Sunday, November 20, 2011

Depression and NaNoWriMo

For starters, there was something I wanted to say in this post, something that seemed important enough to justify making the post, and I've forgotten what it was. We'll see if it comes out in the writing of this post.

This is about the intersection of depression and NaNoWriMo, though I suppose I could add more. It could also be about how I lose contact with people and communities I care about, that came up in conversation recently and is clearly related.

We'll start with National Novel Writing month. This will be my ninth day with no progress meaning that I've had almost, but not quite, as many days with no progress as I had with progress. My first day without progress was the second day. My next was the eighth. All of the others are bunched together. It's been a week since I've made progress.

That seems to be too large of a gap for me to handle. It started simply enough. I had school work to do. I was tired, I was somewhat sick (I seem to have been sick fairly frequently lately) and I didn't get the words in. School's on vacation right now. (Technically it's somewhat more complicated than that, but for me the take away is that I'm free until a week from tomorrow.) I should have plenty of time to write, there's nothing standing in my way.

Except I can't seem to. I was stumbling a bit before I stopped, stalling even. But now I'm completely stopped. The engine is off, inertia has long since stopped helping, and nothing seems to be changing.

I sit down and I get nothing.

I don't think I can really describe what it is that lets me write. When it works, it works. When it doesn't I can either stare at an empty screen or find something else to do. The thing is, I can still connect to that. I can still write about Left Behind, or Nick Andes, or Twilight, or transgender high school Jesus on the day of the Resurrection.

What I can't do is write about Ryan and Erin. I've lost my feel for them. I've lost my drive, I've lost my ability to motivate myself or my ability to care. This is where the something important that I forgot would have gone. Still don't remember what it was.

The thing is, I still want to write it. I still know that if I were writing it I would likely enjoy it. It like the characters. They got to know each other in part by dueling with foam swords on one outing and squirt guns the next (Erin is stabby, you see, where Ryan is shooty) how could I not like them? But there's something that allows me to connect to characters and stories that has somehow lapsed with them. The writing just isn't happening.

In Twilight, Stephanie Meyer uses the beautiful phrase, “Finally breaking through my abstraction”. It is, unfortunately wasted because there's nothing abstract going on. Bella had no abstraction for Jessica to break through. I'm tempted to try to adapt the phrase to a story where someone in a very theoretical field, say a branch of pure math or obscure string theory or something like that, was called upon to save the world. They'd be faced with a problem and get so deep into abstractly looking at it that they completely lost contact with the actual thing they were faced with. Then someone would hit them with visceral down to earth real world details thus breaking through their abstraction and rerailing them.

Anyway, that's not why I brought up the example. I think I'm facing a problem of abstraction. I like the characters and the story in the abstract, but when it comes to actually doing the physical and mental work of typing the story that connection doesn't seem to be real anymore. The abstract desire to write doesn't translate into the feeling necessary to actually do the work. I need that feeling to become less abstract and more practical because otherwise it will not help me.

So, communities and people. I have a habit of drifting away from people and places that I like. I probably can't write a better description of this than what I already wrote, so here is that:

I have a tendency to drift away from places and end up alone for no reason whatsoever. They don't change, I don't change, everything should be wonderful, but I drift away and am all alone. And then the separation just sort of builds where the fond memories get more distant and I start feeling like I can't go back or I don't deserve to go back. And often times the result is that I never go back. And over time the memory fades.

I think that this experience is mirrored, at least some what, in what I'm now experiencing with NaNoWriMo. There is no way that I changed so much in seven days that I should have stopped liking the story. The story certainly hasn't changed. (That's the problem. It was supposed to be longer by now.) I know, intellectually, that if I could get to writing it I would enjoy the process. But somehow, in a single week, I've lost the ability to feel it.

Without that feeling I can't write. Which means that I'll drift sill further away from it. Which means that I won't write. Which means...

And so on.

I've lost friends like this, I've lost communities like this, God know's I've lost a lot of projects like this. (Which is why this, came out something like two years after people stopped paying that much money for puzzles. The miracle is that I ever got back to it at all.)

It seems like the solution should be simple: Don't stop doing something you like. Keep in touch with people you like.

For some reason it doesn't work that way. I couldn't tell you why.


I'm just going to write random stuff about the NaNoWriMo thing now. Maybe something will be helpul to me, consider it a sort of Status update.

I've noticed that the story skews female. I've noticed that in several of my stories actually. I seem to have some difficulty in writing males who are not the viewpoint character. Perhaps it isn't a difficulty exactly, but a tendency not to. Not sure what's up with that.

Anyway, on the male side we have Ryan, the Beacon, and a male city council member who shows up for one scene and has not much in the way of dialog. Of them Ryan is the Hero, the Beacon is the Antagonist, and the male city council member is a jerk who Ryan would prefer hadn't been elected to represent him.

On the Female side we have Erin, a female city council member who initially is pretty quiet and a nameless background character but that's because she knew enough not to get in the way where male city council member was pompous. Then later on she makes a principled stand against the Beacon appointing himself the final word in Justice, gets thrown in jail for it, is broken out, and after that I'm not sure but I think she acts in ways that are non-action awesome.

Then there's the human shield. She's only around for one scene but it's a long scene and she's got character. She's planning on opening up a shop that sells steampunk and clockwork gadgets, she's already worked out the gearing for her clockwork four function 8 digit calculator (integer division only.) She's figured everything out, she just needs start up capital, and if that means letting Ryan hide behind her so that the police won't shoot him, well she volunteered, didn't she?

And that's basically it. Ryan actively avoids getting to know people, everyone else remains in the periphery.

Ryan is the only male who isn't presented in a negative light. None of the females are presented in a negative light.

Of course the numbers are equal, which is probably an improvement over some of my other works. In a story I started writing in high school which was to be my magnum opus (or something like that) almost everyone was female other than the narrator. There was his girlfriend (the angel) his two best friends (who were in a relationship with each other) the witch the found in their high school (who was single) two separate mother figures (a Greek goddess and one of the best friend's biological mother) and that was it for the main cast. The periphery did include some males, but I think it included at least as many females.

Back to NaNo, it'll probably fail the Bechdel test. Ryan is the narrator which means the only conversations included are one's he's a part of or that he overhears. To pass the test we'd want the second on, the only place I can see that happening is when Erin meets the city council woman for the second time, at which point there would only be two topics of conversation that would make sense, both of them are about men. One is that the Beacon has gone overboard, the Beacon is a man. The other is that as a result anyone who wants to stop him has to side with the villain, the villain is a man.

Though maybe Erin could work something about the need to upgrade the sewer system into it, because she is Erin after all.

I'm also thinking that I need a new crime, I'm not sure what it would be. It opens with Ryan pretending to steal art when he's really just trying to do enough property damage to make the questionable accounting damages at an insurance company show for all the world (especially stock holders and potential stock holders) to see.

After the breakup he's going to rob a bank, targeting a specific individual's accounts, to get back to his roots as someone who actually stole things instead of his more recent work involving stock manipulations. I have him reminiscing about a kidnapping he once preformed (the kids didn't even know they'd been kidnapped [they thought it was a security drill, which being children of the rich and powerful, was not an unheard of thing for them], the ransom was never collected, the point was to boost a news channel's ratings) but I'm not sure if I should keep that because, even if the experience is not traumatic for the children it would be for the parents and Ryan tries to avoid causing trauma the way Edward Cullen avoids being nice.

Sometime between the insurance company and the bank, while Erin and Ryan are dating, I think I want Ryan to pull a job. I have no idea what that job should be.

I think part of my problem with the way the book seems to be incorrectly subdivided (he seems to stop being a supervillain the moment he meets Erin which makes no sense ) is that I've got a gap in what he's working on that's too long. So when he should be preparing for as yet undetermined job I've got him doing nothing supervillainy related, which makes it look the the supervillainy is confined to the time before he met Erin.

I'm also unsure exactly what awesomeness city council woman can do. It was only when I realized that of course Erin and Ryan would break them out that I realized she and those with her should have some part in dealing with the situation.

I don't know if I have enough ideas to finish, but I'm pretty sure I have enough ideas to at least take a stab at writing. If I could write. Which, at the moment, I can't.

Random note:
Another song that does a good job of describing depression is Desperado:
You're losin' all your highs and lows, ain't if funny how the feeling goes away?


  1. Hullo. Uh. First off: I read a lot of your stuff because I lurk at the Slacktiverse and you seem cool so hi. I feel like I know you but I don't and you definitely don't know me, how awkward. >.>;

    Second: Maybe Ryan considers the trauma of the parents to be something of a punishment for a harm they've caused someone elses children in the past? As a villain, or uh, an anti-villain, really, he has a lot of room for moral ambiguity. "You ruined someone else's life by firing them and now their kids will never go to college; I am going to traumatize you by kidnapping your children" seems like a kind of logical jumping point? Ryan may not be motivated by revenge, but a revenge-esque "robin hood" mental thought process would be an excellent way to justify that kind of thing to yourself. From there it kind of expands... An engineer deliberately covers up design flaws in a bridge out of pride; the bridge is blown up in such a way that nobody is hurt, but the flaws are exposed, causing the engineer's career to be ruined, frex. Or a well intentioned extremist angle, where his desire to keep people from being hurt starts to move into constant surveillance or education system manipulation territory.

    Third: I have an illustration project for my class and we were required to take descriptions out of a piece of fiction and honestly the only fiction I've read in the last six months that wasn't in a comic book was your NaNo... So uh, if that's alright, I have a bunch of drawings of The Beacon and a few of Ryan that I'm eventually gonna scan and send you. I hope that's okay?

  2. Hello.

    So uh, if that's alright, I have a bunch of drawings of The Beacon and a few of Ryan that I'm eventually gonna scan and send you. I hope that's okay?

    That's definitely ok, I look forward to seeing them.

  3. Writing at any length really is work. There may be easier and harder patches, but it's always a job.

    I think you're meeting the downside of NaNoWriMo: if you don't complete the thing on time, you feel like a failure. But not every first novel comes out of NaNoWriMo.

    The heartless pro says "just sit there, doing nothing else, until you've produced the word count". This works but isn't much fun.

    When you are writing, don't stop and edit. Leave the typos and everything. It's too easy to switch one's mind from creative mode to editing mode.

    Maybe try writing an outline? (Works very well for some writers, badly for others.) Basically, step back and write a paragraph of two or three sentences for each chapter, describing what happens at a high level of abstraction: "Ryan robs a bank, is nearly foiled by Beacon, talks to human-shield-lady. Erin talks with city-councilwoman." (You may want to write unstructured at first, then break it into chapters later - but don't let it get detailed.) Then, later, you go back and fill in the details. Some authors find it helps to write whichever chapter they feel like at the time; others write in strict order. Some stick absolutely to the outline; others change it as they go along.

  4. *hugs*

    My first NaNo attempt this month completely petered out. It's not that I don't like the story, I just lost the passion and drive of the moment and I couldn't force myself to continue.

    I didn't like the NaNo Failure feeling, so I just started counting blog posts as I wrote them, because I figured the point of NaNo is to first-and-foremost WRITE. Then several days later, another story idea came to me and I ran with that.

    I think it's perfectly natural to stall a little on writing. You run out of steam, or you run out of outline. When I was writing Pulchritude earlier this year, I'd have writing sprints of days of frenzied writing and then a week or two or nothing. Then I'd go back, re-read everything, and something would occur to me and off I'd go with a new chapter.

    What you're going through is, I think, normal. But that doesn't mean you don't deserve hugs and cookies. *hugs*

  5. My computer is engaged in religious meditation right now so I'm using my mother's which has a different sized keyboard. Also I'm tired for I should be asleep. So sorry for not responding in any kind of depth.

    This is mostly to say that the reason that the post is titled depression and nanowrimo is because I recognize what's happening with my writing as being the same thing that has happened with other things.

    This is the exact same way that I ran out of friends, for example. So while I appreciate writing advice and writing related sympathy*, I think it kind of misses my point here. This is something that happens for me in fields far beyond writing.

    It wasn't the down side of NaNoWriMo that made me lose friends. It wasn't the normal process of writing that made me, for no real reason, lose contact with communities I cared about. It was the same process that I can see in action right now with NaNoWriMo.

    This doesn't mean that talking about writing is unhelpful, advice that fits the context is definitely going to be more helpful than tht which doesn't. (Advice on how to stay in touch with friends would be supremely unhelpful in catching up on word count, for example.)

    The only way you have to know that this goes beyond the field of writing is that I'm telling you. I'm telling you that this is not isolated to one thing. It's not just about writing, if anything writing is one of the least harmful areas I've encountered it in so far.


    * And I mean that. I do appreciate the advice and in no way want it to stop as a result of me saying this, so if someone was going to give writing advice before they read this, give it anyway.

  6. Point taken. I have no useful advice about dealing with depression, other than "talk to someone who knows a lot more about it than I do", so I'm likely to stick to stuff I do know about.

  7. To make sure we're clear, I do appreciate the advice on writing and there was absolutely nothing wrong with giving it here. I don't want it to come off like I was snapping at you because that was not my intention.

    I just wanted to also clarify what I was saying in the original post.


    On another subject, the first stage of my computer's religious meditation took 128,664 seconds. Which would be useful information if I knew how many stages there were or if they all took the same amount of time. (I think that might be the longest stage, but am in no way sure.) It's not using up nearly as much memory for meditation now though, which means that I'm back on my own computer.

  8. Don't worry, you have to work much harder than that to annoy me. :-)

    What is the nature of the meditation, or is it impolite to ask?

  9. What is the nature of the meditation, or is it impolite to ask?

    It's not impolite at all. The answer is somewhat anticlimactic though.

    It is meditating on the form of an angel. I think it's Gabriel, but the only reason I say that is because the angel has a horn.

    I said to it, "You know how I really like angels, and how I think it's really cool that pictures taken from different angles can be used to create 3-d models. Well I have 101 pictures here that I took of a statue of an angel on a grave marker in that cemetery I go by when walking home from school. Do you think you could, you know, take a look at these pictures and use them to create a three dimensional representation of the angel?"

    And it said to me, "What the Hell is wrong with you? There are 13,996,800 pixels in each of these pictures!"

    So I said, "Ok, I've scaled them down by 50% (in both dimensions), now there's only a quarter that many pixels. Can you bring the angel into cyberspace now?"

    And it said, "I don't know. I'll have to think about that." It's been engaged in deep mediation on the matter ever since. For a while so much of its mind was occupied that I couldn't use it a all, but at the moment it's capable of multitasking.

    Actually, before the 128,664 seconds passed I was worried that it was just jammed up and not actually doing anything productive because the program in question gave no indications that progress was being made during that period. Since then there have been various signs of progress so I'm confident that it's doing stuff, but there's still room for it to say, "Sorry, turns out I can't do that after all," or it could finish and say, "Here's your angel," and just output a random collection of dots.

    So it's been thinking all this time, going on three days now, about angels and pictures and 2-d and 3-d and perspective and, I guess, focal length and generally the way that multiple lower dimensional representations can indicate a higher dimensional truth. If all goes well the end result will be a dense point cloud in the shape of an angel.

    Regardless what it's teaching me is that higher resolution probably isn't going to be worth it most of the time. (If it takes days to complete then it should be reserved only for things I really, really want detailed models of.)

    So, computer meditation. Probably not as interesting as it sounds when it's just left at, "my computer's religious meditation".

  10. Ooh, fun.

    (There's a web comic to which I contribute. Neither of us can draw, so we make do with 3D models.

  11. (Forget to check to see if there were more comments. But I'm here now!)

    Well I have 101 pictures here that I took of a statue of an angel

    You took pictures? Of an angel statue? And left them to fester*, to breed*, to plot your slow demise*, on your computer? Let me guess: now you're going to tell me you left that computer, turned on, probably showing angel statues on the monitor, in your room while you slept. haven't watched much Doctor Who lately, have you?

    *I wanted this to be struck out, but "strike", "s", "strikethrough", and "del" all fail.

  12. I never saw the first episode with the angels and the channel I watched on stopped carrying Doctor Who before they showed up again. (The last thing I saw was the utter destruction of Donna's mind, it was rather depressing.*)

    As for whether I left it on showing pictures in my room, it was in the living room, not showing pictures, with the monitor light powered down.

    I'd sort of forgotten that I meant to do a post on the results. And sort of put it off because I'm having some trouble with my attempts to turn the point cloud into a 3d model.

    Plus I'm not sure the best way to show the model or the pointcloud. I use meshlab but that's not necessarily the best way to take pictures, and if I wanted to do a sort of spinning, this is the model in 3-d thing and share a video, no idea how I'd do that either.

    Since the statue was elevated the points are freqent below the waist, and then much harder to come by higher up (the top of the head, the top of the wings, even the top of one of the arms are very sparse, or worse.)

    As for strike through, I know nothing. I've just got the default defaultiness going on here.


    * On the off chance this is something that happened more than once, it was right after she and the Doctor's hand became the second Doctor and awesome powered Donna.

  13. The last thing I saw was the utter destruction of Donna's mind, it was rather depressing.

    "Utter" is an exaggeration, but yeah, that was pretty bad.

    As for whether I left it on showing pictures in my room, it was in the living room, not showing pictures, with the monitor light powered down.

    Well that's something at least.

  14. That point was where the new show really lost my interest. It's that "and you think this is a HAPPY ending?" moment...