Fighting Depression as a Writer

Depression strikes many during the winter, but it can hit writers at any time
Image by Mimzy from Pixabay

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it’s officially holiday time. (We’ll overlook those people who put up their lights and tree at midnight on Halloween) While the holidays have an overarching theme of “jolly” and “festive,” they’re downright miserable for many people. Throw in the decreasing number of sunlight hours, and it gets worse. And if you’re a writer, things go right down the toilet. Editors tend to pack it in at the end of the year, offering fewer calls for pitches. But they’re happy to doll out the same number of rejections. It’s the perfect recipe for depression. And the last thing you want to do is succumb to a bleak mood, leading to less than your best writing. Good thing I have tips to keep you looking forward – even if you aren’t smiling.

Feeling SAD

When the sun takes its annual vacation to the opposite side of the planet, it tends to take everyone’s good mood along for the ride. We rely on sunshine for plenty of health benefits, including our daily doses of Vitamin D. But it turns out that infusion of light (assuming you don’t barricade yourself in the basement) also bumps up our good feelings. Without it, we start turning into miserable human beings.

We actually get downright sad.

No, really, SAD: seasonal affective disorder. This depression is linked to the seasons and crops up when the number of daylight hours shrinks. Some dismiss it as “winter blues,” but the symptoms parallel those of a genuine psychological disorder:

  • Listlessness that lasts all or most of the day for multiple days in a row
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Thoughts of suicide

(Who knew sunshine was so important, am I right?)

Throw in the pressures some people cope with when they’re faced with familial obligations over the holidays, or losses, and the final months on the calendar are anything but happy. It’s a perfect storm for the brain’s serotonin levels to plummet.

And it takes NOTHING to tip someone over the edge into feeling horrible. Say a rejection letter. Or the inability to find a home for an article or essay. Even a critique from a beta reader. Writers are prone to fugues at the end of the year. (Probably why so many died or suffered horrific illnesses in winter)

If you know the colder months aren’t great for you, you need a plan to muddle through.

Fending Off Depression

Rejection Letters and Depression

Rejection letters are the building blocks of a writer’s life. Sometimes they’re promising. Other times, they’re form letters and downright disheartening. And it doesn’t matter how many you receive, there’s ALWAYS that initial twinge of “OW!”

If you’re already feeling down in the dumps, how can you take the sting out of what is ultimately a “no” for your writing? Without sinking deeper into the quagmire of your potential depression? (And you KNOW your family’s going to ask how your writing is going over that holiday table)

It’s actually pretty easy: You turn those letters into a goal.

Choose a number to achieve by the end of the year with a reward for meeting that goal. And make it something you WANT. (It needs to be more than a sticker, too) Then start keeping track of each letter as it hits your inbox. Every hatch mark instantly goes from being a strike against you to being one step closer to that reward.

For me, I get a cake when I reach 100 rejections. (I got the idea from a writing friend. And, seriously, who DOESN’T like cake?) Currently, I’m at 62 rejections for the year, so I’m over halfway there.

And I find myself thinking of each letter differently. Instead of moping about getting told “no,” I think, “I’m THAT much closer to cake!” It reshapes my thought process and keeps me from getting depressed.

We’re reward-oriented creatures. And when we see that finish line in sight, we get excited. Depression doesn’t stand a chance.

Is Anyone Out There?

Pitch calls become few and far between at the end of the year. Go figure, editors and publishing companies check out the same way as major companies. They want to take time off and spend time with their families. (Or use their vacation time and escape their families – it works both ways) It’s just a fact.

But for writers looking for homes for their work, that’s frustrating. You have this brilliant work and no one to read it. (Talk about depressing!) Do you throw it away? Give up entirely? Decide your work wasn’t great to begin with? (Is any of this sounding familiar, or am I the only one?)

Let’s try this instead: Use the downtime to catalog your work. If you haven’t already created a database for your pitches, articles, and stories, this is a perfect time. Are there ideas that need refining or updating? Pieces that could do with revision? Older work that needs shelving (for now)? Use the quiet to get yourself in order and rejuvenate your excitement about what you have.

Also, review the available markets out there. Study editorial calendars and match them up with your completed database. That way, you’re ready to go when everyone hits their desks in January. You’ll have your enthusiasm, same as everyone else, but you’ll also know precisely what everyone’s looking for when. AND you’ll have a polished piece or pitch.

Concentration and work are natural enemies of depression. Not to mention all of that review will help you fall back in love with your writing.

And being organized? Yeah, never a bad idea.

Confession: I Have Depression

I’ve battled depression (not SAD, we’re talking clinical here) since high school. Little things wiggle under my skin and get me down. Doesn’t matter whether it’s sunny outside or not. Actually, I prefer overcast snowy days, if you want to know the truth. But I can’t write my best when I’m down. So I’ve had to figure out how to counteract the chemical soup in my brain.

I wasn’t prepared for the hits all of those rejection letters brought – regardless of the warnings from everyone out there. Positive or negative, they hurt. And they still do. But creating that goal of 100 with a reward has flipped the way I view them. And it’s made a HUGE difference in how I think about rejection now.

Obviously, I’m already organized with my writing. But I use the downtime to think over new ideas. I brainstorm possible angles for old stories. Or I spend my time researching. I love learning new things, and the distraction of taking notes or falling down rabbit holes keeps my mind engaged and AWAY from depressed thoughts. It’s another option. There is ALWAYS something more out there to investigate.

I also register for classes in the winter. It’s when I take most of my writing seminars on Catapult or Writing Workshops. That whole “improve my writing” thing keeps me looking forward and thinking ahead. So I don’t dwell on the past for too long.

When you have depression, you learn coping skills. And you share them, so other people don’t feel that same creeping sadness. If you’re having trouble or feel lost, drop me a line. I’m happy to help. And we’ll get through this winter together.

Author: Andria Kennedy

I speak the thoughts rattling around in my brain, sharing topics I think other people want and should hear (or are afraid to talk about themselves). I bring my personality and quirky state of mind to everything I write; serious topics shouldn't be devoid of humor. That includes my blog and freelance work (part of my charm). I've been writing for as long as I can remember. It's a source of solace and enjoyment for me. I'm lucky enough to call what I love my career - so it's NOT work! I live in Virginia with the Minions (four cats and a Greyhound) and my wonderful husband, who ensures I stay fed - no cereal for dinner - and as close to sane as I can get.

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