Writing and Mental Health

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A while back I talked about how I had a ton of projects going on, and how what I was writing was inadvertently stressing me out. I didn’t understand it at first. I enjoy writing! Sure I have plenty of writing to do, but why were the threats of running out of time and losing the opportunities in front of me becoming so strong?

I realized that, while time management may be taken care of, I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself when it came to the deadlines I created (or were already there). The same with losing opportunities. I thought if I didn’t take advantage of what I had recently discovered and started working on, be it a writing contest, a submission window, or a fellowship, I would never get the chance to try again. As my writing process began to negatively affect my mental health, I realized I needed to make some changes, but I also realized how writing affects mental health. I want to share what I learned with you, including what to do when your own mental health reels from writing. Here are a few things you can do to support your mental health when writing.

Learn to Let Go

Someone much smarter than I recently told me, “You don’t have to take advantage of every opportunity that’s placed in front of you.”

That’s absolutely true.

Of course, you want to go the extra mile with your work and career, take advantage of opportunities you do come across rather than wait for the fabled “right time.” Writers who are serious about their work need to do so. They need to be proactive and take initiative. But the TONS of opportunities out there are overwhelming. I do mean TONS. If you look up “writing contests” or “literary journals looking for submissions,” hundreds of opportunities flood your screen. Even if you narrow down the niche to “science fiction” or “poetry,” the flood of chances keeps pouring in. You end up asking yourself: What if I tried this? Or this? What if I submitted it here? Or here?

That’s when things get overwhelming. It happened to me. I got super excited after finding all kinds of lit journals and contests to submit to, including writing fellowships and residencies. Maybe I should at least TRY to submit to all of them at least once. But by then I was working on ten projects at once. I started to feel like a failure when I missed a deadline. My writing wasn’t where I wanted it to be.

I realized you don’t have to pursue everything. Just because an opportunity presents itself doesn’t mean you NEED to pursue it. Sometimes you realize you really aren’t the right fit. Other times you simply have too much going on. Take the time to sort out your priorities and (potentially) let a few things go. It might be hard, but you can come back to them later. (No one said you had to apply/write for anyone all within one year and one year only).

Address Time Anxiety

There’s a specific type of anxiety out there I suffer from a lot. It’s called time anxiety. This specific anxiety involves feeling anxious about the passage of time or feeling like you’re wasting time. For me, this usually crops up when I have deadlines fast approaching. I feel like I’m running out of time to write what I want to. Time management kicks in, but I always get the feeling that if I don’t turn something in early, I’ll run out of time.

If you have deadlines set up for yourself, sometimes the best thing you can do is push them back. Take the time you need. It might be longer than what other people do, but everyone’s lives are different. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, pushing a deadline you made back, or readjusting the goal you created so that you have more time.

Also, notice I said address anxiety and not “get rid of anxiety.” It’s not like you can just turn anxiety off. If you recognize when you’re feeling anxious, you can take steps to help yourself. Take control of your projects, and know when you need to stop to take a break. Also, think of ways to de-stress and ease overall anxiety, including breathing exercises or other calming techniques. Just know that a writing career lasts your entire life. Your opportunity to be successful with your writing doesn’t dry up within a year or two.

Know You Are Enough

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to believe that they aren’t good enough to be writers. That their writing will never mean anything and that they should just give up since so many others are doing what they do and they’re likely doing it better. But when you struggle with your mental health, you experience similar mindsets. You also believe that you aren’t good enough for your friends and family, that you aren’t heading in the right direction and more.

First off, don’t compare yourself to others. All writers perform on their own unique paths. Just because a writer is younger, more successful, or just generally “better” than you doesn’t mean you’re a loser and should give up. I had another smart friend say, “Your time will come.” And it’s true. Don’t let these false ideas mess with your writing. Remember that would you do is brave, and that there’s no single path to success.

Step Away

Lastly, like I said before, you don’t need to chase after every opportunity you come across. Every writer is different, after all. However, sometimes stepping away from the projects you have means taking a break from everything you have going on when it comes to writing.

Taking a break isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes your brain needs to decompress, and that means you need to stop thinking about the tasks you have in front of you. A writing project involves a lot of brain power. You need to hone your writing skills, focus on the story and characters, and keep deadlines in mind. Spending too much time on multiple projects and stressing yourself out about getting things done eventually takes the fun and enjoyable aspects of your writing away. Take some time for yourself. That might mean getting some sleep, listening to calming music, or even drinking a glass of water.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your brain healthy. If you sense you’re falling into any negative mindsets, ask yourself what you can do to take care of yourself. Keep writing and pursuing opportunities, but do so mindfully. Find a balance between your writing and your mental health.

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