Separating Creativity and Depression – Zack Long

Separating Creativity and Depression – Zack Long

I am a writer who has attempted suicide but we’ll get back to that later.

There is an attitude within the public sphere that creativity and depression and intertwined. Look no further than the “27 Club” or the archetype of the alcoholic writer. Believe this to be true, it makes sense in a sick kinda way if you think about: Only a soul that had seen true darkness could create such light – there’s a duality to the troubled creative that, if you’re like me and creative, you can’t help but see as poetic. If you’re also like me and suffer from depression already then this is an even more troubling myth. Depression already does it’s best to prevent you from overcoming it (and we’ll talk more about that in a moment) but when the culture tells you that your creativity comes from depression the decision and struggle to overcome it now encompasses that special link you have to other worlds and perceptions – that very thing that helped you deal with the depression in the first place; I’d rather be warm than naked; depressed than uncreative. If you’ve ever thought you’re depression was linked to your creativity, good news and bad news.

The bad news is it might be. There is a link between the two but instead of seeing it as links in chain it might be better to think of it as a web. There a web of connections between depression and everything else inside and outside of us; likewise creativity. This means that the two can me connected or unconnected, really depending on many factors.

Too many factors to worry about it, actually.
The good news is that creativity does not diminish in the pursuit of overcoming depression. Our connection to creativity is one that can be fostered and grown through practice and reflection. Similarly, we can battle against our depression in a way that is surprisingly similar to the writer’s journey of skill. The other good news is that if you do not have depression and you are a creativity, these practices can also benefit you.
But before we get to those, allow me to introduce myself.

Rat in a Cage

My name is Zack Long. I run, a site that I use to talk to writers of all sorts about this beast, creativity. I also do one-on-one lessons with screenwriters, primarily, that focus on a positive approach to writing. To this effect, Scriptophobic features a slew of talented writers and will be launching the Fade to Zack podcast to be a door to creativity. I have two books coming out, Scream Writing: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing the Horror Screenplay and Mindfulness at the Movies: A Cinephile’s Guide to Mindfulness, which both focus on looking into the brain, our psychology, and even our evolution.

None of this would be possible if I had succeeded to kill myself before. But life didn’t seem worth living back then.
I was writing poetry and short stories, doing some writing on film for some blogs that don’t exist anymore. I was a recovering drug addict. Not too long before, a couple seasons maybe, I was popping handfuls of whatever I could get while scribbling away to to the sounds of Nirvana, Blind Melon and Alice in Chains. Ever see what a home-overdose looks like? Only thing more shocking’s a home-birth, I tell you what. Living through it ain’t much fun either. That was accidentally though, it was the influence of this cultural attitude towards self destruction and creativity. Damn near killed me but all this time there’s something happening in my brain, in my thoughts, that I don’t even realize is happening. It’s under the surface like it’s Telltale Heart.

I came off drugs and moved away from the whole scene by getting out of the city and back to the countryside I grew up in. My partner joined me but the relationship was a volatile substance burning itself out and taking us with it. We had gotten together while on drugs and came off to realize that was all we had in common and our neurosieus festered off each other.

One day I slashed up a wrist, pushed them away from me when she tried to stop me. Then I tried to hang myself with a belt in the closet. This is where my father found me. The belt hadn’t worked and I smashed my head off the wall in a succession either strong or long enough to knock the overhead light bulb out to smash on the floor. My parents called the cops because they didn’t know what else to do to help me. I ended up spending the night in a cell where I tried to chew through my wrist but failed. It took all the next day to push be through court, get me some probation, a restraining order between me and my partner.

This began a desire to never feel that way again. One that has taken me through many different disciplines. Primarily, this has been a selfish act because it truly is all about myself. Selfish is not a helpful word within our society; it has a negative connotation because we should all be selfish. We should be concerned about what we are thinking and how we are feeling and what is causing it and how we can make our dreams real. We use to me, “They were thinking about the self in a way that disregarded others.”

So here are some of my selfish leanings that are most valuable to us as writers with or without depression but with an eye to the later. If you would like to learn more or are looking to hire a writing coach, you can find out more (like our secret Canadian discount) by contacting me here (

Meta-Thinking and the Changing Brain

There are a few basic things you need to understand about the brain:

  1. It is lazy. This can not be avoided but it can be controlled.
  2. It is constantly reconditioning, or reprogramming, itself based on what it is asked to do in order to make quicker and easier paths so that it can go back to being lazy.

Let’s take a look at what this means for depression and what it means for writing.

When we are depressed, we tend to stay depressed more often than we are happy, though we may experience both. This is because the brain is lazy, it has gotten used to treading through these dark woods because the path is easier to manage. Sure, there’s a nice woods over there but it’s less walked and that takes more psychic energy from us. Each time we take a stroll through the dark woods, that path is getting even easier to walk. We need to become aware of our thoughts and we do this through meta-thinking. We pay attention to what we are thinking and we note it, without judgement, and we take steps to correct it in our thoughts to push into that lush green woods. Here’s the thing, it’ll seem dumb doing it because you’re brain has to spend more energy and it doesn’t like that. You need to keep pushing even if it seems dumb because it will slowly become easier because you will have changed your brain.

What do I mean by changed your brain? Well, let’s get those Writers back into the conversation.

Neuroplasticity is what we call the changing of the brain. Depending on what you ask it to do, it changes its structure in order to accommodate the demands put on it. This is a powerful tool to understanding our ability to grow as writers. By practising our craft in an applied manner, we change the structure of our brain to better understand the craft. This same process is happening all the time however, which means that when we are feeding negativity into ourselves we are making it easier to continue the pattern.
If we apply ourselves to our writing, we change our ability to be better writers. If we apply ourselves to meta-thinking and correcting negative thoughts or patterns, we change our ability to be happier. These two are not connected. We have complete control over the both of them irrespective of each other. This teaches us two important lessons.

  1. Our ability to grow as writers is not based on our depression. Nor is it based on some innate quality of the individual but rather on how that individual applies themselves and thus changes the physical structure of their brain.
  2. Depression does not further our creativity. But because of the fact that our brains are naturally lazy, our depression clings onto our relationship with our creativity to stay afloat. It takes the practice of meta-thinking to become aware of the paths our thoughts are taking so that we can correct them.

If we can accept incremental changes in our brains, than there is no limit to what applied practice can bring. Keep writing, keep your head up. I love you all and your voice is a valuable contribution to the world.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are resources available.



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