Returning to writing and painting after a long depression
April 20, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I am a writer (poetry, fiction, essays) and painter (mostly abstract art done in acrylics). I am normally quite prolific, but I have been dealing with a ferocious depression for months now and pretty much stopped creating altogether. However, I am feeling hopeful that the end of the yuckiness is in sight, and I'd like to get back to work. Yesterday I went to a cafe to write and sent out some submissions but really didn't know where to begin with writing. I made a list of potential projects, but none of them really grabbed me, and I didn't either feel any great ideas or the patience to sit with them until I got an idea. A similar thing happened when I was thinking about painting. So, does anybody have any tips for getting back into creative work after a long time away with something as crippling as depression can be?
posted by mermaidcafe to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The trick I use is I let myself stare down the feelings and experiences and memories that make me feel depressed when I am feeling depressed, and I ask myself, "Where can I put this?" And then I create something out of that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:40 AM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Write at great length about the difficulties you're having writing. Keep doing that until something else pops up.
posted by shivohum at 10:00 AM on April 20, 2014

however you are feeling, write about the exact opposite. if today feels like the worst day of your life, describe what you imagine to be the best day in your life. no detail is too small.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:03 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The book is an incredibly mixed bag, but I'd be lying if I said working through The Artist's Way didn't really help me out of a similar situation.

You can buy the book, but I'll tell you right now that doing the morning pages—three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness journalling every morning—is by far the most useful exercise in the book, especially when it comes to dragging yourself out of depression-exacerbated artistic blocks.

Once you do a month or so of morning pages, the good stuff will start flowing again, and it will feel very natural.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:28 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, I need these things to write:

1. New experiences with people and places and out and about in the world
2. A generally expansive and upbeat mood
3. Energy
4. Creative people around me to ad lib with and bounce ideas off of
5. Time

Rarely do I have all 5, but when I do, magic.
posted by quincunx at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Child of a professional fine artist here - she started creative life as an abstract painter working in acrylics. Everyone has dry spells, even without the complicating factor of depression. You can use a class to spark your imagination (being committed to doing stuff can get you back into the zone), or try different media. With Mom, she took drawing classes (something she felt she was weak in), and tried using oil paint and watercolors and collage. It was a challenge to use oils after mostly doing acrylics, since oil paints dry more slowly, and a challenge to do watercolors since you really have to commit since you can't change things that much once you set brush to paper. She didn't wind up necessarily sticking with these things, but she felt they helped deepen what she ultimately decided to do. The other professional artist in my extended family almost always had a notebook with him (though occasionally used napkins). While other people would be sitting on the bus, he would be doing little sketches and doodles in his notebooks. Finally, this book has helped some people.
posted by gudrun at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2014

Start very small. Take notes. Don't judge. Have fun, as a reader and as a writer. Don't worry about submitting anything yet. There are other ways to find community, if you need it.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:55 PM on April 20, 2014

I just got this book featuring 50 inspiring project ideas to get you unstuck, from 50 successful artists.
posted by Dragonness at 5:31 PM on April 20, 2014

Do something stupid.

Like, really stupid. Write a short piece about being a bit of navel lint getting swirled down the shower, that sort of stupid. If you have TV shows or movies or book series you like, write a bit of fanfiction in that universe, and make it stupid. Don't try to make it good. Just write it badly. Slap that shit out. Make it silly. Show it to exactly no-one.

Ditto with painting. Waste some paint. Go and paint a caricature level smashup mess of your least favourite barista's armpit. Just...muck about. As someone who does abstracts, even mandalas and swirly messes would do the trick. I found defacing cereal boxed and magazines to be useful in just teaching my hands how to hold and drive a brush again. I would put clown makeup on the distant expressions of the women in Vogue.

Mostly that's just about getting the juices going again. Exercising the muscles. Reminding yourself what flow feels like. It doesn't have to be good. It's like doing a warmup lap. Just make sure whatever you wind up doing, you let yourself be terrible. No pressure at all.
posted by Jilder at 6:53 AM on April 21, 2014

Start externalizing in general. Write down a list of things that stress you out, that you feel crummy about. Ask yourself "why?" on paper. Answer on paper. Take a few minutes (hours, days) and get in the habit of externalizing and free-writing. Let yourself write freely from your thoughts without judging or editing.

This next part is experimental for me, as I'm largely in the same boat. But it feels good to pick up old work and tinker with it, see where my interest (in a character, scene, etc.) is piqued and try to spout off in that direction. Devote time to it and see what grows.
posted by magdalemon at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2014

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