greek goddess of spring and queen of the underworld.

Dolores. Depression. A sullen monster with blue leather skin and orb eyes.

Desdemona. Anxiety. A toxic demon enshrouded in an electric green aura.

Lola, our heroine and Persephone’s prisoner. A fictionalized version of who I was before the monsters showed up.

I fell in love with the characters. I planned and planned: built a world, wrote thousands of words, considered turning it into a novella, and even bought an app to help me see it through…

…but it wasn’t enough.

Within a week, I gave up on the story. My real-life Dolores came to visit and immediately started picking the project apart:

“People won’t get it. They won’t understand that these characters are actually meant to be mental illnesses. You’re not talented enough to work with that kind of metaphor. Besides, what are you going to do if you actually finish it? Publish it? Yeah, good luck with that.”

She’s a cruel bitch, that Dolores.

And I get it. I’m supposed to be strong and slay her with my mighty pen. I’m supposed to show up for work every day. I’m supposed to tune her out and just get on with it.

But that doesn’t always work.

Like I said, sometimes, depression wins.

Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

(Yes, I absolutely stole that heading from a meme.)

I hate to break it to you, but I don’t have the answers to your writing and depression woes. Hell, I can’t even solve my own writing and depression woes.

However, I like to end my blog posts on a positive, encouraging note. You may be expecting a nugget of wisdom, some profound advice, a happy ending.

Well, I’ve got some good news for you.

A nugget of wisdom

Just because you’re not writing something new doesn’t mean you have to stop working.

Edit your existing work. Make a list of everything that matters to you and write about it. Read. Take a class. Do something.

For me, this means refining my pro-choice poem, Newsflash, and my short play Writer vs. Editor, which I can sort of confirm that I’m performing at the Theatre Royal in Waterford this summer.

(Take that, Dolores!)

Some profound advice

ICYMI, I wrote and starred in my very first short play, Writer vs. Editor, last month. It was a *huge* success, so I’m making it bigger and better and performing it on the big stage this summer for #ModWordsFest 2018.

Do you think Dolores is happy about any of this? Not exactly. She’s convinced I’m not talented enough to pull it off, that I’m not an actress so why pretend, etc., etc.

But I’m part of a community that holds me accountable, and I’m a woman of my word, so I’ll put on the best play possible, depression be damned. Without my wonderful writing community, I doubt I’d ever finish anything, much less perform it.

All that said, here’s the profound advice: gather. Seek out other writers, performers, changemakers, whatever, and get together. Hold each other accountable and lift each other up.

A happy ending

So I’m not working on anything new. I won’t hold a published book in my hands for another few years at least, and I’m barely managing to update my blog and social media pages. That upsets me and makes me feel like a phony.

Despite all that, I am tackling one thing Dolores keeps harping on about: writing about real shit, things that really matter.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment matters to me and countless other women in Ireland. Being honest about mental health matters to me. Trying new things matters to me. Learning to perform my work matters to me.

And when I act on what matters to me, Dolores stays quiet.


This post is mostly cathartic, so if you made it all the way through, kudos.

Next week, we’re gonna talk about using Pinterest to visualize your novel or short story — basically, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Do you struggle with writing through depression? Got any useful tips for me? Drop ‘em in the comments! Goodness knows I need ‘em…

Published in Book Reviews

2 Comments

  1. You are too talented enough to work that metaphor–I’d love to read it! Thank you for this post–it certainly hits home for many of us writers.

    • Mel Lee-Smith Mel Lee-Smith

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you found it useful. 😊 I’m hoping my hiatus from this story is only a temporary one – I really enjoy writing it!

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