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Robert's Rules of Writing #8: Take the Prozac

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Masello's eighth rule is one that I stand behind 100%.

Masello notes that throughout literary history, there has been this image of the tortured creative soul. Writers tend to be a depressed lot, he says, and the job of writing can bring a person down by the end of the day. After all, many writers spend their time alone in a room, brooding. (Hm. Maybe those writers should get themselves to Starbucks.)

Anyway, because of this image of the depressed writer, there is a theory that writers who mess with their mood may also affect their wellspring of creativity. (This isn't just limited to depression; Isaac Asimov had severe acrophobia, but refused to be treated for it partly because he worried that a cure might adversely affect his ability to write.) Consequently, many writers who might seek out treatment for their condition instead leave it alone, almost nursing their depression as if it's something to be nurtured and then tapped into to create brilliant works of fiction.

Masello rejects this completely. Depression, he says, doesn't help your art, but hurts it. It leeches your productivity and can ruin your life. His advice: do what you have to do to cheer up, whether it's taking the appropriate medication or going out with some friends. Your writing will be better because of it.

I'm on the same page as he is with this one. Personal, ongoing misery and depression are not good sources of inspiration. Bad experiences may very well be; many of us take what happens to us in life and eventually put it on the page. But living one's life day to day in a depressed mood, and thinking that you need to feel that way to be creative...reject that notion. No work of art is worth the price of personal misery, especially not in this day and age.

Here's hoping you're all in a good mood and feeling productive.

Comments

I think it was Natalie Goldberg who wrote (paraphrasing here): "writers who are drunks don't drink because they're writers. They drink because they're not writing."

In my view, work ethic is infinitely more important than inspiration. Even if someone can argue that drug induced or chemical-free brooding brings on the great ideas, it won't matter a thing if all he wants to do is lie in bed during writing time.

Alex.
I've been more productive and creative since I got on antidepressants and started going to therapy.
I'm not really a writer, outside of a few fanfic stories, but I agree that the muse is definitley more likely to strike me when I'm in a good mood than it is when I'm depressed.

I have a few people on my friends list who are, or want to be writers. Is it okay if I link them to your journal for your discussions of these rules?
Is it okay if I link them to your journal for your discussions of these rules?

Of course! Feel free to point anyone here who might want to read these posts. If they want to participate in the discussion, you might also want to point them towards my info page, which reminds people of my desire not to have profanity or obscenity in my journal.
I've only been on the antidepressants and in therapy for abut a month now. However, outside of a couple of weeks adjusting to the meds when my focus got dreadful and I couldn't remember what I'd had for breakfast that morning, my productivity is slowly coming back from the Major Depressive episode when I couldn't manage much beyond sitting on the couch playing video games and idly watching TV I wasn't interested in (beyond Atlantis, of course, which was the ONLY thing I was interested in during the worst of it).

So, I agree with Masello 100% on this. Choosing to live with a mental health issue and not take action to correct it only hurts you and pretty much everything and everyone in your life.
Oh, yeah. There are dark, brooding philosophical concepts which might make one's work interesting.

That SO ain't depression.

I can think of few things less conducive to writing than depression, or alcoholism. Okay, acrophobia might actually be helpful in that it removes a whole class of source of distractions from writing. . .
In theory, I agree. I do, know, however, that some antidepressants in some people dampen creativity. The affect is completely flattened -- no depression, but no joy, and not much interest in doing much. Which is to say, once again, that in writing there is no one-size-fits-all.
I've struggled with depression on and off for over 40 years (a very long time since I'm only 48 now!). I wrote fiction constantly until I was about 19, got kind of depressed by all the rejection slips I got, then wrote no fiction at all for about 10 years. I started writing fiction again in my late 20s and was slightly productive (though given I was married, had a small child, a demanding job and a hectic volunteer schedule, it's pretty amazing I got anything ELSE done). Sometimes, I wrote when I was depressed, and sometimes I did not.

I've been on and off of Prozac a few times since my mid-30s. The first time I was on it, I wrote a fair amount of fiction. During other times on the drug, I haven't written at all. I haven't taken Prozac in about a year, and wrote most of a novel this year. However, I also fell into writer's block, too.

So, I'd like to say there's some sort of magic connection between mood disorders, taking medication for it, not taking medication for it and creativity. For me, I generally haven't seen a consistent connection, but that may not be true for everyone.
I've always found that self-actualization is a great muse. It opens up possiblities and perceptions. Being depressed/a drunk/a drug user is static. I never understood how it created anything but misery.
As someone who stopped writing because of depression, I have to agree 100%. I'm actually taking Prozac specifically and I'm starting to feel a tinge of the desire (and will) to write again, which I didn't in the depths of my depression.

Zhaneel
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