I have another treat for you today, a guest post from the excellent Alexandrina Brant, a writer with bundles of literary pots on the stove of life.
Alex’s post is talking about a subject close to my heart, the balance of life, mental health, and literary aspirations. I hope you enjoy it!
Writing, Depression, and the Wandering Mind with Alexandrina Brant
I was eager to write a guest post for Craig, but when it came to a topic to write on (given that Craig is letting me write whatever I like, hehe), I have been stumped. I used to write a lot; however, I have been struggling more with my depression for the last couple of years, coupled with finishing my Masters (in Linguistics from University College, London) and applying for jobs as one does when one is thrown into adulthood, and it’s come to be that I’ve struggled to find the joy and motivation I had in writing and editing in the past.
As adults, we’re scrounging for whatever time we have to do those things that don’t involve the day-to-day slog of the office and the many tasks of the household, too. And I happen to need downtime after work and with dinner the tv is on thanks to my husband and we get lost in easy fiction and relaxation. Not to mention that I’m an early bird and better work in daylight – when it’s dark outside and electric lights go on, my energy is sapped along with any creativity and inspiration. Which bodes well for the upcoming winter months if I plan to attempt NaNoWriMo in November (not).
The problem is—currently I’m a writer with no focus. I think that’s why blog posts have been coming to my fingers and the screen more than editing and new writing has. They’re short, succinct, they have a point. Writing fiction for me has always been…open-ended, even when I’ve known the direction in which a novel should travel. Which means my mind is constantly rambling along, not quite fitting pieces of the puzzle together.
I suppose I should be thankful. At the moment, I don’t have enough oomph to get going on a new project, which means I should be easily working on something older. But…it doesn’t happen. Instead, my mind dreams about other stories I could be writing; to me, stories have always come the wrong way: hook and cover pitch first, often jointly or closely followed by the title, then some of the simple plot and 2-d characters.
And it’s frustrating, as you can imagine.
Not just the trying to write through the veil of depression but that’s a big part of it. What is the veil, you say (perhaps)? Well…I’ve always empathised with Ralph towards the end of William Golding’s iconic – and much oh-kill-me-it’s-the-class-set-text-said – novel Lord of the Flies where he tries to make leadership decisions and think clearly but narrates that a ‘veil’ has come down over his thoughts. I can relate to that. I know the veil, where ideas should be easy to come because I’ve put myself in the same situations where I used to write so freely, but nowadays they’re absent.
What is to be done? What can we do to move forward through these blacker episodes?
Part of it is to take a step back from the production of work, of the self-imposed pressure of goals. I know that I sometimes go into writing – anything, even emails or letters at work – with the awareness that I have to produce a quality product once I’m done. With fiction writing, this must be restricting. I think sometimes writers have to take a step back and away from all this pressure that comes from the desire to be published…
So, how? Sometimes it’s handy to write a scene that you as writer know will never end up in the novel. Why? Because it can build up the characters, their motivations, and how they interact with each other. Sometimes it’s good just to write. Be it to create something new or to edit or reread a paragraph of something you once wrote. Write a rambling poem of half-rhymes to store in the back of your computer or an emotional letter full of half-truths just because it feels good to put something on paper for once instead of keeping it cramped in the attic of the mind.
My writing style definitely came with a different feel for years before I started editing with an aim to query agents and publishers, quite likely influenced by all the Latin poetry and run-on prose, a la Ovid and Cicero, I was reading at the time for my academic studies. When I started researching and reading and writing in a more accessible style so that my fiction could appeal to a wider audience, I halted a bit of the writing process that is the throwing up of words onto paper with reckless abandon, which a readership might think of as Latinate run on sentences. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I specifically lost a bit of myself, and it was certainly preferable to those moments such as when a critic asked me if English was my second language! (One set of grandparents may be Polish but my mother was born in England and speaks perfect English, so I’m not even bilingual, sadly.) But I did change the way I went about writing.
But then Latin has a particular preposition –que that likes to stick itself on the ends of words and do more for two clauses than ‘and’ can in English.
However, as a linguist, that’s an argument for another day.
About a month back now, I attended numerous talks at the Steampunk Asylum and it got me thinking about the approach I used for my blog at the time when I was applying for my psychology and philosophy undergraduate degrees – it was with a view to delving more into the inspiration and philosophy behind my magnum opus, my first novel baby now only known as WTCB, but I found that this did not appeal to a wider audience as much as my travel stories and real life tales. Yet, there are so many topics and themes about which the writer can espouse. I know there’s potential for more in my novels. I want to explore the imagery and metaphors as battles between the characters rather than just writing a plot with characters in a blog of text that’s straightforward. I like twists and turns that are fictionally ironic and when a reader looks back to each chapter, they see how the threads will have come together. That’s the kind of fiction I want to read and write and that’s what keeps me going by creating scenes that could add to the mystery and background lore. The only problem is that we’re then surrounded by facts that we have the urge to share with our readers! Hence, WTCB will always have the moniker of my magnum opus, as it’s the world I’m most involved with out of all my fiction. Temporal physics, Victoriana classes, genetics and family histories…
To conclude, I think that’s why writing around the piece of fiction works for me. If character Joe Bloggs wants to show Miss Sally the spyglass and ponder about how the sun rises at different times across the city instead of debating whether they should go on the risky hunt for his missing comrade, and that scene kickstarts my knowledge of his motivations to be a coward who observes the world instead of wanting to change it, then I fully support the creation of extra-novel fiction.
I could go into a whole talk about my works and the levels of metaphor and images that I endeavour or perhaps have endeavoured in the past to put into my fiction, but alas the depression has struck me dumb, in a way that inspiration is fragmented across my mind. “Catching butterflies” to use Craig’s own words.
Still, I get along. In what spare time I have away from working on patient record data in the NHS, I am currently editing the second full Steampunk novel I have written – this one set between alternate-history New York and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, featuring ghost-like spirits, automata, and an illegal skyship crew. I’m still looking for a way to write whilst during office jobs, without the stacks of paper printouts that I used to cover with red-pen and then leave for months on end. It’s a case of time again. And coordination.
As a final aside, my latest piece of fiction is being published in the anthology DARK AND LIGHT by the UCL Publishing team, coming shortly. Check out the Twitter and website for details. I’m particularly pleased with my piece, as it is a study of psychology and mental illness in the form of my protagonist, the unnamed woman, as she heads towards fulfilling her plans of murdering her ex.
In conclusion, thanks, Craig, for having me. Maybe next time I’ll have a more coherent topic to discuss.
Thanks for that, Alex! If you want to take a look at what mischief Alex is getting up to, check out her social medias here: