Writing through depression

Depression runs in my family. Over the years, I’ve had some pretty dark days.

During the time I’ve been working on The Ghosts of Autumn I have experienced a few depressive episodes. The important thing–to me–is that in rereading the manuscript, I can’t tell which days those were. The scenes in the novel are what they needed to be. The best that I could make them be at the time they were written. There isn’t a point in the book where I could clearly say “damn…things must have sucked on the day I wrote that” The dark scenes are dark, the funny scenes are fun, there are light moments in the serious scenes and some darker moments in scenes where the characters are not in any danger. The tone that I wanted to create is there throughout the whole of the story.

I’ve blogged about the depression itself over on my personal tumblr blog, which seems to have become only an annual event (every time I get an email wishing the blog a happy birthday, I remember it and sometimes post something).

I’m mentioning that for only two reasons. One, Tumblr is the only social media site that actually asked me important questions when I searched for a depression related hashtag. It gave me an info page with hotline numbers and asked if I was okay. Then it went on to suggest a few blogs to follow. No other site has done anything like that. It reminded me of an online game I used to play when my girls were very young. Guild Wars was the only game I can recall that did anything like that. It would give a chat message saying something like ‘you’ve been playing for four hours, please take a break‘. In reality, I had been parking my character in safe spots and getting up to go do things like laundry or dishes, checking on napping toddlers, etc. in between completing quests. So I hadn’t actually been playing that entire time, but I appreciated the thought behind it.

The other reason is that whenever I am dealing with a serious depressive episode–or even if I just need a little “me time” to recharge after dealing with too many people, I tend to vanish from social media. It’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the years. If I’ve withdrawn from posting, commenting, and/or even ‘liking’ things, or I just haven’t logged in at all on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram for a few days that’s when I’m not doing okay. If I’m online and interacting with any posts by friends or other accounts that I follow, it’s better than when I’m just not bothering to connect at all.

I might still be feeling down, but if I’m engaging in any way with something someone else has posted it can be a productive thing. Sometimes I am just reaffirming that I am not alone. It can be a way of confronting it and trying to work through it–especially if it is specifically depression related. Other times, I might just be looking for a distraction to help me feel better. Many times, that actually works. Like many creative people, my mind runs at a hundred miles an hour, and doesn’t always stop until I sleep. I’m constantly imagining things, questioning things, and recreating things in my mind. It’s an almost continuous flow. Montages of things real and imaginary, all the time. When stuck in a negative feedback loop, things can go downhill pretty fast. But when I am able to flip the script with a new thought that I like, or a positive emotion, it is possible to ride that right out of whatever funk I am in. Nothing works all the time, but this has happened with just random discoveries online. It’s all in how you use it.

It’s in times like these where staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen can lead to nothing at all, or an eruption of creativity that leaves me wondering why it can’t happen more often. The days where progress is made–or not made–in a less emotional manner don’t leave an impression on me. It’s those times where it’s been difficult to focus through the glitches in my stream of consciousness that have given me the most hope. Because slowly but surely, something that is its own thing has been created through consistent effort. It can be read like any other book I might pick up on a bad day, and the story holds my attention. That’s how I know. In the end, everything is going to be okay.

Character counts

During my last read through of the manuscript for Ghosts of Autumn, I counted character names. Not just any character with a name, but those that are key to the story. They are not all “main” characters, but each moves the story forward in some crucial way.

There are of course many other characters named in the book. Some are in scenes with the primary characters that have the most dialogue, others are named but have no lines or never appear in a scene, and there has even been a couple that were given lines but were not given names. Those were crowded scenes.

As of this post, the story is about 85-90% complete, and there are 45 characters that have large parts in it, or whose parts moved the story forward in various ways.

Those are the characters that advance the plot through their words and actions consistently. At times, some of them have changed the entire trajectory of a scene because a character moment occurred that I didn’t see coming until I got there. That time Lieutenant Blanco quoted my protagonist, Detective Vincent Salvati, as saying “you can’t spell Deacon without OCD.” comes to mind. It seems an offhand comment in the scene, but it was an important character moment for all three of them. Salvati never says this in the book, he is only quoted as “always” saying it. The scene was going somewhere else up to that point, but that was too good to pass up. It has Salvati’s sarcasm, Blanco’s bluntness, and tells the reader something they might not have noticed about Detective Deacon up to that point. All in one line.

There are a lot of moments like that where scenes turned on a character’s personality. I like this cast of characters a great deal. Even when they don’t do what I tell them.