Tag Archives: sadness

BICHOK: Draino for your Writing Clog

14 Mar

by Susan Dennard


Note: this post is (sort of) a continuation of If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It, and When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full.

A few people have asked how I managed to get my writing “swing” back, and I gave a brief rundown in the comments last week.  I thought I’d go into a tad more detail here.

First off: writing has something of an ebb and flow to it—for everyone, I believe.

For me, the “ebb” is like the really steep incline on a rollercoaster.  And then the “flow” is all the free-falling, loop-dee-loop, high-speed ACTION!

Fortunately, the high-energy, high-productivity bits last longer than the crap (usually), and I can ride a “flow” for a few months before the “ebb” hits.  (Not always, of course.  It’s definitely related to stress and other parts of my life.  A period of nail-biting, hair-pulling stress or a week of mind-numbing melancholy can pretty much stop any writing rollercoaster dead in its tracks.)

When the “ebb” hits, I am miserable and reluctant for at least a week, and I usually let myself wallow in laziness.

Which of course, only makes me feel guilty because I should be working, which then feeds the glum mood, which then feeds the guilt… On and on and on.  Sometimes, with enough sour gummy worms (or a looming deadline—those can be very effective), my productivity will return on its own.

But not always.  And that’s when I have to resort to BICHOK—a veritable plunger for your clogged brain.







I MAKE myself sit at the computer.  I disconnect the internet.  I set a timer for 30 minutes.

And I write.  My goal is 500 words, which I know I can write (under pressure) in 15 minutes.  So 30 minutes gives me a comfortable buffer.  I write until I hit 500 words or the alarm sounds.

If I feel good, I set the alarm for another 30 minutes and keep going, but usually, if it’s my first few days back, I jump from the chair and do something else before sitting again.

I start with 1000 words per day—two sessions.  Then, as my comfort grows and my feel for the story increases, I move to 2000 words in 2 1-hour sessions.  Then 3000 in 3 1-hour sessions.  Finally, 4000 in 4 1-hour sessions (remember, I write full-time, so I have a bit more time to devote to it each day).

After a good week or two, the rollercoaster is back in high gear and I’m getting in 20 pages or so a day.  Best of all, I’m back in the “flow”, back in the story, and back to feeling good.

BICHOK For Your Life

After my last rather rough patch of blues, I decided it was time for a Full Life Make-Over.  This was something I did when I suffered from real depression during my undergrad.  I had discovered that though the medication helped stabilize my moods, it also shattering my creativity.

Kind of like with BICHOK, I broke my life up into a very strict schedule.  And, no matter how I felt, I made myself stick to it.  For a week, then two weeks, and then until it became routine and my contentment returned.

I broke my day into strict chunks, making sure there was

  1. at least thirty minutes devoted to being outside
  2. at least thirty minutes devoted to exercise
  3. stretch breaks every 1.5 hours
  4. healthy eating
  5. sleep

Sounds silly and obvious, I know, but bear with me…

In undergrad, I stopped taking the bus to class, and I walked (okay, not on rainy days).  It got me outside and my heartbeat up.   Now, I take my dog for a thirty minute walk/jog in the woods after lunch.  No matter what (even in the rain and snow!), I’ve done this everyday now for 2 weeks.

Do I enjoy it?  To be honest, not really…I get bored easily, so I try to keep my mind focused on my plot and the characters while I walk.

But have I noticed a difference?  Yes.  In my energy.  In my mood.  And I’m really proud I haven’t missed a day.

You tell me: Is there some time in your day you can add a walk outside?  Or is there some way you can add 20-30 minutes of exercise?

During undergrad, I spent a lot of time studying, sitting in class, or working in labs.  To keep my mind and body refreshed, I started stretching in between classes.  Or during study/lab sessions, I’d take a five minute break to move (maybe just jog to the bathroom or roll my shoulders/touch my toes).

I’m not that into yoga (I get so darn boooored), but I’ve taken it before and love a good sun salutation.  When I write, I stop every 1.5 hours to do two sun salutations, refresh my coffee (so walk upstairs and move a little), and stop staring at the computer screen.

When the timer dings beside my computer it means 1) I should have reached my 1000 word goal, and 2) time to salute the sun!

You tell me: Is there any time during your work day or writing time that you can pause to refresh your body and your eyes?  Is there some way you can set a timer and get up for just a minute or two when that timer goes off?

Finally, diet and sleep.  DUH, right?  Everyone tells you this.  All. The. Time.  Eat healthy, you feel better. Get a good night’s sleep, you feel better.

But seriously, if you make a really HUGE effort to go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier, you’ll feel the difference the next day!

If you make an effort to plan your meals and have a good, solid breakfast (oh man, breakfast makes all the difference in the world for me!), you’ll really feel a difference.  I was eating crap food for lunches (pasta, pasta, soup, instant rice, pasta), but I’ve been devoted for a few weeks now to eating salads and sandwiches (or, I like to make extra food for dinner and have left-overs).

Two more things I added to my life: a full-spectrum light and plants in my office and vitamin D. If I’m in the office, the light comes on and I water all the plants. When I check my emails (I get 30 minutes in the morning to do this according to the new Super Strict Schedule), I drink my vitamin D.

Does It Really Make a Difference?

I don’t know.  Honestly, I can’t say if my strict schedule and BICHOK are what make the difference in my productivity and happiness, or if it’s something else.

It could be just the EFFORT—the attempt to turn my life around—is what changes my mood. Commitment can feel good.  Getting excited about a new life is a great way to boost your happiness.

What I do know is that this method works for me.  It might not work for you, or you might need more, you might need less.

BUT, it’s something you can try.

Do you do any of these things in your life?  Have you ever tried strict schedules to turn your writing or life around?  Do you have other tips to share?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full

9 Mar

by Susan Dennard


Disclaimer: First of all, this post deviates some from the usual stuff.  It’s not really about writing as it is about life in general (which in turn affects one’s writing).

Secondly, this post is not about ME.  Yes, I use ME as an example because I’m the only person I know well enough to mention.  But, please, if you leave a comment, talk about YOU—what you think of the post, if you’ve ever been in this situation, and more importantly HOW YOU FEEL NOW.

Lately, there’s been some buzz on the internet about social networking contributing to depression.  I won’t reinvent the wheel, but instead send you to an article here.  Read it when you have time, and know that today’s topic stems from that hubbub.

I have to be honest: writing this post took a lot of…well, I’m nervous about your reactions.  It’s not something I want to discuss openly—especially in a forum as public as the internet!  But, I also think it’s this universal silence that makes me (and others) too scared to acknowledge what’s really happening.

Sometimes, I’m not happy.

And not just a little unhappy, but really, cruddy-life-is-blue-unhappy.

Sometimes there’s a reason, like I got fired from my job.  Or sometimes there’s not a reason at all…nothing tangible I can blame.

At first, my gloominess is something I can ignore. Something I can brush aside, hide with a smile, and pretend just isn’t there.

But then, sometimes it isn’t.

Like lately.  Lately, my melancholy has transformed into something darker and harder to deal with.  It’s a lack of desire to leave bed in the morning.  A loss of motivation to write or read or enjoy life.  And two weeks ago, it finally reached a point where I couldn’t smile and say, “Yeah! I LOVE my life!” because, for whatever reason (loneliness? hormones? vitamin-D deficiency?), I was at a real, unavoidable low.

The problem was tweeting happy blurps and grinning on my blog, when in reality, I was pretty lonely and worried.

The problem was seeing everyone else’s online “happiness” and thinking I had to feel that way too.  Thinking there was something wrong with me for being sad.  Thinking I should feel guilty for not being content all the time.

The problem was feeling sad but trying to pretend I wasn’t.

And like some nasty, untended tumor, that just made the problem WORSE.

But I finally realized something,  and it’s time to be open about it.

There’s nothing wrong with being sad or stressed or lonely or uninspired–whether you have a solid reason or not.

Happiness isn’t a constant state; it’s moments of joy that, when added together, outweigh the  moments of melancholy.

My favorite author, Ursula K. Le Guin, has an essay on happiness (called “All Happy Families”) in which she rants quite eloquently over why writers must be “unhappy” to be considered high quality.

I think the opposite happens these days, and writers (or rather ANYONE with an online presence) must be “happy” all the time.  Unhappy people are automatically lumped into this complaining, self-indulgent group of “losers”.  As the article from Stanford says, “You don’t tell your friends about how miserable you are because that wouldn’t be ‘cool.’”

People will think I’m whining if I tell them how I really feel.

My friends will think I just want attention.

They’ll think I’m a big, fat LOSER because they’re so happy and glamorous, and I’m…not.

Except that’s not true.  When I finally admitted to my husband that I was feeling down, I wasn’t doing it for attention or because I wanted pity!  I was doing it because it was too exhausting to keep pretending otherwise, and just admitting verbally that I was kinda depressed took such a weight off!  Just knowing he knew, just knowing I didn’t have to wear a fake smile and I could act blah/grumpy/sad without hurting him made an instant difference in my mood.

And when my mood swung back up, so did my writing. And the more writing I could finally accomplish, the higher and higher my mood rose.  (It didn’t hurt either that the sun finally broke through the clouds this week!)

Here’s a quote from Le Guin’s essay:

The enormous cost and complexity of ‘happiness,’ its dependence upon a whole substructure of sacrifices, repressions, suppressions, choices made or forgone, chances taken or lost, balancings of greater and lesser evils—the tears, the fears, the migraines, the injustices, the censorships, the quarrels, the lies, the angers, the cruelties it involved—is all to be swept away, brushed under the carpet by the brisk broom of a silly phrase, ‘a happy family’?

What she’s saying is that the word “happy” isn’t a uniform sense of never-ending well-being.  One person’s happy isn’t another person’s happy, and trying to hide all the “nasty suff” under the carpet, just devalues the true meaning and hard work behind the word “happy”.

NO, I’m not saying we should all start complaining and begging for attention.

NO, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with you if you really ARE happy 100% of the time.

And NO, I’m not saying we should all write literary fiction where our “unhappy genius” will be appreciated.

What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be ashamed if we’re unhappy—even if we have no real reason for it.

We shouldn’t feel like we have to wear a happy face all the time.  It’s okay to be just blah on Twitter, on our blogs, or with our friends.

And above all, we shouldn’t look at everyone’s smiling exteriors and assume there’s no strife or strain in their lives.

My life is mostly up, but sometimes it’s down.  When it’s up, I write well, work hard, and share it all with my online friends.  But when it’s down…well, I’m tired of pretending it’s always up!

And, I want you all to know that YOU’RE NOT ALONE if you feel this way too.  I’m here if you want to talk about it, or I’m here if you just wanna be able to say, “Look, I’m not weird!  Someone else has been through this.”


Tell me, do you feel this pressure to constantly wear a happy face?  Do you ever find your work or life suffering because you’re glum?  Do you think the online/social networking scene makes your “negative” feelings worse?