The Depressed Writer: An Interview with Julie Fast, Author of Get It Done When You’re Depressed
Julie Fast is the author of several books and e-books, including the traditionally-published book Get It Done When You’re Depressed. Julie has bipolar disorder and uses the techniques in her book to be one of the most productive and creative writers I’ve ever met. And you don’t need to be clinically depressed to get a lot out of her advice — it works even if you’re just someone who has down days, suffers from that nagging “I’m not good enough” inner voice, or has trouble getting started on writing projects for any reason.
I love this interview because I suffer from SAD and anxiety myself, and have arranged my work life around these issues — and as someone with these problems, I recognize them in a lot of other writers as well.
As you’ll see, Julie does a pretty good job of interviewing me, too!
Can you tell me a little bit about your career?
I started in e-books in 2002 when nobody even knew what they were. In fact, people would say, “What’s a PDF? What does right click mean? What’s a shopping cart?” So I put my treatment plan, which is called The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder, plus two other books, on the web to sell in 2002. My first traditionally published book came out in 2004: Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner. I have written seven books on bipolar disorder and depression and a couple of books on e-publishing, which is my other speciality.
How is it with you with the e -books versus the traditional? What’s more profitable for you?
Oh gosh, e-books are far more profitable that traditional books. With traditional books, in the past, you used to get a good advance. Let’s say you made a $20,000 advance. It has changed so dramatically now, for many reasons. It’s so difficult to get a book deal now as compared to 15 years ago, because they expect you to have a platform…in other words, they expect you to be famous already. Then you get a dollar a book [in royalties], and then that’s taxed. There’s far more money with e-books, but then e-books are a lot harder to sell because you have to have a website and a good marketing. But it’s a fantastic time to publish.
So were you depressed when you writing your first book?
Oh, yes. I’m depressed 75 percent of the time. You’ve read Get it Done When You’re Depressed, which basically says you have to keep going when you’re depressed because otherwise nothing ever gets done. What’s amazing is that I can’t tell the difference between my writing when I’m depressed and my writing when I am well. Now, the process is horrible. The difference between what you’re doing when you are depressed versus when you’re well feels terrible, but the outcome — you can’t tell the difference.
Do you think that writers, in particular, have this problem? I mentor writers and teach e-courses and many writers just sound depressed.
There is the whole thing about artists being more depressed. But remember, somebody who already has a propensity towards depression, or whatever, is naturally going to go to their own business instead of being able to handle the big corporate business world. So I think a lot of people who are self-employed definitely have more anxiety, ADHD, depression.
And you know what? There’s a catch-22 because you gravitate toward that kind of work because it fits your style more, but you have to be a self-starter to be a freelancer. Has being self employed helped you in any way?
Going through the process of being self-employed keeps me having great friendships and working and doing all the stuff that people want to do and have in life. It’s the same with you. You have an e-book on productivity for freelancers, and I’m sure that’s because you had some trouble yourself.
I actually have problems with Seasonal Affective Disorder and anxiety myself, and I also have ADHD, so I’ve had to come up with some really unique ways to get organized. I am very organized; I have to be. So I came up with techniques that go beyond what most people are used to doing. Moving on: In the very first chapter of your book, you said we have the ability to work when we’re depressed — we just don’t have the ability to feel like working. I was wondering if you can expand on that a little bit.
Well, one thing that I learned is that when you’re depressed, you are never ever going to feel like doing anything, and that is when I discovered that one of the reasons people who are depressed don’t get anything done is not that they can’t get something done. It’s that they don’t feel the energy, the motivation, the drive, the belief that there’s a going to be a reward, and that stops people from getting work done. That’s how I was for many, many years. I spent many years in front of the TV or in bed, or not being able to work, and one day, I just said, “Wait a minute. I have never felt like working when I am depressed. Never.” So, that means that I have to work and ignore the feelings. And just sit there and work. And when I taught myself to do that, my entire life changed. The enjoyment, the reward, comes after you take action. So it’s the opposite.
A lot of people will say that you need to feel better and you need to work on it therapy-wise, and you have to have support. But in terms of writing or working, you are not going to feel motivated. I believe motivation comes after you have taken action and had some success. You cannot wait to feel good about something in order to get something done, because it will never happen.
Depression is never going to let you feel good, so you have to work anyway. That concept changed my life.
It’s interesting, because I actually interviewed somebody a while back who said, “You don’t act the way you feel…you feel the way you act.” But it’s pretty amazing because people just think I am the most productive person in the world, but I just have days where I am like, “I can’t work today.”
I call it the black blanket, or a friend of mine calls it the great sadness. And then I have friends with ADHD who just can’t sit down. So what happens to you?
I can’t focus on anything and I feel very foggy. I have arranged my life around it. I’m a very fast worker and I get started early with projects, so if I do have one of those days, I can just take the day off.
But you found a way to deal with the fogginess. That just means that everybody has to find a method to not let that day of fogginess turn into a year of fogginess. Or a year of depression. Because that’s what happens. And then before you know it, a year is gone and you say,”Oh, my God, I got nothing done.”
For me it’s work with your good days and go with it on your bad days. On good days I am so productive that you wouldn’t believe it, so it kind of makes up for the bad days. So: Another thing that I really liked about your book is that you talked about how many writers have trouble because they judge their work while they’re writing it — and of course they judge it inferior if they’re feeling depressed. Can you say anything about that?
I lived in Japan for three years, and this was before I had my treatment plan and before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was a teacher coordinator. I remember getting up on stage to teach and I looked out to the crowd, and there are all these wonderful people. I got on that stage and my brain just basically said, “What are you doing up here? You are worthless. Why would they even be listening to you? Your ideas suck.” And it affects your performance. It affects your belief in yourself. But one day I said to that voice, “I’m not listening. I am going to do my presentation. I’m going to do what I can, and afterward, maybe I’ll evaluate it.” That’s where my life completely changed.
I still hear that voice. But you know what? Once I am done with something, I am allowed to think about it for a day and then I let it go. Sometimes that’s really hard.
You also mention in the book that a lot of times you judge what you’re doing really harshly, whereas people from the outside can’t tell the difference between the work you do when you were depressed and when you’re not depressed.
Absolutely, and by judging your work while you’re depressed, you’re not judging your work. Depression is judging your work. And its not a good judge. It’s mean. It wants to kill you. It’s not a reliable source.
You also recommend getting help from friends.
Sit next to somebody and do your work. I can’t begin to say how wonderful that is. You just go to a coffee shop or go to each other’s house, put on your headphones and do your work sitting across from each other. You don’t have to talk the whole time. But you’re both working. That’s made a huge difference.
I have a goal buddy and we sometimes spend the whole day checking in with each other every hour.
And people from the outside might say, “Every hour! What? You can’t just get through your day?” And I am like, “No. I am not like you. I cannot get up and go to a 9 to 5 job and run a company. It’s hard enough for me to just get out of bed on some days.” So I think that’s another idea. You put yourself in a place you can work and you literally have to be with people when you’re having your tough days, so you can watch them work or you see each other work. You can even have a day where you get together and it’s query day. In other words, you’re going sit down and write your queries, and then blast them out where you need to. You make it fun and you get the queries out. Or e-mail day: Sit down and you do your e-mail together.
I think you just need to find ways that work for you.
But one thing that works for everybody is getting help. If you have the money, hiring somebody is an unbelievably smart thing to do. And you can hire someone who makes their money back by getting you work. A lot of people don’t think about that. Lets say you hire someone to get you a job that you normally would not do –who cares if you’re paying the person 25 percent of your fee?
Now I know that works for you in terms of books and e-books, but what about for magazine writers?
Of course it would work. Think about it. Lets say you’re getting a thousand bucks for a magazine article. If you pay somebody to get you that article, you might not get the whole thousand dollars, but if you’re sick, you’re not going to go for that article anyway. I would rather pay someone to get me the article — to query, to call, to do what they can, and then I write it and make the money — than to make no money at all and feel down on myself. The people who understand contract work and understand consultants and how they can help you make money will hire those people.
But you can do that for each other, too. Let’s say instead of spending money, you can have a group of writers that you put together where you get each other work or you get on the web and do your research together. I am really big on researching in order to sell articles. You can do that as a group.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I want to inspire people that you can work no matter what. We all have our mood challenges and so on, but as freelance writers, things have changed. I teach a class right now called Writing for Profit on the Internet. I start it next week. I am assuming there will be a lot of people there. There are opportunities out there on the web that you can get paid for that a lot of people don’t even know about. They don’t know how to search for them. For example, using article marketing to promote yourself and get more business. And you have to learn search engines and search words and become an e-media writer these days. So we’re basically e-freelancers, is what it is now.