I’m writing about depression, because they say “write what you know”. But this advice probably applies to most of us who suffer from various sorts of chronic or recurring illness.

A while ago, I saw a recommendation for a book. I will not quote the title or the author for obvious reasons. The gist of the advice provided was “I know it’s difficult, but you just need to work harder and everything will be hunky dory” coupled with “…and if you don’t work hard enough, then it’s your own fault, enjoy your depression”. (Oh, and “buy my books”.) I managed to get to page 11, therefore I am not qualified to give the full masterpiece a 1-star review. On page 11 the author took someone’s suicide note and applied his wisdom to it, noting – I am paraphrasing, don’t google that – that perhaps if the dead author in question had access to useful resources, such as that book, everything might have been fine. The quotes that appear on previous pages can be summed up with “oh, I get depressed, but that’s awesome because it gives me so much insight into myself and improves my creativity, I am so grateful for depression!”.

This is not depression. It’s called navel-gazing. For a person suffering from actual depression this book is actively dangerous.

 

Depression is an illness that often kills.

Again, there’s no need to quote names of people who were famous, successful, appeared perfectly happy, had money, family, whatever else you could possibly dream of, then died of depression. Their loved ones – and people who have never experienced depression – called them cowards for committing suicide. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t “committing suicide” any more than dying of cancer is “committing suicide”. Death is the final result of the untreated depression and is often brought forward by the sort of good advice provided in the book I mentioned above.

So…what is a creative person supposed to do when they’re depressed?

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As I might have mentioned once or twice, I am (hopefully) getting close to finishing my first novel, Storytellers, historical suspense with fantasy elements set in Iceland between 1885-1920. Here’s an honest confession about my delusions…

 

Drafts

Having read approximately 15823098 articles on writing, I was under the impression that a book is written in three drafts. The first is for the writer. The second is for beta-readers. The third is when everything gets fixed, becomes perfect, and I get my first Pulitzer Prize.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

On January 1, 2017, I started working on the first draft of the story I’ve been carrying in my head ever since I dreamt it years earlier. I vomited rather than wrote that first draft. It took me two weeks to produce roughly a hundred thousand words. At this point, I didn’t know yet where the book would be set, so I went for generic “village” and “ocean” terms. But of course, I was already starting to get obsessed with Iceland. When I read Independent People and Wasteland With WordsI realised it was the perfect setting. In fact, it seemed as if Gods created Iceland with the sole purpose of helping me write the novel.

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This post is inspired by Anne R. Allen’s post: “Create Believable ‘Troubled’ Characters by Studying Personality Disorders”:

A basic knowledge of personality disorders can help writers create more interesting heroes and supporting characters, too. One of the most memorable detectives in recent fiction was Adrian Monk of the TV show Monk, who suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

So what are personality disorders? They’re a constellation of behaviors that are generally problematic, but not debilitating. They do cause troubling consequences for the person dealing with them—and for those around them. Generally they don’t require hospitalization (with the exception of Borderline patients.)

This is dangerous ground to tread. Let me guide you around a bit. But first a disclaimer: my “expertise” is also quite limited despite having moderated a mental illness forum for years, so I will focus on bipolar and borderline.

Basic knowledge of personality disorders is going to cause the writer the same problems as basic knowledge of, say, racial issues. In real 3D life, people with mood and personality disorders are often reduced from human beings to their disorders, which is especially true in the case of BPD (borderline personality disorder). “She’s borderline, you know? Crazy shit, man, stay away from her.” Perhaps this will surprise you, but I feel having a character utter those words is much better than actually writing a borderline character based on DSM-V and nothing else. Someone who talks like that about a person with a mental illness gives us a very good set of clues about their personality.

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