A Year Written – Mental Health and Starting to Write Again

This is a very personal blog post for me. 

I started writing again a year ago – in late August 2014 – after a break of several years. I had been enrolled in a PhD programme, and writing of a different sort was my life. At least, that is how I justified the hiatus to myself. Before that, I was always scribbling at something. More often than not, I wrote fan-fiction, but I usually had an unfinished novella on the go somewhere. But for a period of almost three years, I didn’t do any creative writing at all.

 

Looking back at the time, I think that my break came as a result of severe depression. The inspiration to write, for me, has always come from life-highs and experiences. Unsurprisingly, I think I’ve written some of my best material on exotic family trips: times when I felt both a sense of wonder at the world around me and also deeply loved. Depression is insidious and it kills hope. For me at least, I think that internal sense of hope is integral to creating fantasy. It’s true that fantasy novels provide a form of escapism, but for me, when I’m not in the mind-frame to imagine something great, a place that’s a little bit magical … my writing falls flat. More than that, I stop reading for fun as well. It’s almost as if my mind finds one world enough, and puts the breaks on imagining yet another existence.

 

In August of last year, I made the extremely difficult decision to go on a medical leave of absence from my PhD. My health situation was dire. I’d gained 40lbs in a year, was taking multiple types of anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications, and I suddenly found myself on the verge of developing diabetes. I lost interest in my PhD and convinced myself I wasn’t smart enough to finish. During my leave, I was adamant that I wanted to try something else. I couldn’t distinguish anymore whether the PhD made me depressed or my depression made me miserable while doing the PhD. I felt I needed to get some perspective on that key question.

 

So, I got a virtual internship working for a NYC based literary agency. I loved it. Reading queries, reading partials … there was something thrilling about the potential to discover something great. And I read a lot of truly excellent work by the agency’s current clients. Doing that internship got me reading again, and once I got reading, it wasn’t long until my creative juices started to flow again.

 

My first manuscript of 2014 was a disaster. I tried to write a MG Novel from the perspective of four different protagonists, all in 3rd person. I tried to polish it, tried to query it, but I could never bring the book together in the way that it really needed. I found the 3rd person style too impersonal, and trying to get inside the mind of 11-year-olds just wasn’t happening for me. The manuscript read like YA. But YA that has been stuffed in a tiny box and is oozing out all over the sides like muffin-batter. Lovely.

 

So after a few months battling the slush pile, I scrapped the manuscript and knocked it up as a learning experience.

 

Then, I wrote another one. This one was different. I wrote 1st person. I wrote it as YA ,with a single protagonist. I based the world on a place that was magical to me: Africa, and I let that feeling of the fantastic carry me through the first draft. Immediately, my CPs noticed the difference. I finished Unicorn Tracks in January, and in March, I got an offer from Harmony Ink in March, and my first novel will come out next year!

 

Since then, I’ve settled into a new job – working with books 😀 Lots and Lots of Amazing Books 😀 😀 So, the pace of my writing has slowed a little. I’ve started working on a YA fantasy trilogy, and am nearly done writing the first book. I’ve recently finished a novella manuscript, and am now in the daunting stages of having to enter the query hell again …

 

Possibly the most important thing is that for me, this urge to write and create is a sign that my overall sense of wellness is coming back. I feel like a person again, with an imagination and dreams. I’m still recovering, and I have down days and weeks. But I do feel like my brain is putting up a fight, and that fight is worth everything.

 

I’m in the middle of writing my dedication and acknowledgements for Unicorn Tracks. While the acknowledgements are nearing completion (and longgggg), I’ve really struggled with the dedication. I have amazing friends, an amazing relationship, amazing family … all of them are in the acknowledgements pages. But for the dedication I’m writing one to all the people who struggle with depression, in the hope that they can also find the things that make them feel a little bit hopeful.

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