January 30, 2009

The Doldrums

In Patrick O’Brian’s MASTER AND COMMANDER series, he often sent Captain Aubrey into those latitudes near the equator known as the Doldrums. There, during agonizing calms, no winds move the water and ships tend to move slowly if at all along their way. Fast forward a few centuries and you have the Winter Doldrums; that time of year when people, and especially writers, can hardly put one foot in front of the other, much less manage a smile on their face.

Depression is no laughing matter. For some it is a once in a lifetime experience brought on by trauma, for others it’s seasonal, and still for a few unfortunate folks, a lifelong issue that requires constant supervision.

Nobody really likes a sad song in the long run. We all want to be Walking on Sunshine. So how does a writer, cramped up in a tight, lonely corner with nothing but words for companionship day after day, deal with gray skies?

The answer is never simple or universal. Beyond the common advice such as invigorating walks, phone chats, long baths, or some chocolate, we have to have more in our coping arsenal for dealing with the blues when they come our way.

One of things I do when writing brings me down with its doubt and demand, is go back to my file of quotes. I love quotes. A few clever and succinct phrases that ring true to my heart can pick me up a lot faster than a stroll around the block. Surround yourself with words of wisdom, including scripture if you consider yourself a religious person.

Eat. I love chocolate just as much as the next addict. As a matter of fact, I have a bag of Dove’s milk chocolate pieces on my desk right now. But like all things in life they require some self-control, so the chocolate is for every few days and I limit myself to just a couple pieces. Snacking over the keyboard--bad idea. Bad for the computer and bad for your backside. Eat your (healthy) meals at the table. Eat with your family, eat with a friend. We learn in school breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why would eating before indulging in a creative process be any less important? I am always ready to tackle a big scene or essay after a good meal. It may be creative energy we’re burning, but it is energy all the same.

Hugs. Seems simple, but touch is a necessary component for our happiness that is needed from the first moment we come into this world. Phones and the internet are wonderful devices but they do not have a pulse. Yes, going to that party will cut out some of your editing time, but there will be humans that smile and laugh and embrace you when you walk in the door. Whether it’s your mother or your partner, your child or your cat, take time each day to touch and be touched. Kisses are good. Even a good lick on the face from a drooling dog will remind you that you are alive.

Everyone needs something to live for. If your writing gets you through, that’s great, but sooner or later you will need more. We are writers, but first and foremost we are brothers and sisters with beating hearts that need interaction. That is something, no matter how wonderful, our characters can’t give us.

Remember that wise saying, “Troubles come to pass. They do not come to stay.”

Write, but don’t forget to live.

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