The Importance of the Impossible
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Is the cure for writer’s block Prozac?

Posted by A.E. Marling in Madness and Creativity

I’ve been reading Strong Imagination, Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature, by Daniel Nettle. He suggests that to begin the monumental undertaking of writing a novel, in the face of overwhelming odds of failure, authors need to have hypomania, a mentality of boiling confidence and breathtaking vision.

Anathema to this outlook is a case of the glums. “Depression slows imagination, decreases resolve, and lowers the sights.” Some days, writing feels like dragging a plow across fields salted with trash novels, and any decrease in burning passion makes the labors seem insane—and likely rightly so.

Prior to reading this, I thought writer’s block would most often collapse on an author as a result of poor plot outlining. But perhaps depression is the true villain, stealing an author’s drive and willpower to go on in the face of impossibilities.

Please do share your own experiences and perspectives.

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9 Responses

  • Depression and anxiety definitely put a wrench in my word count and my enthusiasm. How to get past it, though? Everyone is different. For me, having a lengthy conversation about my WIP with my husband always helps and gets me going again.

  • Elizabeth says:

    The “Dark Night of the Soul” is a difficult to work through. It’s a poison-tree gift—it seems best not to try to be creative, but that’s deceptive. While a person may not feel their work is progressing, every sentence a painful extraction, just doing the miles is progress. Often I’ve come through months of it and looked back at my work to think “Wow. That was so much better than I thought.” I just didn’t FEEL it at the time. I’m trying to look at “the glums” as an opportunity to try out writing exercises, do character interviews,or play around with macro-fictional elements. It might not be the time for an entire novel overhaul, but rather a quieter examine-the-trees-and-ignore-the-forest experience. Time with friends helps, as does exercise and housekeeping. And never, ever, ever giving up.

  • george says:

    It’s interesting territory. The number of writers I know, myself included, who have experienced depression and other kinds of mental illness is pretty high. Well adjusted, sane writers do exist – I even know some – but they are few and far between. The rest of us seem to be perpetually in thrall to our chemicals. So, yes, writer’s block can be a result of depression. I’ve found that I’m more likely to get depressed when I feel blocked (rather than depression causing me to become blocked), but I think writer’s block can actually be seen as a necessary period of learning and adjustment. We can’t always be on a high about our work, and sometimes our creative minds need to assimilate what we’ve just done before we can move to the next level. Or of course, you could be blocked because of some unconscious resistance to the work in progress, in which case, you have to keep writing until you find the loophole that allows you to open it all out again.

    I believe that there is a link between high intelligence, mental illness, and creativity. I don’t believe it’s a simple or causal link, but I do think that anyone who is highly creative or highly intelligent, or both, is at a significantly higher risk of mental illness than other people. Even if only because society in general does not value high intelligence and creativity, and privileges the mediocre and conventional.

    The only way to get over writer’s block is to keep writing as much as you can (even if it’s crap) and remind yourself that it will pass eventually. It is a horrible experience, one I’ve suffered several times, but I don’t think prozac is the answer.

  • Christina Kessler says:

    Most cases of creativity block I’ve seen have nothing to do with poor outlining. Even creators who are very excited about their work and have everything planned out can get stuck.

    Depression is definitely one thing that can cause creativity block and vice versa. There are lots of ways to treat depression; medication is not always appropriate. Also, there seems to be a correlation between some medications and creativity block. I know artists and writers that went on medication to try to treat a mental illness that never produced anything creative again, even though they were otherwise happier or more stable. For some people/some medications, doing this numbs you to the world, making writing and other creative endeavors more difficult.

  • A.E. Marling says:

    “I believe that there is a link between high intelligence, mental illness, and creativity.”

    I am researching the link between madness and creativity and will be doing a blog post on it, perhaps next week.

    Intelligence can increase one’s awareness of the brutality of life, perhaps leading to a greater incidence of depression. That said, there are definitely more ways than meds to stay in balance. Cognitive therapy has good results. As for myself, I feel that exercise does much to ground my sanity. However, if life throws you a disposition to see the shadows, then I think it’s only fair to even the odds with a pill.

  • elayne says:

    My brother is an awe-inspiring artist, even after an accident left him without the use of his right (dominant) hand. He’s also one of the most highly intelligent people I have ever known, and I am someone who prefers to surround herself with intelligent people, so that’s saying a lot.

    He also has uncontrollable paranoid schizophrenia, and survives (barely) on disability payments in between incarcerations.

    I’m not creative (except in my dreams), but am considered (by testing) well above average in terms of intelligence; I’ve struggled with depression ever since I first became self-aware, and have been hospitalized for it.

    Neither of our parents have any MH issues; neither of them are particularly creative and both are solidly in the “average” realm for most tests of intelligence. Both diseases, my brother’s and mine, wax and wane – and we both flourish in terms of cognitive and/or creative functioning at the times when our happiness/sanity is on the ebb.

    For countless other creative/intelligent/both people I have been privileged to meet and read of, disorders of the mind also seem to go hand in glove with the gifts. I often wonder: If we had the ability to choose, would we select these brains, with all their ups and downs, or would we opt for the more conventional and evened-out configuration?

    (There are many studies indicating that neural pathways in the brain are reshaped, physically and permanently, by depression and other mental disorders, so it’s important not to let them “settle in” – something I wish I had known several decades ago. I like to believe in reincarnation now and then, just so I can fantasize about “coming back” into an era where the bugs have been worked out of psychotropic meds, where they are more renowned for their benefits than their side effects, and where they’re not seen as admission of a character defect. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get to come back into a brain that can’t begin to imagine what depression feels like!)

    PS my favorite term for it is dubhachas, as referenced here:

    “The Gloom.” It is not grief, nor any common sorrow, nor that deep despondency of weariness that comes of accomplished things, too soon, too literally fulfilled. But it is akin to each of these, and involves each. It is, rather, the unconscious knowledge of the lamentation of a race, the unknowing surety of an inheritance of woe.

    So much more elegant sounding than “I feel like crap in my brain.”

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