Thoughts and Inspiration for Creative Writers

-from Chrysalis Editorial

The Writer and Depression

Posted on | February 13, 2013 | 10 Comments

“Depression is more likely to occur in people who have a larger measure of life’s gifts, who tend to be more sensitive, more driven, more intelligent, more empathetic. And these very attributes are part of the vulnerability. They feel life more acutely.”

– Dr. Frederick Goodwin, Former Director of the National Institutes of Health

As Scott Peck says in the opening line of his book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” And it seems, much of the time, it is even more so for writers. It is well documented that creative people tend to be more susceptible to mental illness. In fact, authors are in one of the top ten professions in which people are most likely to experience depression. So it’s not just the high profile writers like Virginia Woolf, William Styron, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, and Emily Dickinson who have suffered with bouts of depression, but also many of us who are engaged in creative pursuits without enjoying fame or fortune. Four of the writers from the above list of six actually committed suicide.

In his book, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron describes his personal descent into the despair and turmoil of a depression that included fantasies of killing himself and, ultimately, hospitalization. Sylvia Plath put her head in an oven, Anne Sexton used carbon monoxide poisoning, Hemingway a gun, and Virginia Woolf drowned herself in a river. Despite the sometimes fatal outcome of depressive illness, many of us still harbor a romanticized image of the depressed writer, scribbling in his garret, creating works of profundity and great meaning.

Because of the solitary nature of writing and the lack of available feedback, many writers are plagued with negative thoughts about the quality of their work. “Am I really good enough to be published?”, “How can I call myself a writer when I’m feeling so blocked?”, “Can I really make a living at this?” are some of the old tapes that can easily play in a writer’s head. The very nature of the work of a writer tends towards isolation, economic insecurity, self-doubt and lack of exercise – the “perfect storm” for experiencing depression – either mild and situational or clinical, serious and worthy of a doctor’s intervention. When you spend long hours sitting on your own, digging deeply into yourself to create a work of art, self-examination and self-doubt can easily lead down the path to clinical depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, it seems that creative expansion, spiritual depth and increased emotional sensitivity often entail a journey through fear and pain on the way to genuine growth. Therein lies the dilemma – can depression ever be a good thing? While a writer’s gifts often include heightened intellect and creativity, we must be careful not to glamorize the illness of depression or assume that every creative or dynamic person is going to go through the agonies of serious mood swings. There is nothing productive about being miserable and hopeless, and speaking from experience, most of us in a depressed state of mind do not have the motivation or the energy to get out of bed, much less write a great novel or poem. So what can you do if you find yourself slipping into a mild or even severe depression? Here are some suggestions that can help:

• Sit down at your computer and write, even though you don’t feel inspired. There is nothing like constructive activity to distract and elevate your mood.

• Read an upbeat book or watch a funny movie to feel relief from dwelling on yourself and your woes.

• Write out a list of positive affirmations (positive statements about yourself or your situation written in the present sense as if they are already happening).

• Write down ten simple things in your life that you are grateful for. – it is difficult to hold onto fear and anxiety when we are in a thankful state.

• Reach a hand out to somebody else in need – witnessing someone else’s difficulties or pain and doing something to support them can release you from dwelling obsessively on yourself and your own problems.

• Get a massage, take a walk in Nature, listen to your favorite music – do anything that inspires you and makes you feel spiritually connected to something bigger than yourself or your mood.

Don’t be misled to believe depressives have some mystical insight into creativity or that depression (or bi-polar illness) enhances the creative process. On the contrary, for most of us, depression leads to writer’s block, diminished courage, less motivation, less imagination and less resilience to everyday life. Finally, if you experience inordinately long and serious bouts of the “blues”, don’t pick up your pen…pick up the phone and get the professional medical help that will put you on the road to recovery.

Please feel free to share your own experience as a writer with depression and how you have constructively dealt with it.

Kathleen Pasley is currently at work on A Hurt in Your Soul – Depression and How to Heal It: A Practical & Spiritual Guide.

Key West Literary Seminar–an absolute must!

Posted on | February 7, 2013 | 10 Comments

Okay, imagine palm trees, Hemingway’s house, 6-toed cats, balmy days, and almost equally balmy nights (in January), 4-day workshop sessions with talented writers and leaders (like Mary Morris, Billy Collins, etc.), parties where innovative mixologists pour delicious cocktails, and where you taste native Republic of Conch food (mmm…yummy), and where you mingle with other aspiring writers and famous authors (yes, really!)…

And it doesn’t stop there. For three days you get to listen to published authors discuss, kick around, mull over and muse about some literary topic. This past January the theme was Writers on Writers. Included were writers who’d written novels featuring famous authors (such as Colm Toibin’s The Master, featuring Henry James; Kate Moses’ Wintering, featuring Sylvia Plath; Ann Napolitano’s A Good Hard Look, featuring Flannery O’Connor; and others). These authors (Toibin, Moses, Napolitano, etc) were paired with authors who’d written biographies about these same people! The conversations were deep and wide, fascinating and wonderfully revealing. Inspiring and delicious.

The entire experience was like eating chocolate decadence for a week and not gaining weight! And at an affordable price! All the evening events and festivities were included in the fee. I admit I was pleasantly shocked.

Next year’s theme: The Dark Side, with such famous authors as William Gibson, Carl Hiaasen, Joyce Carol Oates, Alexander McCall Smith, Scott Turow, Megan Abbott, and many others talking about the literary thriller (and also mystery and crime)…

Next year’s dates: January 9th and January 16th. Visit for details.

Mary Morris:


Links: Oulipo, Paris, and Bad Writing Advice

Posted on | January 29, 2013 | 8 Comments

Here’s a quick list of links to recent publishing and writing-related articles that we enjoyed:

(Also…see the comments below and join in the discussion.  How do you get past those wasted minutes?)

Jeffrey Eugenides’s Advice to Young Writers

“To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can’t think of a better definition of the writing life. There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It’s a difficult balance.”


How the Creative Response of Artists and Activists Can Transform the World

“For me, creative response is the antidote to the individualism, consumerism and cynicism that now define our culture.”


The End of Oulipo? An Attempt at Exhausting a Movement

“Whatever one’s methods, avant-garde art must stage a continual intervention in the status quo if it is to resist being co-opted, and defused, by the mainstream.”


Punk in the University


Bad Writing Advice From Famous Authors


Top 10 Philosophers’ Novels


Poetry and Paris


Stephen King on Imagery

Posted on | December 5, 2012 | No Comments

“If I can say anything important to writers who are still learning the craft of fiction, it’s this: imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind. To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.”

Read the full article:

Confessions: Fact or Fiction? for Free!

Posted on | October 31, 2012 | No Comments

A priest sleeps with a parishioner…a boy loses faith in his father…a little girl ruins her cousin’s marriage…a man is imprisoned with Frog Woman…a married woman thinks she’s a slut. 22 authors confess. Find out more! Amazon will be offering Confessions: Fact or Fiction? for free from Nov 2 – Nov 5! Be sure to check it out here:

Links: David Foster Wallace, writer’s block, the suffering artist, and more

Posted on | September 26, 2012 | No Comments


Are bloggers killing literary criticism?

Writers and The New Happiness.

David Foster Wallace and writing for approval.

An interview with Bret Easton Ellis.

Life advice from Faulkner.

The psychology of writer’s block.

The myth of the suffering artist.

Notable writers’ letters.

Links: EBM’s, philosophical novels, literary tumblrs, and more

Posted on | September 19, 2012 | 1 Comment

Local News

Writers Room DC will open in Tenleytown in mid-October.

Politics & Prose has an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) named Opus.


Why Rob Horning doesn’t like the word literary.

Brian Dillon on Roland Barthes and education.

David Winters on self-consciously “philosophical” novels.

MRI reveals brain’s response to reading.

Your guide to literary tumblrs.

Favorite snacks of the great writers, and the writer’s food pyramid.

D.T. Max highlights David Foster Wallace’s annotation on a copy of “Good Old Neon.”

When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue.”


Three Steps to Improve Your Writing

Posted on | July 26, 2012 | 1 Comment

We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, some leave dirty dishes in the sink, and some forget to foreshadow significant events in their novels.

Of course, we all have ways of coping and working to better ourselves, right? The dirty dishes can just start going into the dishwasher. People can start chewing toothpicks rather than their fingernails. Novelists can what? If you’ve ever felt simply stumped as to how to begin catching yourself at your own game when it comes to writing, here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Blogger Roz Morris suggests that, for those pesky words that just get stuck in your head and end up showing up over and over again in your writing, try plugging pages into a Wordle. Wordles are easy to use (and, best of all, free!) and can help you spot moments of unintended repetition you might be missing even after editing and reading the work aloud.
  2. For those writers who find themselves trapped at that most dreaded of traffic jams in life Writer’s Block — blogger Jeanine Henning suggests that you Get Out and Get Weird! Author Alice Mattison once said that when a scene became difficult for her in writing The Book Borrower, she had to abandon (temporarily) her computer, switch to her typewriter and had to write it in a different room. Sometimes I think the things we write are located in the air above us. But sometimes, for some reason, there’s a column of air somewhere else that we have to get under in order to receive a piece of writing. In other words, don’t be afraid to stand up, do the hokey-pokey-and-shake-yourself-about, and get into a change of scenery, change of mind, and change of air. (The rest of Mattison’s explanation can be found with Glimmer Train in their 2010 Close-Up: Approaches to Writing on page 2.)
  3. And for those of you who feel as though your plot is dragging or a character is suddenly acting strangely, why not go for this classic exercise: try writing in the style of another author. Of course, the key to this exercise is to go for an author whose style is truly different from yours, perhaps even a style you don’t particularly care for. Here are a few go-to’s of mine: James Sallis’ Drive; James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson; and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

What are your favorite writing tips? What advice has made all the difference to you in your writing life?

Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial

Writers’ New Interest in Pinterest

Posted on | July 20, 2012 | 3 Comments

pinterest-logoI resisted joining Pinterest for a while. By the time I finally created my account, pinning was a frequent part of most of my friends’ vocabulary, and I could hardly sign onto Facebook without seeing at least one link to Pinterest on my newsfeed.  Only a few months later, I already have 12 Boards and 1,056 Pins.  Wait- sorry, 1,067 Pins.  I just checked, and there were a few new ones on my home page.

Pinterest describes itself as a virtual pinboard that allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.  Users can create boards for different categories of pictures, then pictures from others’ boards.  Each pin is connected to a link taking you to the website where the picture originally came from.  It seems that most people use Pinterest for do-it-yourself crafts, new recipes, wedding ideas, and work out inspiration.  Few realize how Pinterest is connected to the book world, and as a recent article from Writer’s Digest points out, Pinterest has just as much to offer the writer and reader in us as it does the chef or athlete.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pinterest yet, it might just seem like yet another social network to keep up with.  I can hear your sighs, and I can’t entirely blame you.  But Pinterest isn’t like every other website out there, and its uniqueness is part of the reason, according to this article, that Pinterest is now the third most popular social media network, behind only Facebook and Twitter.

There’s an entire category on Pinterest dedicated to Film, Music & Books; but searching for new titles isn’t the only way readers can use Pinterest, and pinning your book isn’t the only thing an author can do to promote it.  In March Writer’s Digest published an article on how authors can creatively use Pinterest to connect with their readers on a whole new level.  I hadn’t thought of Pinterest as something related to the publishing industry.  Although, the more I think about it, the more I realize how many unique opportunities Pinterest truly provides.

Pinterest is all about pictures, and a website with thousands of pictures has got to be a hotbed of inspiration for any artist. You can use Pinterest to arrange images of your imaginary world: settings, houses, clothing, even people.  Having concrete images for your world can help you remain consistent throughout the story and make it easier to describe minute details you may not have otherwise considered.

If you’ve already completed and published a book (lucky you!), you can use Pinterest to help promote it and connect in new ways with your readers.  Fans will love looking at the images of clothing, buildings, scenes, and characters, helping them become even more immersed in the story and more familiar with the characters.

For example, check out Alma Katsu.  (We recommended her books, The Taker and The Reckoning, in our Summer Reads blog post.)  Her Pinterest site features a board for each of her books, illustrating clothing from the time period, paintings and music that inspired her while she was writing, and even “the official Taker wine, chosen by the wine tasters at One More Page Books.

Or look at Meg Cabot, the author of over 20 successful books including the Princess Diaries series.  Cabot’s boards include Places that appear in my books and Characters’ Style.  There’s also a board with pictures she drew as a teenager, which later inspired The Abandon series, and two boards dedicated to the life of a specific character, Heather Wells.

So give it a try, but I have to warn you: it’s addictive.

Sarah Crain, Editorial Assistant,

Beyond the Ties of Blood: Review by Herta B. Feely

Posted on | July 17, 2012 | 5 Comments

9781605983288_300X300Florencia Mallon

Pegasus Books

371 pp.

The disappearance, torture and execution of thousands of Chileans after General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 is a modern-day tragedy of immense proportions. It is said that in remembering the victims of the tragedy, we honor them. And I agree. To that end, a few books have been written, a few documentaries and films made. But there is room for many more.

Florencia Mallon’s  new novel, Beyond the Ties of Blood, is the latest book to honor those victims with its fictional depiction of a tragedy very similar to what many Chileans endured in real life. It’s the story of a young woman, Eugenia Aldunate, who falls in love with a charismatic leftist leader, Manuel Bronstein, at the University of Santiago. After the 1973 coup d’etat, Eugenia is arrested, imprisoned and tortured for months. It doesn’t matter that she herself had not been active in the efforts of the left, that she had been politically apathetic. She is forced to witness the torture of her lover, Manuel, one of the many who disappeared and was murdered in the 1970s. Though ultimately released, a pregnant Eugenia is left with scars, both physical and emotional.

The novel then fast-forwards 20 years: Eugenia has been living in exile in the United States  with her daughter, Laura, and is asked to return to Chile to testify in Manuel’s murder before the Truth Commission in Santiago. She must relive events from the moment she met Manuel to the present, and so do we, as readers, through multiple points of view.

In addition to recalling events through the perspectives of Eugenia and Manuel, told in sequential sections, Mallon also tells the story from the point of view of Manuel’s Jewish mother; the mother’s friend, who is a native Mapuche; Eugenia’s lesbian sister; and several others. This might sound like a bit much, but these multifaceted perspectives are layered with incidents of prejudicial behaviors that we still find in society today, where biases shift with the changing circumstances. Multiple points of view also underscore the universality of what happened in Chile in the 1970s and remind us how intolerance wreaks havoc and destruction on its victims, not just in Chile but throughout the world, no matter what the bias.

One truth that Mallon depicts well is that havoc doesn’t end with the victims. Eugenia and Manuel’s horror and tragedy ripples out and affects dozens of others: their family, friends and allies. They all suffer the tragedy of losing someone to political imprisonment, torture, disappearance and murder. And their suffering doesn’t end at the moment of the victim’s death — it extends for years and sometimes generations beyond the event. Laura, for example, does not know her father, and never will.

Throughout the novel, Mallon’s prose fluctuates between the violent and the lyrical. She recounts one of Eugenia’s experiences with violence shortly after the coup: The thought that she must get up had not even completely formed in her head before she felt a fist hit her face and she was down on the floor. Later in the novel, Mallon’s lyricism is evident, where a change in setting is also a welcome relief for the reader from her depictions of the sadistic brutality that existed during Chile’s Pinochet years: But in the countryside the wheat nursed its spiky golden crown, turning eagerly toward the light, while potato plants hugged the sides of the rolling hills and sent out blue and white flowers that trumpeted the approaching harvest.

Though ultimately I enjoyed and appreciated Beyond the Ties of Blood,I found the first 100 pages problematic and a bit disappointing because of issues with structure, plot and point of view. The beginning of the novel, told through Eugenia’s eyes, represents a constant shifting in time and place, and much of the story is told rather than shown. It seems that the author felt a need to establish the basic parameters early in the story and introduce us to many of the book’s characters, even though much of this is revisited in greater detail later. And then, when Mallon shifts from Eugenia’s point of view to Manuel’s, she ends up repeating much of the story without significantly furthering the plot. It wasn’t until the end of Manuel’s section, on page 108, that I became invested in the story and its outcome.

Because of the subject matter terrain with which I’m familiar, I want to say unequivocally that I loved this book. But I can’t say that. I can say, however, that Mallon not only does an admirable job on a tough topic, but she adds to the oeuvre of writing on Chile’s regrettable past, writing that is essential to proving wrong the adage about victors being the ones to write history; writing that is critical to honor the lives of those who perished, and to ease the pain of their families, friends and descendants.


Become a Washington Independent Review of Books member…it’s free…and you’ll have access to hundreds of book reviews, author interviews and other articles about books and writing.

You can buy Beyond the Ties of Blood in ebook and hardcover on Amazon.

« go backkeep looking »