Did Depression Make Me A Better Writer?

I came across some really old pieces of writing I had done when I was about 12 recently. Although I guess they weren’t bad for a 12 year-old I’m probably still too embarrassed by their quality to share them with you. But they got me thinking about the journey my writing skill has taken over the years. My writing today is very different to that of my 12 year old self. Some of that is simply age and me maturing  as both a person and a writer. But mostly I think it’s external factors.

I remember always quite liking writing as a child, spelling was always something I was good at so when I wrote, my work didn’t get covered in red pen. Descriptive writing was my favourite kind, I imagined the scenes in vivid detail and wanted to make sure that anyone reading would see the same as me. And when I got good feedback from teachers on my work, well, that just made me like writing even more. Here I was happily writing, not putting any effort in at all and I could still get great marks. What kid wouldn’t love that?

But it wasn’t until I really started to study literature at the age of sixteen or seventeen that I realised I loved to write. I didn’t initially choose to study English Literature, I wanted to be a doctor so I was studying mostly sciences. Psychology seemed like it would be a good fit with those subjects but after two weeks of classes I realised I hate studying psychology! It was just an extra class so I dropped it in favour of a subject I knew wouldn’t take up too much of my time because it was easy for me (leaving me more time to work out those tricky science things). The day I set foot in that classroom I was hooked on literature. I had landed myself in Louise Taylor’s class, this woman taught Literature with such contagious passion I no longer cared that I was struggling in science. I wanted to write!

And so I started to write, mostly just short pieces. I focused heavily on descriptive work and would often start stories with no intention of finishing them. I liked starting a project. That was when all the possibilities were open to you and you hadn’t written yourself into a corner. I had paper scattered all over the place with my unfinished stories. Then about a year later the dark rain laden cloud of depression started looming over me. I could see it every time I looked up, there it was, just waiting for its moment. I was assigned new teachers at the start of the year… no more passionate lessons… I was given a teacher who had read less of the texts than me. And I had also just failed Chemistry (because I didn’t do any study, turns out you need to do that). That’s when the cloud broke and pissed all over me. I’m soaking wet and cold with no shelter from the storm… except my writing.

That was also about the time that I started to write my novel. I’m a lot more interested in character development these days, you don’t need to write a novel for that but it definitely helps. I live life vicariously through character lives now. When you’re unhappy with your life it’s nice to distract yourself with the lives of your favourite tv characters or perhaps you are a literature fan too and get absorbed in a book to distract yourself. Well I can do that and I can create characters of my own, I get to choose how their lives unfold (and make sure they’re happy).

I still enjoy descriptive writing but I’m a more rounded writer now. Well I say that but it’s a struggle. Although the depression has given me a new-found interest in character development it also makes it harder for me to create variety of characters. It’s said that a character can only ever be a representation of their author because they have come from the author’s mind. Which means my characters can get polluted with that toxic rain pouring down on me. When I’m feeling particularly miserable it’s very hard to write a happy bubbly character. I have to rely on music to pick up my mood and alter my mind set (even if it is just temporary) in order to create characters outside my personality.

I don’t think that if I were to suddenly be cured of my depression tomorrow I would also suddenly stop focusing my writing on my characters. It’s impossible to say whether the depression or me maturing as an individual was the catalyst for change. But now that I have that interest in characters I don’t think it’s going to change. I think I will always seek to create characters that you want to be friends with, you love to hate, you hate to love or that just seem so real you’d believe they existed. I don’t know that I ever hit that mark but it is my goal.

S. Hansen

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