Yes, many writers struggle with mental illness. And no it’s not charming or helpful for our work.
Writers are often stereotyped to be, at the very least, depressed. And (I’m not kidding) there are people who openly say artists HAVE to be mentally ill to create good art. And do you want to know what I think?? mY FULL OPINION IS: NO.
Writing while being mentally ill is hard. It’s not a lot of fun and often it makes us quit, or lose opportunities, or not enjoy something we truly love because it’s such a fight to keep it up. You need support. You don’t need to be stigmatised or told you’re “broken” or told your work is more valuable if you’re struggling or sick.
I have been diagnosed with social/general anxiety and depression. I don’t say much about it online, but sometimes I want to mention it, because it’s helpful to know you’re not alone. We writers tend to look at other’s work and think, “Yeah they have it together and I never will.” Haha h HAH AH HAHA. No, my friend. I am just a constant silent scream.
So SHOUT OUT TO YOU. I think you’re doing great. And if I may share some things that have helped me…
Tips To Help You Keep Writing If You Have A Mental Illness
For me personally, my brain likes to delete everything good that ever happens. This sucks, but I don’t think it’s fully our fault. So I collect good things. Nice comments about my work. Tweets of people flailing. A really super epic thing my agent said. A beta reader’s comment.
Print them. Stick them to your wall. Put them in a folder on your laptop. DO IT.
This is not narcissistic. And I was about to say “this is not pride”…but actually: BE PROUD.
Recently I had an excruciating round of edits. I ended up with 7 pages of edit notes and this insurmountable dread that I couldn’t do this. I must’ve failed so so bad for my book to need this much work, right??? Well, for starters: no, brain! No! Making something better doesn’t always mean the last version was trash. But that aside, what I did was: I picked out the comments on my edits that were super encouraging and I enlarged them, printed them, put them on my wall.
I have a note that says “Your writing is brilliant here” —> That is the comment I look at when I’m feeling like a pile of stale crumbs.
Um, yeah, you still need critiques. You are not going to be a great writer until you get them. (TRUST ME.) Now you already know your brain is going to buckle when you get told what sucks, so pace yourself! Actually prep your brain with coping mechanisms!
Keep these in mind:
☆ don’t get TOO many opinions all at once
☆ you will overwhelm yourself and then turn into a potato and fall into a muddy paddock and ne’er return
☆ 2-3 critique partners/betas is a good idea (I like to have 1 who’ll fangirl + 1 who’ll be tough….balance!)
☆ do not work on critiques the second you get them back!! leave it a few days, a few weeks! mull on them!
☆ be teachable, because you seriously didn’t get it perfect on the first try
☆ NO ONE GETS IT PERFECT. YOU’RE NOT A FAILURE
☆ look at critiques as an opportunity to spend more time with your favourite characters
☆ eat between 2 or 9 cakes
While I do love the #ownvoices movement, I think it brings this expectation to write your own experiences. You do not have to if you don’t want to. There is a need for your voice, your story, your experience on the topic! Of course! But you are actually free as an artist to art about whatever you heckin’ want.
I almost always write anxious characters. But the first time I decided to address anxiety with a label and treatment? My 27th writing project.
Writing your experiences can be (a) triggering and send you backwards, (b) exhausting, and (c) a lot of pressure. So you don’t owe anyone your experience, but do share it if you want to!
I have seen people say “No one will publish me because I have X illness.” And look…there are awful agents out there and narrow-minded publishers. Good writing and good authors get snubbed because they’re “too different”. Not denying. It’s not fair and it’s not right either. People gatekeep and diverse authors and books are often turned away because “oh we already have one of those”. (As if every book is the same?!)
But also: Writing is hard for everyone. I mean really hard. I’ve thought of my atypical brain as a reason I haven’t gotten an opportunity. (My first book didn’t sell. It got thoroughly trunked. A Thousand Perfect Notes is the 16th book I wrote and my 2nd attempt at getting published.) But I do think. more often than not, mentally ill authors have the same fails other authors do: bad timing and our writing needing to get better.
There’s a difference between “no one gets my writing” and “my writing needs to get better.”
The point is: when your brain says “this is too hard because of who we are” = your reply is needs to be refusal. You’ve got this.
There is always that feeling that you have to do “this and then this” to be a writer. I can thoroughly promise that you don’t. Don’t let someone tell you that you have to write every day or use this-and-this writing program or plot with the snowflake-method, etc. etc. Try a ton of methods and skip what you hate.
Do you need to write 500 words and lie down? DO IT. Do you need to write 200 words at a time? THAT’S FINE! Does it take you a year to finish a draft? AT LEAST YOU FINISHED IT!
There are so many ways to get to your goal.
I see so many writers say “I can’t do this anymore I quit.” When what they really need is a break. A decent break. I have been one of these writers, don’t worry! I stopped writing for about 6 months. Then I went back because ohhhh look at that…I just needed time off. Maybe it takes you longer if you’re struggling with overload and overwhelm, but give yourself that grace.
So before you get to “I quit”, try:
☆ taking a break!
☆ don’t write or think about writing for at least a month
☆ refill your creative tank
☆ if you need time off??? you take it. you don’t have to do everything all at once
☆ what if you ate a lot of waffles. I’m not saying it’s the cure but I’m not saying it isn’t…
☆ no one should be working all the time
☆ if you still “need” to be working or you panic (I get that!) then try doing something else: plot a new fun story, listen to some different music, write “bloopers” into your story (these are fun!!) or switch up your writing routine
☆ get someone to flail over your characters. 10/10 this helps
☆ raise a kraken as your son
This is my #1 advice for any writer at any time. Write tons of books. It doesn’t matter if some are hellishly ugly. Write more and more. You get better by practising. I know this feels like an insurmountable request at times (mental illness often comes with feeling so exhausted from just trying to live) so remember no one is asking you to write a million words today. Or even tomorrow.
But don’t throw it because it’s not working. EVERY writer needs to practise.
SHOUT THESE AT YOURSELF EVERY TIME YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN’T DO THIS
- you don’t have to write EXACTLY LIKE YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR to be considered “good”
- just because it’s not good now, doesn’t mean it won’t ever be
- yes your brain will self-sabotage and yes you might be physically incapable of writing for a while…but you can still do this. Even if it’s not right this minute.
- it actually doesn’t matter how long it takes you to achieve your goal
- holding your own book is 5000000% better than you even can imagine. THINK ABOUT THAT. YOU CAN GET TO THIS.
- the internet shows you a lot of success stories but I guarantee those authors bled and wept too
- a ton of your favourite authors are also struggle with mental health! These authors are open about their journeys with mental illness online: VE Schwab and Katrina Leno have anxiety, Maggie Stiefvater and Adam Silvera and John Green have OCD, and Patrick Ness has depression/anxiety.
- remember to love writing (I know that’s hard) but sometimes it’s actually the perfect escape from your own spiralling thinking to some place where you can control the adventure
- your story IS important!! no one can tell it like you can.
- you got this because you’re kind of made of magic
don’t feel pressured to share your mental health struggles if you don’t want to! but if you do…feel free to add your tips in the comments! what keeps you writing? do you write about your mental illness or do you prefer not to?