Do You Have Writer's Block––Or Are You Depressed?

5 Aug


Writers' Block

In 1995, I had a huge inner experience in which the plot of a book was injected into my brain in about a second. The experience was accompanied with a full complement of inner lights and special effects visible only to me. Yes, I had just come from a meditation retreat.

I started writing and continued for, oh, maybe, nine or ten years. I wrote flat out every day, quitting only when my shoulders wouldn’t move. I wrote  nine or so volumes of a series (final number of books depends upon how I cut them in the rewrites). I was in a couple of writing groups, working with a book consultant, and editor. I have not had so much fun ever.

My first published book turned out not to be in the series that had come to me so dramatically. In my spare time, I knocked out a nonfiction title.  Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice is a modern spiritual companion. It won six national awards, was a Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist, and got great press.

The first book in my fiction series, Numenon A Tale of Mysticism & Money, came out a couple of years later. Numenon also won six national awards. It’s been out a few years, so its rankings have dropped, but its Kindle version was #1 in three categories of mysticism and way up there in the sales rankings for about a year. (I wish I’d taken a screen shot of its Amazon sale page then . . .)

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money Will the sequel ever appear?

After all this fun and inspiration and wonderful success . . . I fluffed entirely. People were asking for Numenon’s sequel. Getting pretty huffy, in fact.  The sequel is written! It’s on my hard drive! All I had to do was rewrite a 1,300 page, 250,000 word behemoth about God and good and evil and existential anxiety (mine) and a bunch of people from Silicon Valley and American Indians into something people would buy.

I couldn’t. Being quick on the uptake, after a couple of years I realized, “This is writer’s block.”

I understand that Terry Pratchett has said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

I’m from California and I want Terry to know that we also invented Silicon Valley and the tech industry and there are probably no more creative and hardworking people on the planet than Californians. I’m a Californian and I had writer’s block.

I used writing therapy to address this, producing one pretty good blog article about the dismal block, and one based on the yogic concept of surrender and letting things bottom out completely.

Unfortunately, despite the vast quantity of helpful advice and positive self-talk they contained, neither article worked. Numenon’s sequel remains unwritten and I remained blocked.

UNTIL I realized I was depressed. As in clinically. Then I read a great article about writer’s block and depression. And even more. I’m going to post some links about the subject, because these writers say it better than I can.

I really like Anne Allen’s blog post above. Most of the articles I looked at presented a million “things to do” to deal with block. (So do my articles above.) The thing is, if you’re depressed these great ideas will do nothing to help you.

You need to treat the depression. That probably requires medical treatment. It did in my case. Depression is a serious, very painful, and possibly fatal medical condition. Treatment is available.

Depression feels like being held under water. You feel rotten. You can’t get above the water; you can’t fight what’s holding you down. All you can do is try to survive. It is associated with a lack of joy in life, lack of interest in pretty much everything, and  writer’s block.

I finally figured our what was wrong with me and got treatment. Is the block gone? Yeah. Have I rewritten the sequel to Numenon? Not yet, but it’s next on the agenda.

I wrote three other books instead of Numenon’s sequel.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

I had another one of those brain storms in which a book came to me––Bazammo! That book is written and published The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy. What’s it about? It’s a sci-fi, fantasy, love story. It’s won the 2011 IPPY (Independent Press) Award in Visionary Fiction as well as the 2011 Indie Excellence Award in Visionary Fiction. “Tomorrow morning, a nuclear holocaust will destroy the planet. Two people carry the keys to survival: A teenage boy and angelic intergalactic traveler.”

Your basic pre-apocalyptic love story with more twists than an eel’s tale. It’s also a former economist’s reaction to the Great Recession. The social milieu of the book, a police state, is what I think we could have if we don’t work together and clean up the economic mess.

When I finished The Angel, two sequels throbbed in my brain. The are written and in the editing process. I expect them out in late 2011 or early 2012.

If you handle the real problem, you’ll get the result. Writer’s block is not about laziness or lack of discipline.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author


Hope this is helpful! Would love to hear from you about the dreaded block.

Sandy Nathan


12 Responses to “Do You Have Writer's Block––Or Are You Depressed?”

  1. Anne R. Allen August 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Thanks for the shout-out. I’m glad you’re enjoying my archives. I’m finding all your blogs a little hard to navigate, but I’m proud I think I’ve found a comment button! Thanks!

  2. admin August 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Good to hear from you, Anne. My blogs are all WordPress templates and the ARE hard to work with. I’m writing a note to my web guy. I’ll include your comment on it (with those of others …) Trying to get that Share button above on (by my photo) practically killed me and it doesn’t show up anyway. I’m enjoying your archives very much and have forwarded your blog to a writer friend. Back to reading your blog. Thanks for your perseverance!

  3. Anne R. Allen August 6, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Yes, that’s an excellent share button. I’ve FB’d this piece and Tweeted it.

    I’m a big believer in using a freebie author-operated blog platform–something I’ve learned from Nathan Bransford. He advises against expensive author websites, because the blog tends to get buried inside it, and people have to jump through a lot of advertising hoops to get to the interactive blog part.

    I think I should blog about that soon, because I see a lot of advice to the contrary out there.

    I’m glad you’re writing about this subject, because it’s something almost all writers need to deal with at one time or another. The “Boot Camp” approach to writing isn’t just going to produce hack writing you want to scrape off your footwear, it’s likely to give your happiness the boot, too. (Sorry: block that metaphor!) You can’t fight brain chemistry. As Julia Cameron says, you have to “fill the well”. Creativity has to be replenished, like anything else.

    People who say there’s no such thing as Writers Block and they never experience depression are, in my experience, not terribly creative writers. They can produce copy, but of a very uninspired variety. Or they re-name their depression and blockage “anger” and “frustration” and blame somebody else.

  4. Sandy Nathan August 7, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Thanks for sharing my article, Anne. It’s so weird: I have an MA in counseling and I didn’t get that my problem was depression for years. What did I expect? I’d been writing full on for ten years and then produced and marketed two books. I should have been burnt out.

    I don’t think the “Boot Camp” approach is appropriate for human beings. Or creative human beings. Maybe if you’re a SEAL or in the Marines …

    We see the effects of being overworked and stressed in horses all the time. A nice animal at the beginning of the show season turns into a blithering idiot at the end. So he gets several months out in pasture to hang out and be a horse before being asked to perform again. Or he’s retired.

    Like horses (or maybe even more,) people need a slow period to smell the roses and relax. And as Jung said, “Depression is the soul gathering energy for the next growth spurt.” (Or words to that effect.)

    The whole subject of authenticity and being true to one’s self/soul needs exploring by the writing community. Life can become an obsession with getting published or selling books in which everything else dissolves. Writing is such a rough road that we can easily forget it’s not the only road we can take or even the best road. That’s why I set up this blog.

    Re: Blogs & websites. I use free WordPress templates for my four blogs. Two are standard, “no modifications” versions (like this one); two have customization of the design on top of basic templates.

    There’s the Blogger/Wordpress debate. It seems that Blogger makes it easier to install many “following” and other utilities. But I’ve heard people say they’re much happier with their WordPress blogs, having changed from Blogger.

    I’m not happy with some of the interactive stuff on this Blog. Hope to be able to work with my web guy to fix it.

    If a blog is hosted independently on its own URL, I don’t see that also being included in a tab or link on a website should make much difference in terms of user access. All my blogs have their own URLs. People seem to be able to find them, and there’s a blog tab on my website.

    I would never have commercial advertising on any of my web stuff––anything like Google might put up. I might feature buttons from my friends and people whose work I like. Definitely have links on my blogroll. (I’ll add your blog in a moment.) With respect to charging people for advertising on my site, not for me. I don’t want to be tied down to collecting banners from advertisers and seeing that people get what’s due them. I’m a writer, not a web-based business.

    Re: expensive author sites. I just had my site redone. (See link above.) It’s a simple design that has all the information and links on it in easily visible places. We worked on SEO relevance. The guy who ended up doing the work charged me 1/3 of what the high bidder wanted. He redid the site and my custom personal blog at the same time, was fast and wonderful to work with. (Don Herion of The Sorcerer’s Workshop. Link on my blogroll.) My previous site (commissioned in the pre-financial crash days) was very expensive and elaborate. It didn’t do what I hoped it would.

    So I agree with Nathan Bransford. It’s not necessary to spend a lot on a website. If you’re better at web work than I am, you can even use free website templates in addition to blog templates.

    Thanks for sharing, Anne. You eloquently state some very good points.

  5. Brenda Kezar August 9, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Great post! I’ve suffered my writer’s block and often face a chicken and egg debate about it: Am I depressed because I’m blocked, or am I blocked because I’m depressed? If I don’t write for a few days, I get blue; if I get blue, I can’t write! I’m glad I don’t suffer from clinical depression. I can live with the rare blue day.

    • Kenisha April 26, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      You’ve captured this perelfcty. Thanks for taking the time!

  6. admin August 9, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Thanks, Brenda! I think it’s so important to call a spade a spade. I think so many of us writers suffer from some sort of depression. Our world is very difficult, whether we’re indies or traditionally published. On top of mastering that, we have to WRITE. We’re sensitive, smart people––who will realize the jam we’re in. I’ll write more on that later. Thanks for commenting.
    Sandy Nathan

  7. Cydara August 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I enjoyed this post because I too have had periods of both writers block & depression which I have struggled with for years. In the past year, I have calmed myself through meditation. It has really helped. Now I am in a good spell of free flowing words, but it sits there over my shoulder like a vocational shadow so I have no doubt that there will be times when the words stop. I feel that, for a writer, the basis of writers block comes from the fear of the inspiration ending. The ‘what if I can’t write tomorrow’ feeling. I felt like that as a dancer & in my other jobs too so there’s a source for it somewhere. I have also had boughts of depression roughly every five years since I was fourteen years old. Sadly, the side effects I can gather from the medications are extreme. If there’s a rare one on the leaflet, then that is the one I’ll have! I do feel that no one would ever be able to write in a meaningful fashion without having experienced light and dark within oneself. I’m all for the positive side of my down times but when the clouds come, as I know they will, I will remove myself from the keyboard unless I have some valuable lesson to talk about. Thank you for this post & for your follow on Twitter. I am glad to have found your work tonight.

    • admin August 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

      Hi, Cydara! Glad our paths have crossed. You bring up some really good points about depression/writer’s block. The fear that the inspiration will go away certainly is one place block comes from. (Scary even to write about!) And knowing that the dark times are the necessary other side of the light is important. Writers are very creative and sensitive. That’s why we’re writers. But it can carry a downside. Your story about meds is funny, though sad. I talked about medical treatment in my blog post. Psychotherapy and meds are available to help with severe depression, but we have to be REALLY careful of what doctor we select and which med he/she puts us on. Finding the right one––doctor and medication both––is a whole process.

      Let’s stay connected on Twitter & here. I’m Sandy Nathan Author and just plain old Sandy Nathan on FB. Happy writing!

  8. Greg Terr September 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    I wish more people would write sites like this that are actually fun to read. With all the fluff floating around on the web, it is refreshing to read a site like yours instead.

  9. Sandy Nathan November 17, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Thanks, Greg. I decided in my years of suffering in the wasteland (when I was an economic analyst) that life should be fun. Also, that I didn’t like the way certain self-obsessed, pompous individuals used fancy vocabularies to look smarter than other people. On one momentous morning, I decided that 10 year olds (!) should understand everything I wrote. I practiced my philosophy on my kids, who are just a little gun-shy around me now. But, yeah, if it’s not fun, why? There’s enough pain in life. Thanks for commenting.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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    […] Some people have been quite irritated at me for not getting it out sooner. I’m sorry. I had writer’s block. […]