Writers are predisposed to depression. Perhaps all artists are, but writers likely suffer it worse.
The reasons are many. It’s tough to make a living off writing, unless you’re a creative writing professor, but even then you’d probably be better off working grave shift at Taco Bell when I’m shitfaced and screaming for a Whopper, simultaneously trying to tell me that I might want to try Burger King and maybe next time I should wear pants.
Then there’s the reality that musicians and painters get laid more and are thus happier, but I’m married, so forget I even wrote that.
Ah, the image of the depressed writer.
We often conjure images of Stephen King slumped over his typewriter, high and drunk, drooling on the first draft of Cujo, or Clive Barker staring glumly at the rows of nipple clamps that are likely lining his desk, wondering why the Hellraiser movies sucked so badly.
Or we can venture outside the horror realm, at literary giants like Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, crushed by their own genius. (Quasi-Family Guy reference, boom.)
But fuck all those guys. They were already successful and whacked out of their minds, and possibly their nostrils as well. What about the rest of us? Or my friend Alfie?
It’s fashionable for struggling writers to play the role of tortured artist, but to whom?
To the writer, that’s who! Except most struggling, depressed writers don’t come off that way. We get up, go to our shit jobs, and listen to our hearts thudding in our chests, each beat like a tick of Satan’s wristwatch to remind you that you’re over thirty now, and the dreams of a writing career that seemed so alluring in your early twenties has brought you only heartache, perhaps with a writing income tantamount to panhandler money.
The moody, probably cunty, definitely scarf-wearing tortured writer you’ve met has probably written very little and practiced being tortured very much. Fuck that guy, too. Real depressed writers – us guys and gals in the trenches – are too busy having every decent short story market reject our shit, or else wondering how the fuck one gets a Goodreads review without paying for it, to make a show of our melancholic lot.
But for an actual depressed writer…
As we get older, we spend every day wondering if we made the right decision; that moment when we threw aside the expected aspirations of a normal human being to say, “Aw snap, this writer shit is dope, I think I can tweet this FTW.” (Or whatever young aspiring writers say on Instantgrams these days.)
Writers harbor the same intellectual, and perhaps egotistical, vanity of any social media whore. Whereas those chumps measure their value in retweets and upvotes, we measure ours in sales and Amazon reviews.
The worst is apathy, when we throw our best work at the world to either have it rejected by the gatekeepers or, if we found a way to wiggle through the gates, apathy from readers.
And it’s a crushing cycle.
You spend four months on your first draft, 200,000 words, then another year editing, chopping it down to a nimble 125,000, with nary a spelling error in sight. (Until you submit your final draft, then scramble to do a fifth when the editor discovers that your line edits are dogshit.) This is it, your magnum opus. It’s your Portrait of the Artist, except, if you’re a horror writer, with more demonic tree monsters and less confusing dialogue dashes.
Your opus is, at best, accepted by a small publisher only to languish in the dankest pits of the Amazon chasm. At its middlest (not a word, I know, fuck off I’m drinking), it earns you a mountain of form rejections. At its worst, it is ignored completely.
So kiss our asses, Lovecraft and Poe. At least people read your shit even if you died in poverty. Had you two been around today, Cthulhu and the fucking Masque of Whatever-The-Fuck would have been buried under ten billion versions of Fangs of Sensuality, Volume Four of the Vampire Date Rapist Series.
Many writers, both horror and not, who are serious about this shit end up hunting for Goodreads reviews the same way Bob Saget procured coke in Half-Baked, only with less dignity because others would rather gurgle man-juice in a truckstop bathroom for an eight-ball than reverse-whoring our work to review farms.
Yet even then, the depression doesn’t stop, because without whoring ourselves, our work gets buried. And if you DO whore yourself, chances are you won’t sell shit, anyway.
But writers persevere, however infrequently, because we have the ultimate drug.
And it’s not morphine, or OxyContin, or even Novril, all of which I have to admit sounds pretty awesome. (I’m a reformed pill enthusiast. Even though I’d never touch the shit again, all that stuff still sounds outstanding to me.)
The ultimate drug for a writer is that egotistical, vanity-driven high we’ve already tasted: Writing, motherfuckers.
It’s a fleeting high, I’ll give it that. When you’re actually shackled to your laptop writing that magnum opus that no one will ever read, or get rejected by every publisher you were so excited about submitting it to, the world fades away.
The depression, if you’re lucky, vanishes, if only for a bit. However fleeting our relief, thus is our depression, if only at differing intervals. Writing breaks through the angst, the daily horror whispering in our ears that we made the wrong decision to dedicate ourselves to this craft, to this crushing cycle of rejection, to the never-ending quest to have our work validated.
But then the cycle begins again.
And such is our lot.
Mack Moyer is trying to write for a living. You can laugh at his attempts. He won’t mind. He kind of expects it now. (Sigh.)