On Writing and Depression from Leonard Cohen

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I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. –Leonard Cohen

This quote from Leonard Cohen certainly mirrors my own feelings from time to time, especially about writing. The world often seems chaotic these days. So how do you write through it?

A writer can feel stuck when depressed. Being on a roll and suddenly having the creative juices dry up is something all creative people experience. Watching your process slowly break down until you are at a standstill. Staring at the blank page. You try to write your way out of it, but you hate every word. It connects to a larger phenomenon of lacking ideas or any endeavor that requires creativity.

Stephen King advises the “write yourself out of it” approach. Many writers believe the words we put down are indeed worthless and not worth the time. They fear ruining the piece. But the reality is sometimes we just need to write through the dry periods. Like athletes doing practice drills, we just have to keep at it until the good material comes back. If we don’t keep writing, we won’t be at our computers when the good stuff comes.

While much of writer’s block is steeped in depression, there are all sorts of other challenges that impact writing as well. Physical health, mental health, and emotional health can affect performance across. If you are struggling with depression, you might still be able to write like always, just as people with depression can joke with their friends or go through the motions at writing even though they are struggling inside.

Leonard Cohen, who suffered from depression, was certainly a model for “writing through it.” He was in the middle of composing a poem when he died. I like to think of that when I get discouraged with my writing.

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