My protagonist’s boyfriend has been secretly begging me to allow him to cheat on her. I didn’t want things to be this way but unless she shapes up, there may not be a happy ending. I may have to do something we both might not like. What was meant to be a portrait of depression and redemption has turned into a portrait of… not much.
This is my dilemma: when I’m depressed I have the material but no will to write. When I am happy and have the will to write, I have no material.
When you’re depressed, you feel like shit. And when you feel like shit, you act like shit to other people. And they don’t like that. And they let you know about it. And your mirror lets you know about it. Which is all good material. Nothing is a waste because you can redeem it and use it for something better. But you don’t realize that at the time because you’re too miserable to lift your fingers and think straight enough to get it down on paper. And even if you could, you’d feel like it wouldn’t matter. It was really only from support and encouragement from my significant other that I wrote down what I did.
I’ve been working on what I hope to be a book on and off since 2016, but now I’m working on it steadily. The problem isn’t that it’s gotten stale. I still like it and it still means a lot to me. Dear to me for a number of reasons.
To summarize: the main character has something very wrong with her and she somehow obtains a boyfriend but he has something very wrong too. And she tries to fix the wrong thing with herself but it becomes more wrong. Which leads her boyfriend’s wrong thing to possibly become more wrong as well. And that’s where I’m stuck.
Right now, my horribly depressed character is more of an observer than an experiencer. She just observes and stutters out em-dashes now and again. Really, the book should just be titled Em Dash. Maybe that could work. Who knows.
My story was born during a very dark miserable time, and I channeled that and more into the character. I’ve gotten a lot of help for depression over the past year and I don’t feel so bad anymore. I’m not saying I’m cured. It’s still lurking there, peeking around the corner, waiting for me to get tired. Sometimes I worry it’s only been repressed and the dam will collapse and I will drown. But I don’t want to live like that anymore because it achieved absolutely nothing for me besides a decade of wasted time. (And a lot of debt, too.)
What’s more, my hand doesn’t want to do it. If I chose to, I could easily write pages and pages and pages of everything I hate about myself, but I don’t want to and my hand won’t do it. My hand says, think whatever you like. I’m not writing it. I’m not being complicit in your issues. The problem is that my hand won’t be complicit in helping me write my story, either. It’s almost like it knows where I have to go to find the material I need.
At the time I began the work, I didn’t see a way out of the black pit I was in. Now I at least have my head stuck out of it and can look around a bit more. I hope that my work could help light the way for other people who feel the same way I did. But nothing’s really happening in my story right now.
The problem is that my character seems very content not to have a path. She seems content to be miserable. Like I used to be. The great paradox of depression–pure contentment dwelling in your own personal hell. Until there’s a catalyst that forces you out, you’re gonna stay there. When I started writing, that’s where I was. Couldn’t do a thing to help myself. But I hoped that maybe I could at least redeem it through writing it down, that maybe in the process of writing, my character could help me find the way out, like an independent stand-in.
But now she’s stuck, as though I went ahead and turned around to find her way behind me. And I don’t know how to help her catch up with me.
Maybe this is a sign that I need to do some emotional reprocessing. See how cavalier I am? See, I’m fine. Need to do a little “reprocessing.” Hee hee hee. Maybe it’s just that I don’t want to go there? In some ways, I don’t feel quite adequate on the subject anymore. Is that a legitimate fear, to not feel adequate in speaking about one’s own depression, as though it’s over now? Or am I afraid or reluctant to go back and discover that things aren’t better, after all? Am I only pretending?
Because perhaps if things really were okay, I would have the perspective that comes from closure and I could write that character’s trajectory in a more convincing manner. But she’s stuck in one place. Am I stuck, too? Am I complacent? Am I blind to pitfalls that could be right in front of me at this very moment? And what if I were to fall into one? Would I be right back where I started? I can’t know the answers to any of these questions unless I go there.
I have an even scarier question than this—all my depression peeps out there, you’ll understand—what would my loved ones say if I asked them to describe what it was like to live with me? Am I prepared to do that sort of “research”? That question could take a long time to answer. I don’t know if I’m ready to ask that yet. It’s one thing for people to get mad at you and say things that hopefully they didn’t mean. It’s another to calmly ask them to tell you how they really felt.
The way I see it right now, fiction takes of us out of ourselves into someone else’s mind, and yet at the same time further into ourselves. In reading it, there’s an internal dialectic between your getting into the character’s head and your thinking about what you would do and considering your own experiences. But in writing it, it’s the opposite—you have to get into your own head and consider your experiences and think about what your character would do. In the first case, the character on the paper is the guide into your head, as though they’re holding a map for you. In the latter case, what’s in your head guides the character. You’re drawing their map. Which means you need to dig deeper into your own head. Which is where all the scary stuff is, the stuff which is to a depressive what alcohol is to an alcoholic.
If my character is doing nothing right now, this is probably my fault because it’s sort of my responsibility as the writer to figure out who the character is. This is all a reflection on me, after all. I don’t even know if she went to college or not. I am so fed up with her at this point that I think she is going to drive her own boyfriend to destroy himself in one way or another to be free of her. I have learned quickly that it doesn’t work to write a character that is an exact replica of yourself. It’s too constraining and even though it may technically be true, it doesn’t ring true somehow. So by now the character does not resemble me in many respects–except in all the negatives–but she’s been drained of many experiences as well. I had wanted to color the story with the emotions I have felt, but I’m not having much to color right now. It’s like I have paint on my brush but I don’t have anything to put it on.
I think I’m trying too hard to force events out of the emotions instead of vice versa. Emotions don’t come out of nowhere, but are reactions, reactions that were born out of previous events, based on personality and prior experiences. This is my fault for not developing something called a plot. Maybe I need to come up with some events, to give her an opportunity to react.
I know what. I’ll give her something to react to. I’m going to give her a life that makes Jude the Obscure’s look like Sesame Street. Actually, that might be worse.