Creativity, mental health and standards that go both ways

Happy new year!

Except it’s not. Happy, that is.

After a couple of publication successes at the end of 2017, my muse has decided that it’s time for a break and has sodded off to parts unknown.

Actually, I don’t really believe in a muse. If writers sat around waiting for creativity to strike then I’m sure very little would get written.  Equally, though, I don’t understand how writer’s get through this, other than forcing it and churning out crap.

Which is what I’ve been doing these past twelve days.

That’s not to say I don’t have ideas, because I do. I started out the year recording lots of writing competitions I could enter, looked for inspiration on the web regarding plot ideas and now have a Dropbox full of plot lists and prompts.

But can I make a story out of any of them?

The answer is yes, of course I can. I’ve done it before and I will do it again. I just won’t do it this day. Possibly not the next day either, or the next. But I’m going to keep trying because whatever this is, it will pass.

Google ‘creativity and depression’ and the first thing you’ll see is ‘Scholarly articles for creativity and depression’. Apparently, there’s a lot of them. Next is ‘A little weird? Prone to depression? Blame your creative brain…’

Thanks, brain.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that. I know there is, but annoyingly, there’s nothing I can do but work through it the way that I always have: with patience and self-care and self-talk and mindfulness (and possibly ice cream), and knowing that I’ll come out the other side eventually. Even the little things, like reading the blogs and tweets of other sufferers has helped: Matt Haig in particular – if you don’t already follow him then do look him up, and then go out and buy his books like I did yesterday, hurrah! Some weekend reading for me! (I’ve also ordered How To Stop Time but that’s still somewhere in the bowels of Amazon – boooooo!).

20180112_114930.jpg On the subject of reading, my Goodreads challenge for 2017 came in at 53 books. I was aiming for 100, which in hindsight was possibly a tad optimistic. This year I’ve set it at 60, and I’m already 3 down. The first was a steampunk anthology, Gears of Brass, that I picked up as part of a book swap at the Bridge House event. You can read my review on Goodreads here, but basically, it wasn’t for me (more on that shortly). Then I (finally) got round to reading End of Watch by Stephen King (5 stars, as always), and last night (amidst a sea of tissues thanks to the annual winter lurgy) I finished reading Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.

I knew Sarah’s name as a fellow member of the BFS but had (shamefully) never read any of her work, so when I saw BHE as part of a BOGOHP offer in Waterstones, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

You can tell from the cover alone that it’s going to be something along the lines of The Girl on the Train, and it is. Three main characters, their lives intertwined, and someone is hiding a sinister secret. There’s a supernatural element that sets it apart from your Flynns and Hawkins, and a really good twist at the end that I only very vaguely saw coming. On the basis of this, I will definitely be seeking out more of Sarah’s work.

Going back to the aforementioned steampunk anthology, aside from the quality of the writing, which I wasn’t too impressed with, the one thing that threw me out of the book was the poor standard of editing. There were spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in almost every story. And yes, I’m a qualified proofreader so I’m more eagle-eyed and pernickety than most, but come on! This wasn’t a self-published book. I’ve looked up the imprint and they look pretty slick and professional. Surely they owe it to the authors they publish to polish their work to the best of their abilities, not least because it makes the book look amateurish.

I’ve recently had a similar experience and have ummed and ahed whether to blog about this or not. I know that it won’t do me any favours to complain about a publisher that has printed my work so I’m not going to name them. However, I did have a contract that stated my work would be proofread – TWICE – and then sent back to me for one final check, which it was, and there weren’t any errors to begin with so nothing was changed. I have to assume that all the authors in the book had the same kind of treatment, so each and every story was (hopefully) proofread by its author, then proofread / edited twice by the publisher, then sent to the author for checking…. and STILL there were errors in the final printed book. Great big glaring ones that made me a little embarrassed to hand out copies to my friends who had purchased it.

It’s a sad state of affairs but everybody knows (or should know by now) that if you’re buying self-published work, you’re taking a gamble on quality. However, if a publisher wants nine odd quid for a book they’ve produced then I expect there to be no more than a couple of minor errors (I found one in End of Watch, so I know some slip through) and the cover design not to look amateurish (which…. *flinches*…. it did). And I may well be cutting off my nose to spite my face but I won’t be submitting further work to them because of this. I like to think I keep a certain standard with my work, and standards go both ways, don’t they?

So.

Now I’ve just got myself blacklisted by everyone everywhere, I’m off to eat ice cream and write more crap stories – or not. For anyone suffering from anxiety and depression right now, there is nothing I can say to make it easier for you, but here’s some things that have helped me fight my way through it.

  1. Self-care – do something for you without feeling guilty (within reason of course!). Read a book, take a bath, watch a film, play a musical instrument, eat that tub of Ben n Jerry’s Phish Food if you want to. Above all, be kind to yourself.
  2. Exercise – this one can be hard if it’s all you can do to get out from under the duvet for a piss break, but trust me, exercise will make you feel better. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous. Just going for a walk can lift your mood. Hell, you can walk on the spot if you can’t leave the house (I’ve ‘spot-walked’ my way through the entire first season of Stranger Things and hardly even noticed). Or if walking’s not your thing then what about pilates or yoga? There’s tons of videos to choose from on You Tube, so why not have a browse? You might just find your new passion.
  3. Practice mindfulness – it really does work. There’s tons of resources on the web so get Googling.
  4. Challenge your mood – sometimes we get trapped in a spiral of dark thoughts and it’s hard to break free. Online tools like Moodscope and MoodGym are excellent at helping you challenge these thoughts and to discover a new way of thinking.
  5. Communicate – try and let somebody know how you’re feeling, even if it feels like the hardest thing to do in the world, and PLEASE seek help from a doctor if you need it. They are there to help, as are the following charities:

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.rethink.org/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

https://youngminds.org.uk/

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Take care of yourselves, everyone

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