Guest post by Mairi Sharratt: Writers and depression

While I was taking my brief hiatus from ONS, I received a lovely email from poet Mairi Sharratt, asking if there was anything she could do to help. We chatted a little bit about depression, and how writers seem to be particularly prone to it… and I asked Mairi if she might like to write a guest post on the topic. She got straight to work and came up with this. I think it’s short, sweet and brilliant. See what you reckon:

While Claire took a well earned break she foolishly allowed me free reign to write something at One Night Stanzas. There is always a wealth of subjects to choose from when writing about poetry and I have decided to focus on an all too familiar topic to us all, the unique form of depression that is writer’s block.

Although writing is a solitary pursuit the one thing we will all have in common is at some point in our career we will develop writer’s block. None of us are alone with this problem and frustratingly, for an occupation that prizes originality and leads to self criticism, others writer’s block will always have been bigger, longer and deeper. Henry Roth is reported to have suffered for sixty years, so beat that.

Scientific research suggests that writers suffer from depression disproportionately, compared to the rest of the population. However, we could also conclude that people with a tendency to depression, are more likely to be drawn to writing. It does not take much delving into the “sensitive soul of the artist” theory for it to be debunked. Take a look at the romantic poets. To the uninitiated, a bunch of long haired, sensitive nancy boys. But their drinking, experimenting with drugs and sexual liberation would just be far too much effort to most poets I know, let alone Daily Mail readers!

Dorothea Brande, in her classic — and hard to get hold of — Becoming a Writer, explains writer’s block in much more realistic terms. She describes the writer’s brain as having two sides: one side creative, one side critical. Let your creative side have too much freedom and your poems will not become art, but merely cathartic outpourings which do not respect the readers time. Let your critical side have the same freedom and you will stifle your talent under an avalanche of negativity. To Brande, being a writer is about constantly balancing and rebalancing these different sides of yourself.

You can subscribe to these different theories as you wish, but we also need to acknowledge another factor; life. Whether we are writers or not, we all experience events which can lead to depressions. We experience bereavement; we lose jobs, lovers, friends, health and youth. These experiences don’t make us stronger people – just people, and isn’t that what being a writer is about?

(For more entertaining Writers Bloc check out this collective based at Big Red Door, Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh!)

Mairi Sharratt is a 30 year old poet, who gew up on the Black Isle and now lives in Edinburgh with her husband and young daughter. She works part time in Public Affairs and Public Relations. In a former life she was a performance poet and reached the dizzying heights of performing at the Glastonbury festival. She has since retired from the performance poetry scene and now concentrates on page poetry - so far, with very little success.

Thanks Mairi! What are your thoughts on the topic? Would YOU like to write a guest-post for ONS? If so, drop me a line to, or mention it in the comment box!

(Photo by Compound Eye)

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6 Responses to “Guest post by Mairi Sharratt: Writers and depression”

  1. morganne Says:

    I JUST wrote a paper for my psychology class about this.
    Female poets are the most prone to psychological issues than any other creative type person. Some guy called Kaufman wrote an article called the Sylvia Plath Effect, which sums it up pretty well.

    Also, here is what inspired me to write my paper

  2. Philippa Says:

    What a great post, and very timely. I was also going to mention the Elizabeth Gilbert talk that Morganne did - it was very inspiring, and even core-shaking to a degree. I appreciate the idea that our creativity is something independent of ourselves, subject to the whims of something outside of us, and that can help rather than hinder us.

    Great to see you back Claire :) xx

  3. Mairi Sharratt Says:

    Thanks for the link Morganne

    I certainly think that Elizabeth Gilbert has hit on something. Too often we are trapped by cultural “norms” that can hamper our perception of the world and consequently ourselves. It is very easy to forget that there can be many differing perceptions.

    Her way of look at genius and the creative process certainly puts less pressure on the writer - however it could be more difficult for those of us who are not of a spiritual bent. I shall need to ponder more…


  4. Rachel Fox Says:

    I loved the honesty of the biog details for Mairi. Very refreshing!

  5. Mairi Sharratt Says:

    Thanks Rachel - I didn’t see any point in pretending to be something I’m not. It is true, I am only a anchovy in a salmon pond!


  6. I can’t write « A lump in the throat Says:

    [...] Whenever I have found myself under stress, particularly of the psychological kind I have always found poetry an excellent release.

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