Mental illness doesn’t take a break for the holiday season. With just one more day until Christmas, I understand it can be an extremely trying time for those with Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia and other illnesses.
I hope you don’t feel guilty if you’re just surviving, day by day, if you’re just getting by. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not merry and bright, if you don’t feel up to forcing some holiday cheer around the family.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or ideation — I want you to know that I’m proud of you for still being here. I know how hard it is to simply survive with these kind of thoughts. I hope you find something, anything, worth living for, even if it’s as simple as a good book or enjoying your favorite movie (mine has to be the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors with Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene). I keep a list of things worth living for in my planner, as well as a list of the things, activities, and people I love. When those pesky suicidal thoughts start to creep in, I take out my lists and look over them as a reminder. As Juliette Lewis said, “The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.”
No matter what your battle is, no matter where you are in that battle, just know that you have at least one person who is proud of you. Because I’m there. I’m with you. I’m in your shoes.
I hope you do more than survive some day; I hope you thrive in spite of your illness. But for right now, I hope you simply get through the holidays.
Character motivation. It’s an important part when creating a character, especially your protagonist or antagonist (if you have a physical antagonist), as this is what will drive your characters’ actions. Now, your character’s motivation doesn’t have to remain the same throughout the story. It can change as your character learns and grows with each major plot point.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a useful tool when crafting motivations. It’s commonly referenced when talking about character motivations. For a more in-depth read of these needs, head on over to ThoughtCo.
Tier 1 covers physiological needs, including water, food, warmth or shelter.
Tier 2 includes safety needs, such as the need for financial or emotional security, or the need for freedom from fear.
Tier 3 is the need for love and belonging, including friendships and intimate relationships.
Tier 4 covers the need for esteem, like the need for a feeling of a job well done, a sense of accomplishment.
Tier 5 is for self-actualization, the need to achieve one’s full potential, whether that includes hobbies or a career. It’s what drives us to do better in both our jobs and our creative abilities.
The movie Legally Blonde is a great example of strong character motivations. If you’ve never seen Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon, I highly recommend it. Not only does it portray strong character motivations and the plot is constructed well. If you want a fantastic explanation of the three-act story structure, head on over to K.M. Weiland’s The Secrets of Story Structure (Complete Series) at Helping Writers Become Authors. She not only explains all the important plot points in a three-act structure, she gives fantastic examples from film (such as one of my favorites, It’s a Wonderful Life).
But, enough about plot structure. We’re here to talk about character motivations.
Legally Blonde starts out with Elle Woods, a blonde, seemingly ditzy, well-to-do fashion major and president of her sorority, Delta Nu, getting ready to be proposed to by her boyfriend, Warner, who is preparing to head to Harvard as a law student. At least, she’s expecting a proposal. Instead, he dumps her, based on his own motivation to be a senator by 30. He explains to her that he needs to “marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn.” Warner’s breakup with Elle is the Inciting Event.
Elle is absolutely devastated and heartbroken at being dumped. Her friends try to cheer her up by taking her to get her nails done. There, at the salon, Elle flips through a magazine while waiting her turn. In the magazine, she sees Warner’s older brother and his new fiancée, a first-year Yale law student. She realizes a law student is what she “needs to become” in order to win back Warner. Here, we see the Key Event.
With renewed determination, she sets out learning how to get herself into Harvard Law as a student. Now, her motivation is to win Warner back. She ends up with a 179 on her LSATs (the highest you can get is 180), and the admission board decides, “Elle Woods, welcome to Harvard.” This is the First Plot Point.
Now at Harvard, Elle goes about trying to get Warner back. Early on, however, she learns that Warner is engaged to his former prep-school girlfriend, Vivian Kensington. She’s doing terribly in her classes, as her focus isn’t on school, but on Warner. Elle overhears Vivian talking about a party and asks about it; Vivian lies and tells Elle it’s a costume party. Showing up to the party in a “bunny” costume, Elle is made fun of by Vivian, but Elle has a smart retort. She then finds Warner, who brings up how busy he is with classes and brings up school. She replies, “Oh, I know, I can’t imagine doing all this and Callahan’s internship next year.” He tells her that she’ll never get the grades to qualify for one of the internship spots, that she’s not smart enough.
“I’m never going to be good enough for you, am I?” she says before walking away. Herein lies the Midpoint. This is a pivotal moment in the movie, as Elle’s motivation changes. She’s determined to prove that she can succeed in law school and that she is smart enough. She buys a laptop, studies hard, and begins to do well in all her classes. She is no longer reacting to being dumped by Warner; she’s taking action to prove herself, showing Maslow’s need for self-fulfillment.
The movie goes on, and Elle is given a coveted spot as one of Callahan’s first-year interns helping out with a murder trial. I won’t give away the ending, for those of you who have never watched it, as we’ve already covered the two main character motivations of Elle Woods seen in Legally Blonde. To sum up: first, she wants to win back her boyfriend, Warner. When Warner tells her she’s not smart enough, we see Elle’s second motivation: to prove herself in law school.
There’s so much more to this movie than what described above, which is why it’s one of my favorites. It’s structured well, has strong character motivations, and, overall, is just a fun movie to watch.
I recently had a bad depressive episode with psychosis. I hadn’t seen the shadow people since March. Unfortunately, I had to go for another inpatient stay, and I had to go for an unscheduled ECT treatment on top of my medication changes. I’m currently in the middle of an acute rescue series of ECT, with one more scheduled treatment.
The shadow people were watching me for several nights, and they wouldn’t relent. Finally, I got it into my head that if I cut myself, they would go away. It didn’t work. The cuts are healed, and after more than a couple weeks, they’re light enough that I feel comfortable wearing short sleeves in public again. (Although, the temperature is beginning to cool off here in South Carolina, so I’m wearing a cardigan, anyway.)
For a week straight, I wanted to die. My husband hid all my pills but one dose at a time. I also had him hide sharp objects. The intrusive thoughts of hurting myself were nonstop. I barely focused on work when at the office. This is the reality of my life. Finally, two Thursdays ago, I planned on stopping by the local pharmacy on my way home from work and picking up a bottle of acetaminophen to overdose on. I texted my husband from work to tell him, and he took me to the local inpatient psychiatric hospital to check myself in.
I was there for a week, which happens to be one of my shorter inpatient stays. There have been times when I’ve been inpatient for two weeks at a time, so I consider myself lucky this time. My inpatient psychiatrist recommended an acute rescue series of ECT, as I respond well to the treatments. They help tremendously. It’s hard to say if it is the increased dosage of medication or if it’s the ECT that’s helping more. Either way, I’m glad to be feeling back to myself (without hallucinations).
Right now, I’m not allowed to drive during the acute series and for two weeks after. It’s a pain having to get my husband to drive me everywhere when I need to go anywhere. But it’s a small price to pay for feeling better. I would never wish my hallucinations on anyone.
August 20th marks 12 years of sobriety from alcohol and pain pills for me. I was 21 when I went to a three-month outpatient rehab program for my drinking and drugging. I remember the withdrawals. Vomiting the morning after as my body reacted to the drugs leaving my system. I remember the cravings. Being unable to resist that next drink, that next pill, that next high. Towards the end of my drinking career, I was drinking daily. And not just one or two drinks. I was blackout drunk every night.
But I’ve been sober since August 20th, 2008. I took my last drink August 19th, 2008, at a bar called The Alley. After my psychiatric hospitalization post-suicide attempt, the facility signed me up for the outpatient rehab program for drugs and alcohol. I agreed, desperate for any kind of relief from the chaos that was inside my head. Within the first couple of weeks, the rehab facilitator told us that less than 25% of us would remain sober, that most of us would relapse. Hearing that I might relapse sparked a fiery determination inside me. I decided, right then and there, that I wouldn’t be another statistic. I wasn’t going to relapse. I started going to twelve-step meetings, got myself a sponsor, began collecting chips to mark my time in sobriety. 24 hours. 1 month. 2 months. 3 months. 6 months. Time went on, and I didn’t pick up a drink or pop a pill.
Since then, I haven’t picked up a single drink. I even use the alcohol-free brand of mouthwash. I don’t eat foods cooked in alcohol, as cooking it doesn’t completely burn off the alcohol; you have to flambé it to completely remove the alcohol content. I refuse to take benzodiazepines (such as Xanax) for my anxiety, as they affect the same A-1 receptors in the brain as alcohol. Granted, I have to have Versed, an intravenous benzodiazepine, post-ECT treatment, otherwise I freak out when I wake up from the anesthesia.
There are still times I wish I could drink like a normal person. There are still times, 12 years later, that I get cravings for alcohol, urges to chase that old high once again. But it’s just a good reminder that I’m an alcoholic and addict, that I can’t drink normally, that I have to take extra steps to guard myself from that first drink. I love sobriety, but I must always be aware that my demons are lurking in the corner, waiting for a moment to strike. I must never become complacent.
There are many different style guides per country. But what is the purpose of a style guide? Consistency and clarity. They maintain a standard style of writing. You’re probably already familiar with Modern Language Association’s handbook or “MLA”, as it is commonly used in academic writing. There are, however, other commonly used style guides, depending on the type of writing you’re doing.
The Chicago Manual of Style If you’re writing a book, editing in the publishing industry, or are a publisher yourself, this is your go-to. The Chicago Manual of Style is currently on its 17th edition and is the standard for publishing fiction and non-fiction books. For a watered-down version of CMOS, check out Turabian Style, which is aimed at students writing academic papers.
The Associated Press Stylebook Better known as “AP Style”, this style guide is used frequently in journalistic settings. It’s essentially the media bible for newspapers, magazines, and broadcast writers. We even use it at my work in the marketing industry. The aim of the Associated Press Stylebook is to keep writing clean and concise.
MLA Handbook As previously mentioned, the Modern Language Association Handbook is your big go-to for academic writing. It’s frequently used in teaching and gives guidelines for citing sources in research papers. The MLA Handbook has been updated recently to take on the challenges of today’s world, such as web publication, and it is currently in its 8th publication.
The Elements of Style The Elements of Style has been around for quite some time, since 1918, although it was revised later by Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White. Its aim to for writers to craft clean, concise prose, without all the fluff. Brevity is the name of the game. The guide itself is short and to the point, and it is beloved by many authors and writers.
While there are other style guides out there, the above are your main four (for U.S. style guides, at least). Many of these guides are available online, meaning you don’t have to reference a big, heavy book whenever you’re writing or editing.
Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was misdiagnosed with Major Depression when I was 16. It was my very first episode, and it lasted for months. I started self-harming and began to have suicidal thoughts.
Let me back up a bit. I was a varsity swimmer. Breaststroke was my specialty. I made the Varsity team by the time I was in eighth grade, and when it wasn’t summer training or the fall swim season, I was on the local YMCA competitive team. Between competitive swimming and playing violin in our school’s chamber orchestra, which involved traveling for musical performances, I stayed busy. I loved what I did. I loved swimming. I loved performing Saint-Saëns and Bach and Mozart. I was happy.
But something happened the summer before 10th grade. It was early on during summer vacation; summer swim training had just started. My best friend’s older sister was having a graduation party. I was in a rush; I’d just gotten out of swim practice, and I was rushing through the house to get changed so I could head to the party. I had a bad habit of walking over my bed, as it took up most of my small bedroom. Being in flip-flops, I tripped. My foot or sandal got caught in the sheets of the unmade bed, and I went flying across the room and out the door. I broke my right ankle and sprained my left.
I missed the entire summer training season. My cast was taken off at the end of the summer. I swam the fall varsity season, but I was so incredibly behind. My competition times were terrible. No matter how hard I trained, I couldn’t swim as fast as I used to. Frustration and the first signs of depression began to creep in. The season ended, and as the weeks passed, I grew depressed more and more. I gave up on swimming.
Finally, after months of cutting, I was contemplating suicide one night. I had a bowl of vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles and was sitting on the floor in my bedroom. As I was thinking about different ways to kill myself, I took a bite of my dessert. “This ice cream is good,” I thought to myself. Breaking down into tears, I realized that if I died, I’d never be able to enjoy ice cream again. At that moment, I chose to live.
I didn’t have another episode until college, when I had my first manic episode. Sadly, I ended up attempting suicide for the first time at 21. July 25th, 2020 was the one-year anniversary of my second suicide attempt. I celebrated being alive with ice cream and sprinkles. I’ve learned to appreciate all the amazingly wonderful things in life that I get to enjoy because I’m still alive. Live music. Cooking a delicious meal. Watching a favorite movie. I’m happy to be alive.
If you’ve read my bio page, you already know that I live with Type I Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis. I had my first episode, a depressive episode, when I was sixteen, and was originally misdiagnosed with Major Depression. I started self-harming in the form of cutting to relieve my mental anguish. At sixteen, I wanted to die.
The next few years went by without incident. It wasn’t until college that I experienced full-blown mania. I was delusional, going days on a few hours of sleep, and I experimented with alcohol and drugs. My drinking and drugging, towards the end, got to the point that it was nearly daily binging and withdrawals. Finally, August 19th, 2008, I couldn’t take it anymore. I overdosed. I left a note for my mother that simply read, “I’m so sorry. I need a lot of help.” I was still conscious when she found me. The panic in her voice is still crystal clear in my memory.
After chugging charcoal and spending some time in the ER, I was sent to a psychiatric facility, where I received my bipolar diagnosis, although it wasn’t until several years later that psychosis was added onto my diagnosis. After a week in the facility, I was sent home and signed up for an outpatient rehab program for drugs and alcohol.
I spent the next six years on lithium and a combo of other drugs, which kept me mostly stable. Once the lithium started shutting down my kidneys and I developed hypothyroidism, it was time to go off of it. That’s when trouble started up again and the hallucinations began. I started seeing shadow people in my house, and later began to hear voices telling me to kill myself. I was in and out of the hospital multiple times a year. We tried Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) before Electroconvulsive Therapy was offered. Desperate for relief, I agreed to ECT.
While ECT hasn’t kept me completely stable, it has helped in my recovery. I’ve been going regularly for ECT since 2015 and still go to this day. I had a second suicide attempt in July 2019 while going through a particularly rough depressive episode. Early 2020, I was put back on lithium. A low dose, to see if that would deter some of the side effects I experienced before. I’m still on it, and I’m doing well.
It’s possible to learn how to write. Writing is not some inherent skill you’re born with. Let me correct that — writing well isn’t a skill you’re born with. It takes a ton of practice, patience, and perseverance. You know why well-known authors are famous? Theydidn’t give up. They believed in themselves and their work. J.K. Rowling was rejected countless times before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Now look at the success of the series!
If you’re thinking of getting into creative writing, let me forewarn you: it’s not an easy thing. And, it’s more than a small hobby; it’s a lifestyle. That’s just my take on it, however. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot. Getting a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing helped my knowledge of the craft. Not saying you have to have a degree in it to be successful, just saying it helped me, personally.
Already into writing? Going back to your roots as a beginner can be helpful, I’ve found. I try not to be overly confident in my writing nowadays, like I was when I first starting writing novels. When I finished the very first draft of my very first manuscript, I thought it was a masterpiece. I was so proud to have finally written a full-length novel that I rushed into self-publishing. Looking back on that manuscript, I cringe. It’s now safely stored away in the vaults of my computer files, locked away for my eyes only. Perhaps I’ll revisit it one day.
Practice, practice, practice. Practice is essential. Think of the adage “Practice makes perfect.” It’s almost like playing a sport or a musical instrument — you have to practice if you want to be any good at it. You don’t just wake up one day as Joshua Bell and play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61 on a multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin. The same principal applies to writing. You have to practice writing to grow as a writer.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Good writers write each and every day. They don’t wait for inspiration to strike; they just sit down at their computer (or tablet, notebook, etc.) and just get it done. If you wait for inspiration, you may be waiting for a long time. I’ve found that figuring out my plot structure before I start writing a story helps me get moving a little more quickly.
Read. A lot. As the great Stephen King put it, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.” Being a good reader is essential to being a good writer. Writing in a particular genre? Read that genre. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to limit yourself to that genre — variety is the spice of life — but be sure to read in your chosen genre.
Have some patience. A quality story won’t just happen overnight. Writing a book is a long haul. A good novel takes lots of rewrites and editing, and that’s all part of the writing process.
Start out small. This goes along with practice. Don’t start out trying to compose your opus magnum. Start out small. Try writing short stories or scenes, or play around with building worlds or characters.
Try to set aside time each day for writing. By making writing a regular habit, it’s easier to stay in the groove of it. I know, I know. Some days, life just gets in the way. It happens to all of us. But no matter what, try to write each and every day.
Set goals. I find it helpful to have a word goal when I sit down and write, as opposed to writing aimlessly. It gives you something to aim or shoot for. If you’ve never done (or attempted, at least) NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo, try it sometime! It’s an easy way to set simple goals for a month at a time.
Play around with POV. Try writing in various styles and POVs to find your groove. The first manuscript I wrote was in first person, preterite tense, but quickly realized I prefer to write in third person limited.