How to keep psychologically healthy as a writer

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Writing is not traditionally linked with great mental health (at least not in the Gothic era of writing). That’s not to say we’re all raving loons, but it would be fair to say that writing fiction tend to bring a considerable amount of mental strain, unless you are one of those blessed people who is able to simply enjoy the process (in which case you don’t need me)

On the plus side this does allow me to dive into two of my favourite subjects at once!

I’m going to discuss why I think writing does tend to drag on the soul, a few specific times I think aspiring writers especially struggle with, and tend talk about some tips for dealing with it all.

So why do I think writing is associated with this?:

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First of all I better mention that I don’t think that all writers are on the verge of breakdown, nor do I mean to belittle genuine distress as a mere creative funk linked with fiction. But I do think that writing has some risks. In no particular order…

Serious writing is a long-haul effort.

Between writing, editing, rewriting, querying/submissions, promoting waiting realizing that your current work doesn’t ‘work’ writing is more than a marathon. Writing is a multi-year tramp with unclear trails, no huts and destinations unknown. That’s not to say that writing is all horrible, after all I kind of would like to gallivant around with no destination, rather to point out that like any long term project it takes energy and it will be draining which brings me to a related point.

There isn’t a tonne of reward for writing.

Now I feel like all of these statements need caveats and ‘here me out’ type statements. Writing has some amazing rewards, it can be really fun to produce words when people do like your stuff it rocks and getting acceptances and whatnot is awesome. But on the flip-side we all know rejection is an inevitable part of the journey. And often the time taken to get to some of those good feelings is interspersed with long periods of nothing more than the battle with our own motivation/procrastination.

Writing is very personal for us, yet impersonal for everyone else.

That’s not saying the world is full of meanies. The world is in fact full of hopeful writers, and the truth is as a reader when I pick up other people’s work I rarely have any idea of how much heart and soul when into the work fro the author. To the reader a story is just words, words that may well spark an amazing experience, it’s just exclusive from the personal experience of the author. It’s grueling to put work out there, and there is no feelings buffer to keep us protected from other’s responses.

Now there are probably dozens of other reasons that writing can be hard on our heads, but I just wanted to present a few times that I think writing really challenges aspiring authors before actually trying to help rather than describe said torture.

In my experience the most painful times for aspiring writers are:

  • Finishing the first (ever) novel draft: you’d think we’d be filled with joy and achievement after hitting this milestone, and I’m sure some lucky songbirds are. However for many writers this is where one of the deeper despairs hit. I think it has something to do with realizations – realizing that the story probably isn’t going to make you rich, that whatever the next steps (rewrites, new project) are they are going to be effort-full
  • Seeing your idea already done. A whole post could be devoted to talking about this topic so I won’t dive into how to handle this, just pointing out that to many writers ideas are precious and to see them already presented is considerably heart-breaking
  • Getting a first critique, criticism or negative reaction. Do I really need to explain.
  • Finally looking back over a brief break from writing and realizing you’ve been on a 12 month+ hiatus.

I’m sure these aren’t universal but I have a hunch other writers will know what I’m talking about.

Enough of all that, what about the psychology stuff that I’m supposed to be spouting?!?

Alright in no particular order I am going to throw some less writerly and more pro advice your way, just remember this is general stuff not intended as personal or specific psychological advice. To keep that brain healthy:

Don’t put life on hold.

I hear many people considering quitting work, shutting down friends and generally making sacrifices in other areas for writing. You can’t always avoid compromising if you want to advance your writing, but never put other parts of your life on hold for it. To be resilient you need multiple sources to draw strength from. I’m not saying you need be a superhuman achieving high in every aspect, but as mentioned above writing is long haul job and you’re going to want something else in your life to enjoy along the way.

Be compassionate with yourself.  

Let’s face it, we all want a Rowling like universe, or a Tolkien like legacy, or the reputation of GRR Martin (wow I am way too into fantasy). However sometimes our dreams backfire by making us feel inadequate when we don’t reach them. If you do find yourself beating yourself up for not hitting a best-seller list yet, try to change your perspective from one of ‘why haven’t I got there yet?’ to ‘How can I support myself to continue my journey?’

And finally my favourite piece of advice, which is going to take a bit of convincing:

Acknowledge that your words aren’t you, or and extension of you and accept that they are just words on a page that you put there.

This might sound like anathema to some (“But my writing is my everything!”). I’m not saying don’t have feelings about your writing and the process, but also realize that words are just that. For example I’m quite tired writing this post and I daresay there will be some gobbledygook somewhere among the post. So while I feel like passionate about the subject and genuinely want to connect with folk on the topic, I also accept that ultimately what people get is just words, and those words may contain errors, not exactly communicate what I expected or have unintended effects.

So when Joe Bloggs1983 comments that he thinks this is the worst piece of work he’s read since anything, I’d be annoyed that maybe my words didn’t work out, but I wouldn’t wonder if maybe I was also the worst thing since anything.

I could probably pontificate on this topic forever, however it’s important to consider that a post on maintaining psychological health should actually support said health but not dragging readers through an endless article, to round off it would be great to hear from you!

What parts of writing do you find hurt your brain the most?

Any tips you use to keep healthy and well?

Any clarifications needed on the above points?

Keep well team!

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