Mental Health for Writers: 7 Ways to Nurture Your Writing Life
Writing is a form of therapy for many, many people.
Yet, writing is also hard. Creating a novel requires a tremendous amount of focus, planning, persistence, and creativity, so it’s no wonder that writers at every stage of their journey are always looking for tips and tricks to make it easier.
Unfortunately, one “trick” in particular tends to stand out—that writers need to feel emotional pain to maximize their creativity. However, not only is this a myth, but the truth is exactly the opposite. At the end of the day, a healthy mind equals a happy, productive writer.
The Myth of the Tortured Writer
- 1 The Myth of the Tortured Writer
- 2 Why a Healthy Mind Equals a Happy Writer
- 3 7 Ways to Nurture Your Mental Health as a Writer
- 4 Go Out and Be Happy!
There’s a myth out there that emotional suffering is the key to a writer’s creativity—and you can probably guess where this falsehood came from.
Famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Sarah Kane were all well known for their mental health struggles, and stories of their suffering have spread throughout the writing community like wildfire. Since so many writers look up to these literary greats, it’s no wonder they began to emulate them—mental health included.
Yet, in my experience, being depressed makes every part of writing harder.
You probably aren’t sleeping, meaning your mind will struggle to come up with ideas and writer’s block will set in more often. Anxiety will make it difficult to reach out to others, meaning you’re less likely to share your writing or seek feedback.
Finally, as your negative self-image grows, you’ll eventually psych yourself out of writing to begin with—if you’re such an awful person, your writing must not be any good either… right?
The short answer: No.
For starters, depression and anxiety play nasty tricks on the human mind, making you believe things about yourself—and your writing—that simply aren’t true. Over time these negative beliefs feed on themselves and grow until it’s hard to know what’s real or not.
Knowing that, you’d think everyone in the writing community would be very serious about practicing self-care and self-love, but the unfortunate truth is that many writers do the opposite. Since so many people believe in the myth of the tortured writer, it’s not uncommon to hear about writers neglecting their mental health in the name of furthering their craft.
They want to be like Hemingway, and they think emotional suffering is what will get them there.
Why a Healthy Mind Equals a Happy Writer
In reality, your creative ability isn’t dictated by your emotional pain. Neglecting your mental health is more likely to stunt your writing journey than it is to strengthen it, while practicing regular self-care and learning how to respect yourself (flaws included) will only benefit you in the long run.
Still, it’s easy to understand how this harmful belief took hold. Depression and anxiety are more common among highly creative people, whether because writing requires an introspective (and thus self-critical) mindset, or because the hard work and isolation of writing feeds many of these struggles. Fortunately, we can all practice self-care, no matter what our mental health looks like today.
There’s always room for things to get better, no matter how bad they seem now.
While emotional pain may propel you to write for a few days or even weeks, it isn’t sustainable, and the damage it can cause is huge. At the end of the day, being happy and healthy allows you to make writing a consistent, joyful part of your life—and that’s well worth whatever changes you need to make to help yourself thrive!
So, with the New Year almost upon us, I want to challenge you to sit down and reflect on your mental health.
No matter where you are mentally, think about what you could do to nurture your happiness along with how you could shift your writing habits to support not only a productive writing lifestyle, but a mentally healthy one as well.
7 Ways to Nurture Your Mental Health as a Writer
Below I’ve listed seven options that have worked in my life and the lives of others, but there are as many ways to care for your mental health as a writer as there are writers. At the end of the day, this will take some self-reflection and patience, but I hope at least one of the seven methods below gives you a jumping off point for your own mental health journey!
As a disclaimer, I am not a mental health professional. The tips below are simply things that have benefited me in my own mental health journey, and that I hope can benefit you as well.
Clinical depression and other mental health conditions are very real, and if you struggle with any of them the first step should always be to work with a qualified therapist or doctor. There’s no shame in seeking help!
Get Some Sleep:
If you’re like me, you tend to be a night owl. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t.
I regularly stay up into the early hours of the morning, either actively writing or because my brain is swirling with ideas for my next project. Problem is, I have to get up at a normal time, meaning I only get a few hours of sleep each night. This lack of quality sleep is a surefire way to feel more stressed and less creative, and can be a major trigger for existing mental health struggles.
Because of this, you should always do your best to make sure you’re getting eight solid hours of quality sleep each night. If you know you need to get up in the morning, go to bed early and give yourself time to fall asleep. Keep phones and other screens away from your bed, and unwind by listening to music or just relaxing.
Everyone’s bedtime routine is different, but by finding one that works for you, you can make a huge difference in your overall mental health through fairly small changes in your sleep habits!
Fresh air and exercise are a great way to keep your body healthy, as well as your mind.
The human body needs fresh air, changes of scenery, and regular movement throughout the day to stay focused and centered. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety often make it hard to go outside and enjoy the world beyond our desks.
While this may take a concerted effort on your part, try to go outside for at least thirty minutes each day. Even if the weather is cloudy or dreary, you can almost always find something beautiful to enjoy with the right mindset—plus, getting out into nature is a great way to boost your mood too.
Better yet, go walking with some friends, meet new people at the dog park, or walk to the neighborhood library!
Spend Time with Others:
Writing is an isolating process by nature. We often have to spend long periods of time stuck in our own heads, and we’re always balancing our desire to share our writing with the fear of being judged.
However, humans are social by nature, whether introverted or extroverted.
Spending quality time with other people is tremendously important for our mental health as writers, along with our sense of community and overall well-being.
So, even if you don’t have other writers to talk with, reach out to some of your non-writing friends. Share what you’re excited about in your life (writing included) and ask about their own passions. Better yet, find a local writing community you can join or become part of an online writing group! No matter where you find your friendships, nurturing them is a great way to not only look out for your friends, but your own mental health as well.
Have a Plan (and Make it Easy):
Whether you struggle with mental health or not, writing a novel can be extremely daunting.
This is why it’s so important to develop a plan for how you’ll write your novel, as well as what needs to get done along the way. However, alongside this long-term plan, you also need smaller goals and tasks you can achieve each day.
These tiny stepping stones might seem insignificant at first—like writing the first paragraph of your draft, then the first chapter, then the first ten pages, and so on—but they allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment and measurable progress. That way, when you start feeling anxious about your writing you can remind yourself that, as long as you meet your small goals, you’ll get there eventually.
Slowly, these small goals will snowball into more and more pages written and drafts complete, until you’ll soon have a finished novel sitting on your desk!
Don’t Edit As You Go:
A big part of your mental health as a writer is being kind to yourself and your writing.
Early drafts of your novel don’t have to be perfect—in fact, they probably shouldn’t be. Instead of censoring your creativity by judging your early work, try to value every mistake you make as one more way you’re letting your creativity flex its muscles.
Once your early drafts are complete, then you can switch to editing.
Editing is where your novel will come together as a finished story, so in the meantime, don’t give in to your inner editor! Instead, respect your mistakes and use them as lessons for how you’ll do better next time. 🙂
Create a Routine:
Creating a routine is a great way to nurture your body’s natural rhythms and help yourself stay on track even when you have bad days.
Once you’ve nailed down a routine that works for you, it’ll slowly become second nature. You won’t have to think about making yourself go for a walk, or cook a healthy dinner, or write a few pages of your draft—instead, your good habits will kick in automatically.
This is why, whenever you’re struggling with mental health, having these routines in place makes it so much easier to care for yourself. Even small things like brushing your teeth or showering can become a part of your routine, making sure you’re continuing to practice self-care even when your mind is in a bad place.
Reach Out to Others:
At the end of the day, sometimes you need help—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
No matter what mental health struggles you face, reaching out to friends, family, a mentor, or a therapist is always worth the effort. When your life feels dark or hopeless, don’t isolate yourself. There are people out there who love and care about you, and who deeply want to see you happy. Not only that, but there are people who know how to help, no matter what you’re facing.
So, if you ever feel desperate or alone, remember to reach out.
Talk to a friend, find a therapist, or call a hotline—whatever you have to do so you can begin healing and living a happier life. There’s no shame in seeking help, and using that help to lift yourself back into a better place is always worth the effort it takes to call someone!
Go Out and Be Happy!
Admittedly, I’m not the best at any of these tips—I stay up too late, forget to go walking for the day, or listen to my inner editor a bit too much. Still, by making a conscious effort to improve, I can feel how much more energized, productive, and happy I am on the days when I do well. Ultimately, it’s always worth your time to care for your mind and body, both as a writer and as a human being.
While there are plenty of famous writers who created masterpieces despite their mental health struggles, those mental health struggles aren’t what made them great writers. It was their creativity and persistence that made them masters—and a healthy, happy mind makes both easier to achieve! 🙂