Writing and Depression

The stigma about depression and medication is very real.  The openness with which some of my favorite YA and non-YA authors have talked about dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness is one of the reasons why I’m making this seriously personal blog post.

I’ve dealt with some amount of depression for a very long time, and counseling that I went to in my early twenties helped me learn techniques for managing it.  Normally, I’m able to handle my depressed moods very well, battle the cognitive dissonance with logic, and function normally.  But a variety of factors, including the recent deaths of two grandparents (one of whom I was very close to) and some other family stuff, have apparently upset my usual equilibrium.

I’ve been bouncing in and out of depressed cycles.  Jared has pointed out several times before now that they have been coming more frequently and each time has seemed to be worse; meanwhile, every time I started to feel better I had convinced myself that I was finally snapping out of it.  I really wanted to believe I was snapping out of it.

In retrospect, one of the things that was holding me together was submitting, revising, and resubmitting the plague novel.  When I finished that, I had a huge moment of ‘what now.’  There is a whole list of things that could serve as ‘now,’ but as I was going through that list, I didn’t want to do any of them.  Writing fell into the other list of things I ‘should’ do but haven’t been doing lately.  This had become a theme in my life–boredom, restlessness, insomnia, and not wanting to do the things I normally find fun and exciting.  Without that thing that had been taking up 2+ hours a night and weekend days it was like a giant gaping chasm of indecisive boredom opened up in front of me.

Meanwhile, I’ve run my blogging buffer ragged.  Resubmitting and generally being depressed have left me without any buffer at all.  Last weekend, when I should have been preparing my Monday blog post, I was dragging myself to social activities in an effort to combat my feelings of isolation and desire to further withdraw from my support structures.  And Monday, I was curled up in bed feeling that familiar crushing weight on my chest, but this time considering how I would kill myself (if I wanted to go about doing that, which I did not), while thinking about how screwed up that whole line of thought was.

I want to be very clear that I didn’t actively want to kill myself.  But this is a HUGE RED FLAG and a boundary that I set a long time ago.  So I made an appointment with my primary care doctor and last week I spoke with her about maybe going back to counseling, since I need a referral from my PCP for my insurance to cover it.  I really didn’t want to, but I made myself tell a couple of my loved ones what was going on to hold myself accountable, so I pretty much had no choice but to follow through.  My doctor very firmly insisted medication because of that whole suicidal ideations issue.  I’m not really sure that it’s working yet, but the act of taking action has turned this into feeling like a forever-slog until something I’m holding out against until help arrives.

And I actually wanted to make this blog post.  Writing out of desire instead of out of a sense of duty is, I think, a good sign.


Progress Update

A thunderstorm-related power outage made it difficult to post last night (but made for a lovely reading might). I’m presently working on short stories, updating them and researching markets. I intend to submit them around again later tomorrow, or possibly Monday.

Meanwhile, the Flight novel is back in my imagination, and I intend to start revising that soon. That should take me through NaNoWriMo, when I’ll resume work on the Touchdown novel. Big plans!

Revisions Process–Final Reads

Let me briefly interrupt your regularly scheduled substantive update to announce that as of yesterday, my manuscript is back to the agent who was interested in seeing a revision.  My excitement knows no bounds!  Ahem.

This is the sixth and last post in my series of posts (one, two, three, four, and five) about the process I engaged in to revise my manuscript.  While the process is similar to the process I used the first time , this one has worked out exceptionally well for me, and I intend to use it as a general revisions process in the future.

My process culminated in the final reads–yes, there was more than one.  The first read was in Scrivener, full screen, at 800% font.  In essence, the font choice only fit a sentence a page.  And I combed through those sentences looking for typos, words that didn’t make sense, missing punctuation, and redundant word choices.  I read it aloud to myself to make sure the sentences flowed properly.  This was my “typographical read” and it took me about two days.

Some people have suggested reading your work backward so that you don’t get invested in the prose.  I may do that next time, because I did at points find myself just reading along.  I sometimes had to go back and read a chapter again.

After I compiled my manuscript into a word processor, I checked the entire document for spelling.  My word processor helpfully pointed out several places where I had missed corrections on my first final read.  Doubled words are the bane of my existence.  My brain apparently just refuses to recognize them.  I then gave it a final, quick read to make sure that everything was in place and Scrivener hadn’t left out a chapter or included a scene I had cut.

And that was it.  The entire two-plus-month-long process that overshadowed my life and ate all of my “free” time was complete.

Progress Update–Microrevisions DONE

Microrevisions are done!  They’re done they’re done they’re done THEY’RE DONE!  The most tedious part of revisions?  Done.

And I have to say, this manuscript is looking really good.  The original manuscript was 79k words.  After doing major revisions, it was up to 83k words.  The final result?  70,687 words.  This prose is so tight, it’s bolted to the floor.

I have only three things left to do before I resubmit to the agent:

1) Typographical revision.  Fixing typographical errors.  I swear, self, I will cut you if you try to start revising during the typo check.  TYPO FIXING ONLY.

2) Compilation.  I need to compile my Scrivener document into a format the agent wants to read.

3) Final read.  Making sure Scrivener didn’t bork anything.  Last-minute check for typos I missed during the typo check.

The combined total of these three steps should only take the rest of the weekend.  Which means that by Monday, barring unforeseen circumstances, I should have this manuscript back to the agent.  And then more waiting.

But for now, I’m so excited!

Brief Combined Update

I missed my Friday update and now my Monday update is going to be combined with the update part. Why, you ask?

A combination of depression and grinding on this manuscript to make up for it.

I’m done with micro-revisions through chapter 23 (of 34). But in the process, I failed to pace myself last weekend, and entirely blew out my brain. I spent several days during the week with my brain going NO NO NO every time I even walked by Scrivener, and forcing it just made me want to go back to bed semi-permanently.

This is why it’s important to know how your mind works when you struggle with something like depression. I deliberately made sure I told the agent longer than I thought I would need so that I could wiggle room if it came to it. After a 2-day enforced break from writing to recharge, I’m again ready to roll. But I’m behind on my own personal deadline by about a week, so off I go!

Revisions Process–Microrevisions

This is the fifth post in a series about my revisions process.  I received a revise and resubmit letter from an agent at the end of May.  My first post was about how I made my schedule, my second post was about reading my old manuscript, my third post was about mid-level revisions, and my fourth post was about sending this manuscript back to beta readers.  This post will be about microrevisions.

Microrevisions are the revisions I am working on now that I have received my responses from my beta readers.  The process is mostly focused on sentence and paragraph-level prose tweaking.  However, this time my microrevisions have blended a little into my mid-level revisions because I’m doing them after receiving feedback from beta readers.  Since the feedback was mostly positive, it doesn’t require a second level of mid-level revisions (like the grueling mid-level revisions I had to do after the first time I sent this to beta readers).  But the responses have also sparked ideas, like altering a few scenes and changing a few aspects of one character, that are more along the lines of mid-level revisions.

I start by absolutely maximizing my text size on full-screen view in Scrivener so that I am forced to read slowly and read each word as it is presented.  If I go back and make paragraph-level changes (such as moving paragraphs around or deleting sections), I’ll sometimes jump into the Scrivener’s regular editing mode, but I always make sure to go back to the large text view so that I’m focused on only a couple of sentences at a time.

I do microrevisions in two passes.  The first is to do sentence- and paragraph-level changes to the flow of the language in the story.  After I’ve eliminated redundancies and tweaked the prose as clear as I can get it, I do a second read-through to fix inadvertent problems and typographical errors that my first pass created.  If the second read-through results in major changes, I do a third read-through.  Third is as far as I’ve had to go, but I would do as many as necessary until I was satisfied with the prose.

Once these microrevisions are done, I intend to do a “final read” in Scrivener before I format my manuscript for submission.

Revisions Process–Beta Reading

This is post four in a series about how I’m revising and resubmitting my novel in response to a R&R request from an agent. Post One was about how I made myself a schedule to live by, Post Two was about reading my old manuscript, and Post Three was about my mid-level revisions process.

After I finished my mid-level revisions, I knew that I wanted to send the novel back out to beta readers.  I had two goals: (1) I wanted to know whether my new draft addressed the agent’s feedback, and (2) I wanted another sensitivity beta, this time from someone I didn’t know and who hopefully wouldn’t hold back if my characterizations and portrayals with my characters of color were unintentionally offensive.

As usual, my problem with beta readers was getting them to get back to me on time.  About 2/3 of my beta readers responded by the deadline I set of two weeks, including my sensitivity beta reader.  The responses I received were mostly helpful.

I used the time that my novel was out with my beta readers for two purposes.  First, I desperately needed some down time to de-stress and recharge.  I’d been sprinting through these revisions for over a month and I was starting to run out of “go.”  My brother was home from Amsterdam for two weeks and my grandma was up from Florida, and it was nice to spend some time with both of them.  I also worked a little on some short stories (though I still haven’t submitted them around again–bad me).

I’ve compiled their feedback into a reference document that I’m considering as I do my micro-revisions, which I’ll talk about next week!

Progress Update

I’m starting to get my first betas in (including my second-opinion sensitivity beta) and I’ve asked people to get back to me by the 17th, so hopefully I’ll have enough good feedback to go on.

So far, it seems like the changes have largely the suggested improvements from the agent, at least as I understood them. Two people have noted one of the “fixes” as creating more issues, so I’m going to have to take a hard look at that one and either remove it or re-evaluate the presentation.

While I’m waiting on the rest of the betas to get in, I’ve started the process of tedious micro-revisions on the beginning (which has received mostly positive feedback, so I’m sure it won’t require any more major changes). I’m half way through chapter 4 with the micro-revisions, and seem to be able to only do about a chapter a day. This could be problematic as I get closer to my self-set deadline. Especially since this coming weekend is a mess of family commitments.

Fortunately, I have an all-day write-in with CCWA coming up next Saturday, and a few vacation days at the end of July where I should be able to get major work done.

One of my goals is to get back under 80k words. The end of the major revisions saw me at almost 83k words, and ideally I’d like to get back under 79k solely by tuning my prose. I guess we’ll see!

Revisions Process–Mid-Level Revisions

This is the third post in my series about how I’m revising and resubmitting my novel in response to a R&R request from an agent. My first post was about how I made myself a schedule to live by, and my second post was about reading my old manuscript.  This post is going to be about the next step in my revisions process: mid-level revisions.

Since I taught myself the way not to do revisions on my first time through revising the plague novel (hint: don’t start at page 1 and try to slowly work your way through fixing everything), I’ve discovered that there are three types of revisions I should try to make:

1) macro-revisions–large-scale overhauls of plot and character

2) mid-level revisions–emphasizing aspects of character and story, fixing foreshadowing, etc

3) micro-revisions–fixing language and typographical errors

Because the Plague Novel isn’t on its first draft, there weren’t any macro revisions I wanted to make.  For instance, on my second pass through my presubmission revisions (which really should have been my first pass) I decided to change the ending and add a secondary character.  I don’t really have any of those to do this time.  At its core, the novel is staying how it is.

But my revisions list did have several mid-level revisions on it. For instance, I wanted to emphasize certain aspects of Robbie’s character and build more empathy from him from the beginning of the story, and I wanted to make the mechanics of the specific plague more apparent.  I also decided to combine a couple of characters, foreshadow the events of the first pinch point more, and overhaul a scene toward the late middle.

Of course, the adage “show don’t tell” applies even more so to targeted revisions than it does to writing the story in the first place: I needed to get this information across without info dumping.  Especially the information about the plague mechanics.  It would have been very easy to just throw in a few maid and butler dialogue sequences about how the plague worked into the first chapter, for instance.  But “easy” doesn’t make an interesting read.

I decided to add a prologue and do major overhauls of a few chapters.  The beginning chapters in the novel were particularly heavy on mid-level revisions, and ended up being where I spent most of my time on my first major revision pass for this revise and resubmit.  The mid-level revisions tapered off as I went through the book, both because creating empathy and setting explanation are front-loaded types of things and because as the book went on it got better overall.

Because these revisions were direct responses to the agent’s feedback, they took a large amount of time, thought, and energy.  From the preliminary beta responses I’ve already received, the changes to the beginning are very successful.  I just hope this agent (or a future agent, if she decides to pass) feel the same!