Why Writers Have Two Modes: Manic and Depressed

thinking-light-bulb-clip-art-light-bulb-clip-art-4I’m manic right now. I can’t sleep, my work-in-progress, Chasing Nirvana is practically assembling itself, the action swerves flawlessly because I know these people. They make their own choices. It’s obvious. Also, in a new-to-me twist, which I believe is the gift with purchase after the severe butt-kicking this manuscript has given me (and a publisher who no longer asks me when it will be done) I now have not one but two fully fleshed plots of books with titles.

Lets you think fully fleshed solid book ideas float down from heaven gift wrapped from Tiffany, this doesn’t happen. Usually I agonize over multiple story lines, sitting with them until one feels solid and true and worthy of a year of my dwindling life.

So that’s manic.

The flip side is depressed. This little beauty arrives when, despite the otherwise rosiness of my non-intellectual life, my happy marriage, my basically thriving teenagers and all the endless laps I swim to ensure that depression doesn’t jump the hedge, I come to a blocked road in writing. I don’t use the words Writer’s Block because that gives ownership to the syndrome when in reality, icrazy-writert will lift. During this phase I force myself to sit at the desk, writing drivel or picking my cuticles, wishing I could have a normal job like normal people.

Three months ago I started the third draft of Chasing Nirvana (reader beware — I always lie on draft numbers. It makes me look smarter) and could re-write the ending. So I went to the beginning and tinkered with scenes, buffed and polished sentences and sunk lower and lower. My husband suggested I have someone read the manuscript. I think I bit his head off. It wasn’t worth reading. I wasn’t a real writer. I was soap scum. A stinking cesspool of creativity gone bad.

One day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up from my computer, grabbed a graphing notebook (my kids) and sat on the ugly green couch in my bedroom, writing down every possible solution to fix my manuscript no matter how stupid or cheesy. I’d been reading a book I really enjoyed with multiple points of view so I tossed in that too. Finally I settled on this approach because part of the books problem was the myopic, paranoid feeling. The main character was being bullied but not telling anyone and for much of the action has an undiagnosed concussion. Yes, I enjoy a challenge.

At the start of the ftired-writerourth draft I wasn’t sure if it would work. My plot was pretty good and I didn’t want to change it. Also, I wanted to alternate chapters evenly so it didn’t stay so firmly in the main character’s head. After the first six chapters were done, I was so happy. My depression lifted. I stopped sleeping 10 hours a night. (Boy do I miss that part.) My husband stopped asking me if I was okay.

I wish there was a middle ground to writing books. A place where I could kiss my husband goodbye, swim my laps and put in my time at the computer and go on with my life. Sure, there are days like that but not one of my books seems to be fully fleshed out until I’ve swung around the moon.


Ellyn Oaksmith is the bestselling author of 50 Acts of Kindness and other books. She’s an eternal optimist, dog small_author_photolover and always plotting something.  Visit her at EllynOaksmith.com and join her newsletter for free books, new releases and great reading suggestions.

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  • Laura Spinella

    True… true… and true, Ellyn! It’s either torture or triumph! Hopefully, we find a way to make it all even out in the end, and not drive those who live with us totally nuts by the time we get there!

  • writing poetry

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been conducting
    a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch because
    I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this….

    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time
    to discuss this topic here on your web site.

    • admin

      Belatedly — you’re welcome for the meal and that’s funny about getting the free lunch. If your colleague does any kind of formal study, I would love to be part of it. Not sure if I love the cycle or not. It seems to produce great results in the manic mode but a high price to pay for the doldrums.

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