Another project left to gather dust because of my awful functioning brain. It’s hard to write when you can’t see your hands through the fog. It’s just another thing I have to force myself to do sometimes. Just like getting out of bed or going to work.
My struggle with both depression and anxiety has been and still is one of the biggest obstacles I’m facing on my writing journey. Not just my writing journey in fact, but also in every aspect of life. I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t in a negative mind set, and that just makes it even harder to do positive things. The days when I find myself stuck in the house would be the perfect time to sit down and write something- even something short and nonsensical- but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I carry my idea notebooks around everywhere, but never open them. The guilt I feel for abandoning all my beloved characters almost surpasses the guilt of not writing anything at all.
With that being said, here is my chance to try and kick start my imagination for the hundredth time! I thought a great way of doing that would be to talk about some of the first characters I ever created, and how they and their stories have changed over the years as I’ve tried to write about them again and again and again.
I’ve known I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, but aside from absent daydreams I never had a solid idea of what I wanted to write. The first idea that I ever sat down and fleshed out was a premise for a screenplay that I had to write as part of my A-Level film studies coursework. The story was set in a futuristic dystopian world that had been ravaged by aliens looking for a new home planet. Due to the actions of this alien race that I apparently never had the foresight to name, humans were driven underground and forced to live in bunkers the size of a small town. It was in one of these bunkers that the protagonists of the story, twins Nova and Atlas Herald, were trying to survive. Both twins had important roles in their community, but together they lived with a secret that could have them exiled from the bunker for good. They were both members of the alien race. Ones who had sympathised with the plight of the humans, and took human forms in the hopes of helping them in the seemingly one-sided war.
Seventeen year-old me thought this idea was the shit. I sat down and wrote a solid seven thousand words for the screenplay until one of my classmates reluctantly informed me that the word count for the assignment was a mere two thousand five hundred words. The measly word count however didn’t stop me from immersing myself in the lives of the alien twins I’d created and expanding on their personalities.
Nova was a rule breaker fascinated with the limitations of her new human body. Her role in their underground community was that of a Scavenger, meaning that every day she ventured out into the wasteland formerly known as earth and hunted for materials that were needed, such as scrap metal and other useful items. Scavenging was usually done in teams, but due to her rebellious side Nova often headed out alone- which was helpful when she found things such as old music that she preferred to keep for herself. The leaders of their small community tolerated Nova’s rule-breaking due to her prowess in surviving the dangers of the wasteland above, which they used to train potential new scavengers- a responsibility that Nova often felt was more like a punishment.
Atlas was the more level-headed of the two and spent his time working in the hospital, using his interest in human biology to become one of the communities most relied upon medics. His proficiency as a doctor made him very valued and popular among their community, and so he became much more sociable than his sister. Atlas also used his position in the medical field to hide any biological evidence in their files that he and his sister were different from everyone else. Despite deciding to side with the humans, he detested violence and always hoped for a peaceful resolution to the war.
Once I’d figured out their past I began to build on the story that I had worked on for the original assignment. That story began with Nova discovering two humans that had escaped alien slavery while she was out scavenging and taking them back to the underground city, where Atlas discovered that the two stragglers were half-alien and half-human. Building on that world and its characters was the first time I had ever thought about an idea in more detail, and planning out different angles to it and different ways the story could go was at first very fun, but ended up also confusing me a little. I’d came up with so many variations from the original beginning that I couldn’t decide what route I wanted to take.
I was thinking about Atlas and Nova’s story right up until I moved to university and started my creative writing classes. It was during that time that I completely fell in love with the fantasy genre and thus their story fell onto the back-burner as I came up with an idea for yet another assignment that I would keep working on long after the original few chapters were submitted. This story is one I still hold very close to my heart, and one that I always end up adding even just a few lines of notes to every time I think about it. As well as a physical notebook full of world and character building, I also have all my notes for this particular story on a google doc so that I can add to it no matter where I am, just in case something pops into my head and I don’t have my notebook on me. That document is currently an amalgamation of detailed notes and absent scribbles, but even so it’s still one of the biggest collection of notes for a story that I have. This was the first project where I really sat down and said to myself that simply having a character and a world in which they live isn’t enough. I needed to really flesh out those things and give them a life of their own, and fill in any possible holes in that world or in that characters design. And so, I created Eanavera. I drew out a map of this world, and I gave each continent and island a name, taking inspiration from various places and cultures of our own world. I thought about how each kingdom was governed and their cultures different beliefs, and what they meant to the characters that lived there. The most important place on Eanavera’s map was a cluster of islands named The Annwn Isles, a region that was heavily inspired by Ireland and Wales. The Annwn Isles consisted of five islands, and I worked on giving each island its own ruling family, all of which answered to the rulers of the largest island, Ourea. Each island was different in it’s own small way but also shared the same beliefs and festivals that I had such a fun time working on and developing. It was on Ourea that the story began, and where the protagonist came from.
Azlyn Scriostóir wasn’t the first character I had ever created, but she was the first one to suffer from all of my writers whims. I’ve always loved to read stories that tug at your heart, and so Azlyn had it all: neglectful parents, a brother with a cruel streak, a point of view that set her apart from those that she should be close to. A painful past and an even more painful journey to go on. I loved writing about her so much that I even commissioned an amazing artist to bring her to life! (Pictured left, link to the artist included). I thought her story had it all. She seemed to me a complex enough character, her story had love, tragedy and magic. She had the powers of a god! What more could a reader want! I hyped the story up so much in my mind that whenever I sat down to write a chapter, or even just a scene, it just didn’t seem right. My motivation wasn’t helped by the piece set in the world that I had submitted for an assignment received a mediocre grade, but even though I couldn’t seem to actively write for this story, I kept planning for it. I wrote notes on her brother Weylyn’s motivations and why he was so cruel. I developed the backstory and personality of her love interest, Ronan, more. I even came up with a reason as to why she had purple hair! It couldn’t just be because I liked the idea! But once again I had seemed to overwork and overthink it. Was it too much? Was it not enough? The lines were blurring for me, and eventually looking at my detailed notes just made be feel sad and guilty. Here was a whole world I was neglecting. A whole world that I just couldn’t seem to bring to life.
That brings me back to me inability to write. Sometimes I think that the feeling that my writing will never be good enough stems from my depression, and sometimes I think I’m depressed because I can’t write something good. The one thing I have ever gotten published was written in a depressive haze, but I don’t want to be known for depression inspired writing. Yes, maybe one day I will write something based around my experiences of my mental illness, but it’s not a way of writing that I want to build on. I feel almost as though that writing when depressed just feeds the depression. The line between it being an outlet and just being fuel for the way that I feel is very thin. World-building and the like used to be a way of freeing myself from that mindset, but sometimes it can turn into a burden. They’re both lines I’ll have to teach myself to walk very carefully.
Today was a rainy day, and one that I had wasted a lot of in bed. But I forced myself to get up, get out, and sit in one of my favourite cafes to write. Write anything at all. I usually try to plan my posts here, but this one I just had to throw myself into. When I first started drafting it, I was feeling very down, and so I thought this post would most likely be about how I’d been feeling lately and how it has impeded my writing. But instead, talking about past projects- even if they are semi abandoned- has actually made me feel a lot better. Dare I say it, even a little more hopeful. Hopefully the next post will be less then a month away but in the meantime, have you ever been stuck in a writing rut? How has life gotten in the way of your writing journey? I hope to see some of your own stories in the comments below, and feel free to ask questions about anything in this post that has intrigued you!