writer's block or depression?Is It Writer's Block, or Is It Depression?

Marg McAlister

All writers have been there: those days when you sit at the computer and nothing will come.

You might be half way through a book, or you might be struggling to finish an article. You might be trying to work out a few quirks of characters. Or maybe it's the plot that in causing a few headaches.

Whatever the reason, all you are getting for your stint at the computer is a sore bottom, and a severe case of eyestrain. You decide you might as well go and vacuum the lounge room or organize the linen closet. Heck, even sorting out receipts ready for tax time seems a better option.

Yes, we all have days like that. The odd day or so doesn't really matter: frustrating, yes; an ongoing problem, no. It's when this goes on for days or weeks at a time that we start to worry. It almost seems as though we'll never be able to write again. The sort of thoughts that come to mind on something like this: "Maybe I'm not cut out to be a writer..."; "I could be out working at a real job"; "this is no fun at all -- why am I doing this, anyway?"

Is this writer's block...or something more serious?

What Is Writer's Block?

Some authors don't believe in writers block at all. They are firmly of the opinion that "writer's block" is just a euphemism for "lazy writer". They think that all that is necessary is for the writer to simply sit down, start work, and stay there until it's finished.

However, other writers think that not only does writers block exist, but that it crops up all too often for no apparent reason. They find themselves in despair at the thought that the path to publication is going to be continually blocked by days when no work is done.

Whether you are the kind of writer who believes in writers block or not, the fact is that unproductive days exist. The only option is to have some sort of strategy to deal with it. That strategy can be the same whether you classify days like this as a product of "writer's block" or not. Here are some suggestions:

  • Immediately stop working on the current scene, character sketch, plotting outline or whatever it is that is going nowhere.
  • Analyse your mood. Ask yourself "Would I like to keep working on my book, but do something other than this? Or do I really need a break from writing?"
  • If you would like to keep working on your book, then choose something that will be easy to accomplish. This might be a piece of research, leafing through magazines in search of ideas for a setting (or for a picture of someone who would make a good character) or perhaps just sitting down with a cup of coffee and a notepad to brainstorm ideas for a title.
  • If you need a break from writing, make it something really enjoyable. Give yourself permission to indulge yourself. Go out to see a movie; shop for a new outfit; meet a friend for lunch. You are better off to do this than to sit there feeling miserable.

Is it Depression?

Acknowledge that what you are feeling might not be so much writers block, as the beginning of depression. Only you can know if this is a possibility.

If you have been feeling miserable for a long time, then perhaps it is time to have a medical checkup and see if there is an underlying cause. People can often feel very down for extended periods after a bereavement or some other kind of loss. It takes a while to work your way out of this and you might need medical advice.

What you need to keep in mind is that sometimes this can spiral downwards into fully-fledged depression. In that case, no amount of telling yourself to "buck up and write" is going to work. It's best to face the problem now and pick up your writing again later on when you have regained your enthusiasm.

Whether you need a short break from writing or a visit to the doctor to investigate possible depression, it's necessary to take action. That will be the beginning of some kind of cure.

Copyright Marg McAlister


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