Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Mental Health for Writers

As creatives, it's easy to remember that our ideas and writing ability all come from the wellspring of the mind. What's less easy to remember, is the importance of caring for our mental health so that we can continue to create to the best of our ability.

Mental Health Matters for Writers

Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." We want to be excellent writers, and becoming a great writer doesn't happen overnight. We write in fits and spurts, and repeatedly try, day in and day out, to flesh out scenes, analyze character development, and form a meaningful story, one word at a time. We create stories with the help of a few tools—keyboards, paper, screens—and the most notable of the tools at our disposal, the mind itself. 

Quill and ink. Typewriter, ribbon and paper. Word processor. All of these tools are helpless to write anything of value without a proficient and creative mind at the helm.

But the mind is a unique structure, and mental health can be impacted by many habits that we think are common or acceptable for writers. Sitting for hours on end, typing away as we stare at a screen? Pulling all-nighters to marathon sprint to the end of NaNoWriMo? Caffeine to fuel our creativity? Criticizing our work and our ability? All of these can easily lead to stress and both physical and mental health decline, which in turn affect our ability to write.

I see it in my own life in various ways. Stress impacts my mental health, and I've found that if there's a situation at the office, I'm too distracted and anxious to be creative. Life situations, like a move or the death of a loved one, can weigh me down and I find myself writing more lyrical purple prose, if I find time to write at all! Even chemistry can play a role in my mental health. Too much caffeine can make me fidgety and I can't concentrate.

It is important to care for our minds and bodies so that we can be our best writing selves. Some of the areas to focus on include:

  • Healthy diet 
  • Exercise
  • Proper sleep
  • Social support
  • Routines and schedules
  • Fresh air
  • Emotional support and mental perspective
Perhaps you have all of these aspects in balance in your own life. Only you know what you need to focus on, but an awareness of unhealthy habits, and areas of focus to improve those habits, is the first step. 

Writing About Mental Health

Writing about mental health can be a tricky thing. Those with mental illness don't enjoy the stigma of being characterized as "crazy" or "irresponsible" in media misrepresentation. But that doesn't mean that we should avoid the topic. If it is something we'd like to write about, we can take some steps to ensure that we create healthy media representation can bring positive awareness and greater inclusion for those with mental illness. 

As writers, we can set the stage:

  • Awareness: Be aware of the potential for creating or reinforcing a negative stigma in your writing. Also, consider why you are writing mental illness in your story. Are you forcing it into your story merely for the sake of inclusion? Do you have a sincere desire to write about a real or fictional character with mental illness or just the topic of mental illness in general? 
  • Sensitivity: Consider how you'd want to be represented if you had the mental health condition you are writing about. Mental illness affects as many as 1 in 5 teens and adults in the United States, so it's important to write as accurately sensitively as possible. 
  • Research: If you don't suffer from the mental illness you are writing about, study the most up-to-date research on the subject. This ensures you're using the best vocabulary, definitions, and treatments in your writing. Whether you're writing historical fiction or non-fiction, still do your best to be accurate. Then interview people with the condition you're writing about. They can help you paint a more accurate picture of what it is like to live with the condition and the challenges that are the most prevalent in their lives. *During this month's meeting, we were fortunate to have a member of our chapter share their experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID. We learned a lot about proper terminology, instances where DID is addressed in the media in positive and negative ways, and more.
  • Sensitivity Readers: It is vitally important that you seek sensitivity readers who can provide you with accurate feedback. Seek critiques from a few people that have the condition you are writing about and ask them for an honest opinion to enlighten you. This will help you to correct any misinformation or anything else that might come across as offensive.

These are just a few of the important topics regarding mental health for writers. Take an introspective moment and think about what mental health means to you as a writer. 

Happy writing!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.