Take a breath, take a break, and let’s discuss our mental health.
Writing is an emotional and mentally demanding job. Many writers often aren’t full-time writers either, making their lives even more draining by having to maintain another job or two to support themselves.
It’s easy to consider writing a hobby when you’re in this position, deeming it a fun, exciting activity that you love. It’s far easier for those around you to consider it a hobby as well, which can place added stress upon you.
This post doesn’t negate those full-time writer’s out there either, but I’m speaking more on the experience that I have. A position where I work more than forty hours a week, I’m writing a book, I’m marketing another book, I’m trying to maintain a social life, all the while staying on top of my mental health. It’s no easy feat—and shouldn’t be treated as one.
Creatives don’t often have the luxury of being able to come home from our job, lift our feet, and be done for the night. To come up with an idea, create something, market yourself, sell your products to be able to continue to do your craft … all of this is an around the clock gig, making it easy to forget about other obligations and most importantly, forget about ourselves.
It’s almost silly, right? Let me write a book, convince others to buy my book, continue the routine by promoting myself and then let me take a step back and also focus on myself?
I fall into it often. How selfish is too selfish? Am I being kind or rude? There’s two different ways of being selfish, I believe. Either you care about others or you don’t.
Let’s speak on the selfish where we need to take care of ourselves before we can give our best to others.
Mental health should always be a top priority—especially when you’ve suffered from or are suffering through a mental illness. But let’s face it, often times we brush our mental health aside.
I think it’s safe to say, most writers (many creators in general) have dealt with some form of mental illness—most commonly anxiety. But for this purpose, let’s touch base on anxiety and depression.
As creatives, we feel, experience, and live life at a higher emotional level than others, leaving us susceptible to empathizing more. We want to hear people’s stories, we want to know their struggles, some of us probably even want to try and fix everyone’s problems as well. But see, this is all apart of the gig we chose to follow when our brain wouldn’t stop pestering us. It’s almost to impossible to shut it off. A gift we really don’t want to turn off.
In order to be a great writer, you have to be able to empathize. Otherwise your characters will fall flat. Sure, you can write solely about what you know and experience, but there is an entire world of people from different cultures, races, genders, sexualities, experiences and more. If you want to include all people at some point in your stories, you have to be able to understand what they’ve gone through.
This is when your mental health comes into play—if it hasn’t already.
When I create my characters, I do as much research as I can about them. For someone who often writes characters that are gay (as a straight woman), I need to learn, feel, and understand as much about the homosexual community—and LGBT+ community—as I can. But research doesn’t just fall in one category. What happens to the characters? What is the story about? Is there a struggle or a downfall that the character’s goes through?
Yes. Of course there is because then you wouldn’t have a story.
This is the point where I need to be careful. Falling into too much research without taking care of my mental health, can start to muddle the lines between my feelings and my character’s feelings.
Recently, I’ve been researching something quite traumatic. I consumed my late nights reading articles about people’s experiences, their own stories, their recoveries. And then I dived into late night writing where I put all this research into play. I found myself coming home from my day job and throwing myself into the work before taking a breather for myself. Often nights, I’d close my laptop from my bed and immediately fall asleep, with no separation.
This starts to take a toll on you. To the point where I woke up from a nightmare one morning—no doubt experiencing what my character had—and was thrown off all day. I was exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. It didn’t make sense. I was happy. My life was good. I was productive. So why did I feel awful?
Because my character did.
I had taken her feelings as my own. I had started to become her. That if I had taken time to separate myself, it would have been easier to recognize the feelings that weren’t my own.
But it’s a scary thing, especially if you’ve suffered from a mental illness. There’s a fear that it’s happening again. That you’re falling down a path and you aren’t sure which way is safe. It’s scary because it very much so hits you (or well did for me) similarly to how depression can. Slowly, almost unnoticeably, until you’re stuck in bed with no way to get out.
Many can argue that falling this far into your character’s life is great for your work. There’s far too many stories where this is the case. Probably where creatives get the stereotype for being crazy. We hear about it from actors often too, where they try and become the character as much as they can. Sometimes, we can’t help it.
There’s the debate too, whether or not you push through the awful feelings, hoping it’ll help you create more authentically. But that’s a slippery slope too. So where do we draw the line?
It’s hard for me sometimes to recognize writing as work. To understand that writing on a normal day is exhausting and mentally draining. It’s silly that this isn’t a easy thought to understand though. Of course, writing is draining. You’re literally creating an entire world in your head and trying to find words that best capture your vision. And when you aren’t putting words to paper or computer, you are thinking in your mind, you’re writing the story in your head, so when you do have time to sit, it’s faster, more productive. You like to think you’ve worked out the kinks. You must write the character’s as authentic as possible, as if you truly have had similar experiences. And then there’s trying to please every person you can with what you write, which is a task that is impossible.
We need to rid ourselves of the negativity.
We need to let go of words that non-creatives say to us that aren’t helpful.
Writing is a job. It’s a career like any other—whether or not you’re published, you’re full-time or part-time, or you’re doing this as a hobby.
If you’re writing, you’re working your mental and emotional energy. It cannot be disregarded. There’s no way around it.
I know we create these deadlines, sometimes impossible deadlines because we want to create more, please our readers, we have a reason for a certain deadline that can’t seem to be missed.
But let me tell you this, if you continue to push forward without taking care of yourself, you’ll miss those deadlines. Or maybe you won’t, but will you be proud of what you’ve accomplished?
Take a step back, take a few breaths, refocus.
What’s absolutely necessary?
This is not a race. We are all in this together. Let’s support each other. A deadline is just a day on the calendar. Sometimes they are helpful to keep us on track. I know I need them. But also take it with a grain of salt.
A healthier you is a more productive you.