What writers can do to care for their mental health
Mental health is important. But you probably already know that.
Just like you take care of your physical body, you need to care for your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This is what mental health is all about. Mental health awareness is for everyone, and writers are no exception.
The art of writing is generally a lonely one. While most of us writers will have it no other way, because we tend to be usually introverted, that doesn’t mean we’re not susceptible to stress and other related mental health issues.
For some writers, writing is actually how they cope with problems like depression and stress. And that’s a good thing. But sometimes, writing too much can also adversely affect your mental health.
There are also a ton of other things we must look out for if we’re to protect ourselves.
Watch out for the things that can negatively affect your mental health
Not writing enough
As writers, writing is usually what we know how to do best. Even if you’re not that good at it, and are still learning to write better, chances are that it’s something you absolutely love to do.
So when bad habits such as procrastination and lack of commitment are getting in the way of your writing goals, it can lead to guilt and depression. You feel bad about yourself and loathe yourself for not writing enough when you know you should be writing.
I used to feel the same way a few years ago. Though I thought of myself as a writer, I procrastinated so much that I didn’t write as much as I wanted. Don’t get me wrong. I loved writing and I did it when I got inspired. But anyone who has been writing for a long time will tell you that you can’t rely on inspiration if you want to build a consistent writing habit.
So of course, without inspiration, I would go for several weeks or months without writing. And deep inside my mind, I hated it. I always felt like I was missing something. I would be restless, guilty, angry with myself, and feel depressed for a long time.
It was only after I made a conscious effort to be committed and consistent with my writing that I overcame this depression and felt much happier.
Writing or publishing too much
What? Did I just contradict myself? I promise I’m on to something here. Stay with me.
When I built a consistent writing habit, I felt better about myself as a writer. I liked how productive I was until one day, I just crashed and burned.
I had put this unrealistic expectation on myself to write and publish every day. I don’t mind writing every day. In fact, that’s a habit I find hard to break. But publishing every day was a no-no.
Publishing every day meant that I had to write, edit, and publish a story all on the same day. This put me under a lot of pressure, and I even started dreading it.
Be mindful of how much you write and publish. Just because you have to be consistent doesn’t mean you should do it to the detriment of your mental health. Schedule a time that works best for you.
Another important thing is to stick with the number of publishing platforms you can handle. Don’t try to be everywhere if it’s not working for you. When I started out, I was publishing everywhere.
I was publishing on my website, Medium, Substack, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook… everywhere. I thought doing that will help me reach a wider audience. It didn’t. But it did suck the life out of me.
Eventually, writing felt like a chore and I started avoiding it. So of course, since I was no longer writing as much as I wanted, the guilt set in again. I felt like I was going back to my old unproductive ways and that gave me a lot of anxiety.
Yes, it was a mental loop from hell.
Writing consistently is amazing indeed. But define what consistency is for you. If writing every day sucks the life out of you, then don’t do it. Maybe try three times a week, or twice a week. The point is to try and then find out what works.
I write every day but publish at least twice a week. That’s more flexible for me and I feel more at ease with myself.
Not reaching your goals
What are your goals?
Perhaps you want to write your first book or become a full-time writer. Maybe you want a certain number of followers or subscribers at the end of the month. You’re probably targeting a certain income per month or creating multiple streams of income.
These are all amazing goals. You’re working hard to achieve them so you’re optimistic that it’s all going to pay off someday.
What happens when you don’t reach your goals? I mean, no matter how laid-back and optimistic you are, you’ll feel bad about it. Well, feeling a little sad for not reaching your goals is normal. We’re human after all.
The problem arises when it becomes an obsession that takes over your life. You feel like you’re not doing enough, you’re not good enough. So you work even harder and put yourself under more stress. This leaves you frustrated, irritated, and physically and mentally spent.
Don’t subject yourself to this torture. Go one step at a time. Success is more of a journey than a destination. Make yourself enjoy the journey itself so that even when you don’t reach your destination, the journey itself will be the reward.
Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not the end of the world. As long as you’re alive, you can keep trying. And one day, it will surely pay off.
Listening to destructive critiques
As long as you’re a writer who publishes your work, you will be open to all kinds of feedback from people. Some people will be kind, some will be indifferent, and others will be assholes.
There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t control how people think of you. What you can do, however, is grow a thick skin. If not, you’re always going to dread what people think about your writing. This might affect your authenticity, or worse, make you quit writing altogether.
I’ve heard a lot of writers on Twitter talk about how some reviews of their books made them doubt themselves so much that they came close to quitting.
Listen to me, don’t give anyone that kind of power over your life. Ever.
Yes, some critiques are valid. Maybe what you wrote isn’t really that good and the reviewer was honest about it. When someone tells you that your story bores them, that’s absolutely valid. It hurts, I know, but it’s honest feedback.
That said, you should be able to tell the difference between a constructive critique and a destructive one.
Constructive critique seeks to build the writer and help them improve. Critics who give these kinds of critiques pinpoint exactly why they think what you’ve written isn’t that good. If the person is a professional, they may give you some pointers.
Even if the feedback isn’t what you hoped for, a constructive critique will never tear you down as a writer. If the critic didn’t like a character who was supposed to be likable, they will tell you why the character is unlikable.
Destructive critique, on the other hand, doesn’t help the writer in any way. Instead, it tears them down and makes them feel bad.
See, people are assholes like that, and whether you like it or not, there will always be people like that. This is is why you should protect yourself by growing thicker skin.
I know it’s easier said than done. But with more practice, it gets easier. One way to do that, and this has worked well for me, is by never taking anything personally. If someone reviews your work and says rude and disrespectful things to you, remember that it’s more about them and usually, never about you.
Those people have issues. So they go about projecting these issues onto others. Don’t fall for it.
I used to care a lot about what people thought of me. But once I realized that people project their insecurities on you, I stopped caring.
Keeping up with too many writing communities
Writing shouldn’t be a solitary experience.
If you write alone all the time, that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of a writing community, sharing your experience with your fellow writers. That’s actually good for your mental health.
Knowing that there are other people out there going through the same struggles as you gives you a sense of belonging. It encourages you to keep going since others have already done it before.
But what happens when you belong to too many writing communities? Well, that may not be a problem for some writers, and that’s okay. But if juggling between too many online or offline writing communities sucks the soul out of you, then cut down on it and stick with the few that you find most important.
Some communities are also very toxic. You’re exposed to all sorts of bullying, sexual harassment, misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Sometimes, without any warning, some people talk about topics that trigger your trauma. You’re there and you don’t feel right. You’re always on high alert because you’re anxious about what people are going to say next.
Brethren, why are you doing this to yourself? Get out as soon as possible. Nothing in this world is worth more than your mental health.
If it’s toxic for you, cut it out from your life. Period.
Worrying too much about the quality of your writing
Wanting to improve your writing quality is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s that desire to be better that pushes you to keep learning and practicing.
But worrying too much about the quality of your writing to the point of obsession is not healthy.
Maybe, someone cruelly trashed your writing, and now you feel like everything you write is trash. I already told you not to listen to those people. Really, stop.
Everyone was bad at one point in their lives. However, with a lot of practice, they got better. So instead of obsessing over the quality of your writing, just focus on the writing part.
Write short stories. Write novels. Write blog posts. Write poems. Write whatever you want to write. Give yourself permission to be terrible. Have fun writing. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. Just keep writing.
Someday, you’re going to get better. Worrying won’t do anything to improve your quality. It will only give you high blood pressure.
Taking a freelance job blindly
Sometimes because you’re so desperate for a job, you take on a client with little to no investigation. If you’re lucky, they end up being honest clients who honor their part. If you’re not lucky, well, you’re going to lose your mind.
My first paid freelance job was like that. My client tried to take advantage of me by not honoring our agreement. It was a very stressful time for me.
It’s always advisable to let your client sign a contract so you don’t put yourself through all that hassle. Your mental health will thank you for that.
Some clients are great. It doesn’t matter if there’s a contract or not, they will honor the agreement you two had. As for other clients, well, I told you assholes exist in this world. If they had their way, they won’t even pay you.
Don’t put yourself through stress. Investigate your clients and make sure they sign that contract.
What you can do to take care of your mental health
- Don’t be consistent simply for consistency’s sake. Stick to a schedule that works best for you so you don’t burn out. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you miss a deadline. Move on and do better next time.
- Go on long walks and let your thoughts wander. Feel nature and let it feel you. It keeps you calmer.
- Spend quality time with your loved ones. Whether family, friends, lovers, or pets. Don’t always get caught up in writing or things other than writing. Spend time with the people that matter to you. It helps you release stress and feel much better.
- You may also write out your thoughts and feelings. If you’re having dark thoughts, put them on paper. Express yourself without apology. I’ve done this a lot and it can be very therapeutic. If you’re not already doing this, try it.
- Pursue new hobbies that give you joy. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not. Just do it simply because you love it. Paint, make music, play games, whatever gives you joy. Pursue it. When I’m too exhausted from writing, I play the keyboard. While I’m not Alicia Keys, I still love it. It’s a good way for me to relax and feel good.
- Take a much-needed break. Yes, it’s good to write all the time. But sometimes, you need rest. Go on a vacation. Sign up for a spa treatment. Or if you’re anything like me, your bed is perfect. Netflix is fine too… and chill, if you want. Just rest.
- Go to therapy if you can afford it. Seriously, everyone needs therapy. There’s nothing stigmatizing about it. If things are taking too much toll on your mental health to the extent that it’s negatively affecting your life, then please consider seeing a professional.
Your mental health is very important. I know I’ve already said this, but it’s worth repeating. Writing is already a lonely experience even for introverts. Well, I don’t speak for all introverts, of course, but this is my personal experience.
Whatever you do to keep yourself healthy mentally, do it. Write more, write less, make more friends, cut off toxic people, listen to critics, don’t listen to them… whatever you do, make sure it keeps you sane.
Again, as I always say, nothing in this world is worth more than your mental health.
So cherish it and take care of it.
Writers and Mental Health was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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Author: Torshie Torto