Writing in the Dark

Hi, I’m Jim. I have clinical depression.

That’s probably a bit of a shock to those who know me simply as a humor writer and motivational speaker. But through medication and therapy, rather than hiding under my covers, eating my body weight in dark chocolate, and writing terrible poetry, I’ve managed to have 20 books traditionally published and over 2,500 articles printed.

If you’re struggling with depression, first see your family doctor. Then try these practical ways I’ve overcome depression. It’s all about out-smarting depression because, really, depression is not that smart!

1. Put on pants

With the pandemic, I think we’ve all gone from business casual to homeless chic.

The late Virginia Muir—Tyndale House’s very first employee—said she could not write without wearing a nice dress, makeup, and heels. That look may have worked for Virginia, but . . . I felt really silly.

I do find I at least need to put on a pair of jeans and a clean T-shirt to feel like I’m “at work.”

Yeah, it’s all about out-smarting depression. My brain thinks, “Hmmm? Jim is out of bed and dressed. He must be planning to do something today.”

2. Sit in a designated space

Notice, I didn’t say write in a designated location, only to sit in it. Your space can be a desk, recliner, table at a coffee shop, etc. but it has to be set apart exclusively for writing!

In high school, my dad and I built a solid-oak desk. Huge and heavy, Dad’s desk moved in and out of ten different locations—many with lots of stairs. But for the past 50 years, I’ve been writing at that desk.

And so my easily-manipulated mind says, “Wait just a minute, now. Jim is dressed and sitting at his desk. For 18,253 days, he has sat at that desk and has written. Okay, neurons, I guess it’s time to start writing.”

Again, you’re building the psychological association between location and writing. I love laptops and writing at the beach, but there is not that writing association. Which is why you should never, ever write in bed. You only do two things in bed—none of which are writing.

When I’m sitting at my desk, my brain thinks of writing.

3. Write at a designated time

Tom Peters, an expert on working smart, claims that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” Again, it’s all about out-smarting depression. When you build these strong associations with schedules, your brain will eventually start thinking, “Yikes! It’s 9 a.m. I guess it’s time for the frontal cortex to clock in for work.”

So, you can lie in bed or sit in front of the TV in your sweats and be depressed. Or you can get up, get dressed and sit at your desk—and be depressed.

Either way, you’re going to be depressed, so you might as well put yourself in a position where there’s at least a possibility that writing may occur. And just so you know, there are days I still sit at my desk and stare at the screen.

And when I look back at publisher proofs of a new book, I cannot tell you which chapters I felt inspired to write and which chapters I managed to pound out through a mental fog.

I can tell you that I was dressed and sitting at my desk between 9 a.m. and noon.

For more resources on writing and overcoming depression, check out my website at jameswatkins.com/depression. You’ll find articles, videos, and a list of reliable mental health services. I hope you find value in them.

And, please, put on some pants!

Copyright © 2021 James N. Watkins

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Photo: J. K. Sloan


Author and speaker

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