Perhaps the worst thing for any artist can be to experience burnout to the point that he or she stops creating. Taking care of your mental wellness is not talked about as much as it should be. Just like washing your hands, eating well, and getting a good night’s rest, every individual should be practicing wellness strategies that will boost their mental wellness and aid in protecting their mental health. I have listed seven strategies here for strengthening your mental wellness, developed from my work in the mental health field and my personal experience as a writer. I am specifically speaking to writers, but this advice can be applied to people in many other creative fields.
- Share your work with the people you interact with daily. Don’t be afraid to tell people you are a writer! If you spend time dedicated to writing, you’re a writer regardless of talent level. You may think you’ll wait until after you’ve been published to tell everyone around you that you’ve secretly been spending time behind your keyboard pounding out words. But why hide a piece of yourself that is such a big part of who you are? Doing so is putting a barrier up and missing out on the support your peers can give you. Instead, embrace your passion and don’t let your insecurities hide what you love. I hid my writing hobby for a long time. It was easy to share my stories with strangers online, but telling my friends at work felt like too big of a risk. I automatically assumed they’d find my hobby ridiculous or ask to see my work and laugh at the shoddy product I’d spent hours fashioning. But putting on masks can get exhausting, and I still remember what it felt like to start telling people I was a writer – The day I let the barriers come down. Yes, some people might tell you, you’re chasing a fool’s dream. But the people who really care about you will appreciate your openness and want you to succeed. And when you get that rejection to the query letter you revised to perfection more than 30 times, you won’t have to pretend to feel fine.
- Add other local writers/artists to your support system. Without a group of support partners in place, writing (or any craft) will begin to feel like a lonely road. Some ways to network are by attending local workshops, seeking out groups at your local library, searching/posting in online apps like Nextdoor or Meetup, and creating active social media accounts that link you to other artists. If you can’t find a writer’s group to join in your community, consider making one. Other writers are likely in your area and could benefit. You might be a complete introvert (myself and many other writers included) but take the extra steps to ease out of your comfort zone and get the support you need.
- Participate in writerly events and forums online. Having an online presence is not just good for making connections with other writers, but it can also help your writing career. Twitter has a very active online writing community, and I highly recommend all writers get involved. To find other writers on twitter, try searching popular writing hashtags and following people who post things you like or have interesting profiles. You can participate in hashtag games where you post a line of your writing that goes along with the weekly theme. Some of my personal favorites are #2bittues and #1linewed, although there are hashtag games running every day of the week. For more info on daily twitter writing events, I highly suggest checking out the amazing Mica Scotti’s blog on the subject. She updates her extensive list constantly and also posts a calendar of free writing events. I’d also recommend following Brenda Drake’s blog. In addition to being a talented writer, Brenda hosts several writing contests that can not only get your foot in the door with literary agents but can help you connect with other writers on twitter. Many times you don’t have to win the contest to receive feedback on how to improve your writing. If you are a currently querying work, I highly suggest Query Tracker to help keep your queries organized and also to get feedback/advice on query letters and the query process.
- Identify stressors and remove them. What is that thing that constantly grates on your nerves or pulls at the back of your mind when you’re trying to sleep? For me, it was having too many ideas. I wanted to write a new story, but I also wanted to edit my old one. I wanted to start my blog, but I also needed to update my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Plus, my toddler needs a snack, and my newborn needs another bottle and has a dirty diaper. Wait, they both have dirty diapers, and the diaper pail is overflowing. In short, I found myself trying to do everything and ending up completely frazzled. Stress is horrible for all parts of your health and decreases your life expectancy. Don’t believe me? – Read this. If you are experiencing even mild stress, you should work to develop a plan to remove it. For me, it was not allowing myself to do everything every night. I learned both boys were almost always asleep between the hours of 8 pm-10 pm. Whatever I could get done during that two hour time block is what I allow myself to dedicate to my writing time. I try to focus each day on a different aspect of my writing – writing new stuff, editing old stuff, reading fiction, reading non-fiction on writing, and querying/promoting my work. I check my social media accounts on my lunch break at work, right before bedtime, and early morning when I wake up to feed my newborn. I’ve also learned, if something comes up, the writing world will wait. If I want to be around to enjoy the fruits of my labor, I need to take care of me first. So stress management…what are some tips to share on how you handle yours? Share in the comments below!
- Strengthen your craft by setting aside time dedicated toward reading advice from other artists. This one might seem obvious, but many writers struggle to make time for researching the craft due to the need to finish that last draft or hit that daily word count goal. Self-improvement is essential for optimal mental health. If you don’t make time to study your craft, you’ll struggle to be successful, and constant failure will only breed discouragement. Here is one of my favorite books on writing:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – by Renni Browne and Dave King
After reading this book and applying several of its tips, my writing became stronger, and I felt better overall.
Here is a great article that outlines more resources to read for writers: 10 Books that Make You a Better Writer (and why)
What are some of your favorite books that strengthened your craft? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below!
- Take time for hobbies outside of writing. For me at least, writing is an addiction I crave even when I don’t have time for it. But taking time for other hobbies is important. It becomes difficult to draw inspiration if all you are ever doing is writing. And lack of inspiration, can lead to discouragement. Some of my other favorite hobbies include square foot gardening, exploring Pinterest for art projects, creating tessellations, and going on long hikes on mountain view trails. These experiences combine to give me fresh new ideas for storylines.
- Have a coping plan in place for dealing with rejection and bad reviews. It’s important to plan ahead of time when your mind is clear and not thinking irrational or negative thoughts. You’re going to receive rejections and bad reviews. If you haven’t yet, once you become more successful, you will. Have a plan for what to do when bad things happen. Many years ago when I was still teaching, I received the most scathing email from a parent. The email upset me so much, I considered quitting my profession entirely. Thankfully, I didn’t and instead sought advice from a teaching friend. She let me have a good cry and then gently told me the parent was probably having a bad day and transferring her negative energy to me. That was the year I started my “laugh file”. In the years following, anytime I got something rude or unprofessional in my inbox, I’d rub my hands together and think, “Oh, another for my laugh file!” I take those letters out from time to time and laugh my heart out at their ridiculousness. How can people be so rude? My point is, have a way to cope that works for you to get rid of negativity. Have your cry, then find a way to get past it. Whether it’s reading the one star reviews of the most famous authors, watching beautiful people read “mean celebrity tweets” on Jimmy Kimmel, or making yourself a batch of chocolate chip cookies (all some of my favorite strategies!). Find what works for you, and only allow yourself one day to wallow. What are some strategies that have worked for you? Please share in the comments below!
Note: While there are strategies to help prevent illness, every illness is not preventable and should not be seen as such. It is wrong for people to cause someone to feel at fault for having a mental illness, or to ostracize someone from talking openly about it. As a society, we should speak out about this problem.