Writing on a Depression Seesaw

A_dog_plays_on_a_seesaw_with_children_in_Scotland,Back from Hawaii and the jet lag is kicking my butt. I was awake in the 1:30 to 4 am range, woke up at 9, meant to sleep in a little longer…and next thing I know it’s 1 pm. Whoops.

What’s really annoying, however, is this writing seesaw I seem to be on. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve seen this for yourself. I’ll have an amazingly awesome day, like when I wrote a little over 2,500 words, followed by an absolute crap day where I write 0 words (and maybe throw out what I did write yesterday, so now it’s going into the negative).

And it’s not just about word count, or progress. My mood is significantly better on a good writing day. And my mood gets flushed down the toilet on a bad writing day. But saying it like that confuses the cause and effect: my mood dictates how I write. Sure, how I write feeds back into my mood, but it starts with mood.

So it takes twice as long to get anything done, because I can’t get anything done on a bad day. I just sit around and watch Netflix. And the bad days are way worse after getting seesaw’d from a good day, because I want to keep writing and keep up my momentum, but I’ve just plunged from one extreme to the other.

And since I’m writing this on a bad day (Sunday), that’s about all I’ve got. I’m just hoping that Monday will be a good day.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Writing with Depression

Depression-depression-18086997-394-500You’re probably familiar with the old cliché of the writer consumed by depression and drowning his sorrows in alcohol and drugs. If you’re not, do a quick Google search, and you’ll have reading material for a lifetime.

I’m not going to bother re-hashing the obvious link between writers and depression. I honestly don’t care about why this link exists. I just want you to understand that when I say I’ve been suffering from depression these last two months, I am only one of many in a long-standing tradition.

These past two months are the worst I’ve felt in years. To be frank, “felt” doesn’t even really apply here. Numbness has been my constant companion. I’ve been cut off from my emotions, my ability to care about even the most basic things, and — worst of all — my writing.

For instance, a few weeks ago I discovered that one of my roommates had accidentally left the oven on when they left the house. Under normal circumstances, I would have been furious. I do not want to come home and find my house in flames, thank you very much. But thanks to my depression, I didn’t feel anything. I couldn’t get upset. I could say the words, but there was no emotion behind them.

It’s a scary feeling, believe me.

And then for the writing, it wasn’t anything like my experiences with writer’s block. My mind wasn’t blank. I knew where I wanted to take my story — I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t physically pick up a pen or type the keys to tell that story. It was like my limbs had refused to cooperate. Forget every motivational quote you’ve ever heard — they don’t do crap in the face of depression.

Depression on its own sucks. But wanting to write and not being able to? It’s crushing. I would just stare at the blank page or blinking cursor and crumble inside.

And if that wasn’t enough, my inability to write would feed back into my mood, sinking me lower and lower until I was just a sobbing mess.

This week I’ve finally been able to try new medicines (since my current one just stopped working for some reason). They must be doing something, because I was finally able to write on Saturday. It was very slow-going, like I had to dredge up every word from the bottom of a very deep well. But my story is moving again, and that has helped my mood more than I can say.

I’m not out of the sinkhole yet, but I’m making progress. And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to take that small step forward.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

On the Origin of Nursery Rhymes

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Like fairy tales, nursery rhymes have darker sides too. What sounds like nonsense now is actually steeped in history. For example, Humpty Dumpty is a cannon that fell off a fort wall during the English Civil War. Apparently the only reason we think of him as an egg is because the original illustrator for Alice in Wonderland drew him that way. Who knew! Below are my favorites of the origins I uncovered.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Sounds lovely. I think all of the illustrations I’ve seen depict a little girl watering flowers. But no! Mary refers to Queen Mary (you know, Elizabeth I’s older sister), who waged war against Protestants. The “garden” is actually a graveyard (the original word in the rhyme) for the dead Protestants. And silver bells, cockle shells, and maids are all torture devices. Well, two torture devices and a guillotine. Not quite what you pictured, eh? An alternative interpretation for the garden line is that it’s a taunt about Mary’s barrenness. I hope nobody was stupid enough to recite it for her though. One more for the garden!

Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up a hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Anyone else laugh at Jill for falling down after Jack? Kind of reminds me of The Princess Bride, when Buttercup launches herself after Westley down that ridiculous hill. Anyway. Jack and Jill are actually Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette — you know, the monarchs who were beheaded during the French Revolution. Definitely lost their crowns then, in both senses of the word. Ouch.

Pop Goes the Weasel
Half a pound of tuppenny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.
Up and down the City Road
In and out of the Eagle
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.
Technically, it keeps going, but this is enough to dissect for one blog post. I honestly never understood this thing, and that’s because it’s mostly slang and historical references! (Go figure.) “Pop” means “pawn,” and “weasel” means “coat.” So this guy is pawning his coat to pay for his food, a night at a music hall (the Eagle), and what have you because he doesn’t have any money. Makes me wonder why he’s wasting it on a music hall, but hey, that’s just me. I also found that “monkey” means “tankard.” So if you’re familiar with the “All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel” verse, I bet it was just a weird adaptation of the original verse, where this guy pops his weasel to go out drinking. (Again, why are you wasting your money, sir?)

Baa Baa Black Sheep
Baa baa black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the Master,
One for the Dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.
This was my brother’s favorite nursery rhyme as a kid. He’s a very frugal guy, so I find it hilarious that this rhyme is about taxes. A third goes to the king (the Master), a third goes to the church (the Dame), and a third goes to the farmer (the little boy down the lane). Originally, there was one more line: “and none for the little boy who cries down the lane.” That’s the shepherd! The shepherd has nothing but his poor little shorn sheep!

Ring Around the Rosy
Ring around the rosy,
Pocket full of posy,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down!
I bet you know what I’m gonna say. That this rhyme is about the Black Death, and the ashes are the cremated bodies, and so on and so forth. But no! It didn’t show up until 1881. For those less historically inclined, that’s 531 years after the Black Death subsided. Not related at all. Of course, if you’re like me, you’re slightly disappointed by that information aren’t you? That’s why I like you.

There are plenty more where this came from. What’s your favorite nursery rhyme? If you don’t know the origin, I might have come across it in my prep for this post. I could tell you more than you ever wanted to know!

Or you could be lame and look it up yourself. These are the sites I drew on, but there are tons more out there.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Grimmer Than Grimm

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You probably know that the original versions of fairy tales are much darker than their “modern” versions. I’m talking mutilations and cruel parents and everything else that makes you cringe. Cinderella’s stepsister chopping parts off their feet to make them fit the shoe, and the like.

You might not know that authors (including me!) are going back to those dark versions — or even darker with Grimmification.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Disney adaptations. Forever and always.

But the dark versions draw me like hot fudge to chocolate ice cream. Or something.

You already saw on my last post that I liked the original versions of The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel with their dead mermaids and blinded princes. And I like some of the newer, darker adaptations I’ve seen.

No Rest for the Wicked is a webcomic with a mash-up of fairy tales, and makes a good case study. Red (of Riding Hood fame) is a crazy woman with an axe, wiping out the wolf population in her woods and hanging the pelts in her cabin. The witch from Hansel and Gretel was actually their mother; she ate them, and then ate all of the children who stumbled upon her house.

If I’m horrified, I call it a success.

Not to terrify you any further, but I’m working on my own Grimmified fairy tales. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

P.S. Speaking of the Grimmification of Disney, check out the Twisted Princess series. It’s fantastic.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.