I have a story that I have been working on on and off since 2011. It's a plot idea that I really find interesting and it really means a lot to me.

I also struggle a lot with treatment-resistant depression. I've spent about half my adult life crippled by it in one form or another (including my most productive years), not even getting into the side effects of the medication used to treat it. Most recently, the most recent medication I have been prescribed has utterly destroyed my ability to focus and create, and despite wanting to write the thoughts and ideas won't come, and the act of working on the story is no longer enjoyable to me because everything I do (not just writing, but everything) feels numb. The recent COVID pandemic and the general lack of stimulation obviously aren't helping either. This is very distressing to me given how important creativity is to me. This is not even getting into "normal" writer's block or losing interest in the idea.

Something I have worried about a lot is the possibility of dying before I ever get my story out to the public in some form. I'm not extremely old by any means, but I am well aware that life is finite and with my health and medication issues (as well as the fact that writing is not my career) I have reason to worry that I may never create anything again. I’m also very aware that as one gets older, their free time, creativity, and ability to focus generally goes down. This is something I've worried about a lot recently with the announcement that Kentaro Miura, creator of Berserk, passed away at 54 without being able to finish his story.

I understand that normally with concerns about mortality, the general answer is "well use this fear as motivation to get what you want done in a reasonable time frame", but what do you do if your ability to create is hindered by outside forces that you have little control over?

4 Answers 4


Serious depression is not a game. It is not something that can be "toughed out" or "worked through". It requires medical attention, and medical attention requires exactly that: attention.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic complicates getting medical attention. This increases the burden on you to self advocate, which can be so much more difficult when you are fighting depression.

From your question, the drug you have started is causing a side effect that is hurting you -- specifically the drug is causing difficulty focusing. This is just as real a side effect as high blood pressure, sleepiness, weight gain, hives, tremors, and every other unintended effect a drug may have. If you haven't already spoken up, and perhaps even if you have, this side effect is something your medical attendee should listen to you about and help you mitigate.

I won't offer advice. I don't know you. I'm not a doctor. You show great awareness by identifying the problem, and you deserve to be heard by those who can help you.

Addressing the factors that make focus difficult is part of writing your story. If you were sitting in the dark, you would need a light to write, no matter how difficult procuring that light may be.


A Few Thoughts:

Here are a few things to think about. Warning: this is depressing (but uplifting at the same time).

  • COVID sucks. It sucks for all of us. It sucks the life and joy out of the room. I work in a hospital and get to watch people's test results as they get diagnosed, or go into respiratory failure. But it can't stop you from writing if you really want it badly enough. In 2019, my parents were murdered, and I said, "2020 has to be better!" Never say that. But adversity and suffering can be amazing sources of inspiration. My story got especially violent and dark, but authentically so. I was writing my pain and experience. You might not be able to write the story you were imagining right now, but write about your pain, and you'll get something out that might be just as good or better.
  • Mental health issues suck. Depression is especially undermining. And it gets worse. The actual odds of your story ever getting published are very low (even if it's good, which as a first novel, it won't be until years of editing and reworking). The vision is like a child to you, but a child that does what you want. The real world will be brutal to it. Don't write it (YET) if you can't face the possibility that hardly anyone will read it. But write something else for now, and there's nothing that says you won't get THAT published. Once you get something published, publishing gets easier. And the more you write, the easier THAT gets, too.
  • Life sucks. Life is short and with no guarantees. People are selfish, and nature is cruel and deterministic. That being said, I couldn't stand NOT writing my novel. I ignored all the perfectly good reasons not to write it, and all the logical reasons to do things differently. In the end, you need to write it for YOU, because you can't stand the idea of not writing it. The world will only appreciate what you do if you're lucky, and if it does, it won't be because life is fair.

You mention in your question that outside forces are preventing you from writing (I'm guessing fast enough?) but I'm that kind of annoying person that believes there's always a solution out there, so I'll write (at length) about that. However, at the end of my answer I'll also talk about ways to get your thoughts out there even if you cannot write that much. So you can always skim to the end... ;o)

Look at it from outside the box

To me, death is the great motivator.

I think, if humans lived forever, I'd be the kind of person that spent forever preparing. Only the awareness that I have limited time pushes me from preparing to doing.

This, to be, in some strange way, thankful that I have a limited life, is probably very strange to most people. But being, what I call eccentric (oh well, yeah there are some diagnoses there as well), makes it possible for me to look at the world from outside the box. (I pretty much have to strain to figure out what's going on inside the box...)

I'm also clinically positive about life (for instance I believe that death isn't the end, of my existence, but for sure the end of this very unique experience called my life, so I'd better carpe diem the crap out of it, but without that much angst about it... if that even makes sense...)

With outside-the-box thinking and positivity, I often find myself thinking about how a problem can be a good thing or a help. A bit like if you give me lemons, I'll bring the tequila... :P (Oh wait, alcohol is very seldom the solution to any problem... let's stick with lemonade instead!)

Can you learn to be positive? I don't know... I do, however, know that this positivity is something that came after many years of far less positive, even negative, thinking, so I wouldn't rule it out. And no, it isn't "just happening" it takes hard work and time... (and about half a meter of self-help books) and possibly a notion that all that sh*t is part of the process/experience... that without it I wouldn't be "here", I wouldn't be me. Maybe I'd be superficial and pointless!

You're still writing a book

But even with positivity and outside-the-box thinking, normal rules for creativity and writing apply.

Sometimes you get stuck. Sometimes your ability or time puts limits on what you can create. It could be disabilities, children, lack of planning, too much coffee with friends. Pretty much anything can prevent you from creating.

Some problems can be solved. Some problems will be part of your creative landscape and things you just have to learn to work with.


One possible solution could be to apply acceptance to problems going on "in your head." This works especially well for unwanted thoughts (since "you cannot not think"). Instead, you work at doing the things you want with your life while you have the thoughts telling you it's impossible... Sooner or later those thoughts will stop pestering you... as long as you don't try to make them stop... (the mind is a weird thing...)

If you want to learn more about acceptance and thoughts etc, I recommend reading "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. It helped me immensely.

Getting your thoughts out there

You're asking about how to handle the possibility of not finishing the novel before your time runs out.

The first step is to work on the novel and let the problem of death be something that may or may not be relevant for this novel. If you have your last will and testament in order, I think you can just accept that death is there and you will or won't finish the novel.

If you work on a series, each novel needs to stand on its own legs anyway so even then it's about writing one book at a time.

Find a long-term strategy where all important parts of your life get a practical amount of attention (health, family, friends, work, writing, etc).

That's pretty much what I'd recommend with or without writing.

But if you really want to make sure your work gets out there, for instance, if you start an epic series, you could always create outlines and world-building data that could make it possible for someone else to finish the work. It wouldn't be the first time even if it isn't necessarily the best of strategies either...

If writing really is what you need to be happy/feel meaningful etc, then write and let the novel be a possible result of that writing. The long-term strategy should definitely be based around the fact that you like to write, be that in NaNoWriMo-speed or one sentence per day.

Maybe all you can muster is haiku poetry on your blog. It's still writing and it's published. Putting anything out there is way better than just planing to do it. Even if it's a small text, it's going to be one rung in the ladder towards feeling like you can actually write and publish something.

It would be your answer to the thoughts that say you will never be able to publish anything in time... (And here's my version of that type of blogging, although in my case it's more of a dumping ground for thoughts and ideas. But those thoughts and ideas are out there, and public...)


You could try tricking yourself.

Add a character who doesn't carry plot who is basically you. Have this character tell others their feelings, struggle with depression, cope with some of what you're coping with. Write the story between all the other characters, but let this one join in pretty much whenever you can't write. If you want to write the "main character goes on a date" scene, but you can't, then write the "main character chats to depressed friend" scene instead and fill that scene with whatever is happening in your head that's keeping you from writing the part you want to write.

With any luck, having got those thoughts out, you'll be able to write the part you wanted to write. Pay no attention to these scenes otherwise. You can have any and all of your cast interact with the depressed person, who mostly just goes on about being depressed. Perhaps you'll find yourself putting advice into the mouths of the main cast, and you can let that happen. Perhaps your main cast will be frustrated at this person and complain about them. That's ok too. Just don't make any scene with this character vital for plot purposes, such as being where one character learns or experiences something important to keep things moving.

Some day, you'll have written the plot you want, in the setting you want, with the characters you want plus this bonus depressed person. If you want, you can them remove all the scenes with this person and the plot will still go where you wanted it to go. Or you may find that some of the scenes have value: revealing things about your main cast, your setting, or your own philosophy. Leave some of them in, should that happen.

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