Writer’s Depression – And Why I Can’t Finish a Novel

I believe that I’m in some sort of systemic, overly-analytic, cataclysmic, slightly narcissistic writer’s depression…I don’t know why I cannot finish a novel-length story. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I have two poorly written, in deep need of revision, 50,000 word or so novels sitting in my computer and in print, but for the past year or so I just can’t get a novel going…or keep it going. The ideas are there, the characters, well, they pop up and seem intriguing enough, but my well goes dry about half way through. True for revision work on those two first drafts too.

For a while I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I’m getting an idea now. My inner writer’s guide, Angelina (the opposite of my inner writing critic, Demonella) is telling me that I’m in a writer’s funk of sorts, a simple unambitious rut in which I have to hit reverse, then hit the gas and go forward again and bounce myself of it. Like what you’d do with a stuck car. And this can only be done one way – by writing, by practicing writing, writing down everything – story related or not – and doing it every day. It can only be cured this way, doing the deed, no matter it we feel like doing it or not.

So, let me be clear (as I’m writing this and watching a lame local Santa Parade on TV) that Angelina and Demonella are well known to all us writers, even if they are nameless, and they are very much present every time we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Every single time.  Like now, as I write this blog, Demonella is telling me “No one is interesting in why you can’t finish a novel, this little article’s a waste of a nice Saturday morning, and people are just going to think you’re nuts and hit “like” because they feel sorry for you. Or not “like” you at all.” At the same time, Angelina (she’s so beautiful) is telling me that there are a bunch of you out there in this blog-world we love, friends who visit often, and new ones who will stop in, who will find this interesting, who understand completely, and who will be glad to read about someone else going through the same thing…and besides doesn’t it feel really cool to unleash your writing mind dilemma, aka. writer’s depression on your blog? Oh, and you’re not crazy, people won’t think that, they’ll find me and Demonella humorous and clever and they will laugh and think you’re a brilliant witty writer. (Angelina’s the best huh?)

That said (thanks for staying with me if you’re still reading this!) : Why can’t I finish a novel?  Or, why, if I have one or two finished, can’t I re-write one for publication?

I don’t believe it’s doubt, or lack of ambition. I want to write, feel like I need to write. I’ve analyzed why I quit half-way through, why my enthusiasm at the start, the writing frenzy, 2,000 words or more a day, me telling myself “You got a best seller here, baby!”…why it all just fizzles out…sometimes in the course of a few days, sometimes so abruptly as waking up in the morning. Writer’s depression in action.

Part of it I’m finding may be the writing process itself. I tend to write a detailed synopsis, outline, tie-in details, over define theme (as all my numerous writing books and magazines which I love to read and read and read tell me to do, which may also be a writer’s depression side-effect, doing more reading about how to write than actually writing), to the point that I know my story so well that it no longer surprises me, it no longer intrigues me, and the writing shows it. So, I leave it. Shelf it. Again.

I think that novel writing may be too long a process for me. The novel of any suitable length is a daunting experience to write. It is a test of a writer’s dedication to his story and I tremendously admire the ones that do it, and do it well. Some do it and suck, but, at least they do it. But that brings me to another problem of sorts, to November Novel Writing Month, which I support, but yet I wonder. It’s premise is to just get you to write, to make it a habit, to set a goal of so many words a day, to write anything, doesn’t matter, as long as you write and end up with 50,000 words of…Of crap?….But, I don’t want to write crap, which is why I dropped my NaMoWriMo excursion this year after a week.  It wasn’t working. Writer’s depression in action again?

So, what is this writer to do?

My juvenile need for quicker satisfaction (perhaps it’s not writer’s depression but writer’s ADD!) has led me to believe that I may not be cut out now, at this moment, to be a writer of novels. It has led me to the relevant and prodigious literary achievements of the beloved short story form. I love and have written over 40 short stories, short short ones, medium shorts, and 10,000 word longer short stories. Here’s a story form I think I can get into more, write one in less than a week, pat myself on the back, have tea with Angelina and give Demonella a swift kick in the ass, and get to my goal without that half-way ship abandonment.  There’s a sense of relief I feel, knowing I almost see the end of the story, that I’ll be there soon with literary grace and with time to spare. If this is writer’s ADD, oh well, it just may be what I have.

Okay, Demonella is telling screaming at me : You need a novel to get published, stupid! Short stories won’t do it.  I guess I can’t argue much with that. I’ve read plenty of times you need a novel under your belt before you can publish a book of short stories, but for now, for me, to conquer this writer’s depression and my writer’s ADD, it seems the right answer. Who know, maybe work in this writer’s process will lead me back to the novel enthusiasm again.

Fellow writers out there: What do you do to beat your own writer’s depression? Anyone sympathize with my dilemma? How do you handle your own Demonella and his or her trash talk?

Thanks for reading.

Click images above for artists’ links.


5 Responses to “Writer’s Depression – And Why I Can’t Finish a Novel”

  1. I’ve been down the not finishing road for everything I’ve written except the poems, for the same reason as you. I can finish the poems. They are like little gems and come out complete and ready to read. The novel form takes dedication and time, which is something I’ve convinced myself I don’t have enough of. For me it’s willpower. If I make myself do it then it seems to happen. That’s why Nanowrimo actually works for me. It’s out there in the semi public that I’m doing this and it forces me to contribute time to it. Yes, some days the words aren’t my best and brightest but other days they’re brilliant. Seeing the brilliant makes me feel good so I want more of that.

    It’s kind of like going to the gym. Some days you don’t feel motivated, have other things you want to do or don’t think going to the gym is getting you anywhere. Then you feel guilty for not going, finally get your butt there, feel the rush and the cycle continues.

    I hear you on the outline, plot, synopsis stuff. I write myself into a corner with it and it damns the creative flow. I have to take the side roads and the tangents or the story has no life and less interest for me.

    Hope you find a way to write in a manner that makes you feel productive and one day published.


  2. Hey, I’m in the same boat. Got one novel sitting for years aside and one graphic novel I’m working on. I don’t get it either, but good to know fellow souls are in the same boat.

    Keep it up,

    John Goz


  3. One way or another you’ll look back on this and smile. Either you’ll find a way through the funk and write the novel or you’ll find something that fulfills you more. Either way, you win.


  4. Dear mysterious unnamed Whit, I do sympathize with your dilemma. I’ve written ten novels in a continuous and relatively effortless stream and now suddenly I’m stuck. I keep opening the Mac and doing a few sentences but and still I can’t get past the second chapter. It’s been a mystery but just yesterday, while reading another blog on this subject, the reason for my problem stuck me. I’m wondering if this might resonate with you. Fuel and fuel flow.
    The novel I’m working on is called Beloved Warrior and is set during the first world war. Some of it is based on my own family. I have been stuffing my self with research and thought I had it all sussed, plot, characters the whole thing. But every time I open it, the words just won’t come. Then I saw I had the wrong structure. I was being to clever with the time line. I was too concerned with historical accuracy and making political points. I felt the soapbox beneath my feet. I was ranting and filled with indignation.
    So I’ve scrapped it and am starting again. I have trimmed the characters and simplified. I write by inhabiting a character and living their life, describing events as seen and as they unfold. It’s what works for me and I was trying to step out side that and write a worthy tomb. I needed to let the fuel feed the plot and let it flow in my own voice. I was self editing and criticising as I went, always fatal to the flow.
    I hope this helps and if not, sorry it helped me understand my dilemma.
    Regards davidrory


  5. Thanks to all for your comments on this post! Truly, you made sense to me. I know some day, I’ll get
    back to writing a novel, hell, I’ve been ruminating another story plot that would probably be a novel
    since I wrote that post. Crazy? But it’s good to hear that some of you share this dilemma. We are not alone.
    Thanks again.


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