Protecting Your Mental and Emotional Health

Writing careers have ups and downs. The downs often feel like plunging into a dark abyss, while the ups are tiny anthills, few and far between. 2016 was not my favorite year for writing. (It was also not my favorite year for a bunch of other reasons, but I digress). My goal of selling another manuscript did not happen, though plenty of rejections did. I didn’t finish even a rough draft of the shiny new story idea that seemed so promising.

I failed.

Cue the tragic violins, the self-loathing and despair. Writing sucks and I suck and I quit everything, the end.

When fellow contributor Emily R. King emailed a few weeks back to ask about our writing highs of the year, I didn’t reply because I was embarrassed. I talked myself into believing that I hadn’t done a single productive thing the entire year.

But it isn’t true. I was so busy beating myself up mentally that I forgot about the stuff I did accomplish: I finished and revised a totally separate manuscript. I revised another, older manuscript that was close to my heart. And I completed a month-long marketing campaign for the paperback release of my novel that was way, WAY out of my comfort zone–and I didn’t die!

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We take this writing gig so seriously, take it to heart so deeply. It’s hard to separate it as just a job because the act of creation is so personal. And it’s easy to focus on our perceived failures for the very same reason.

Depression casts a long shadow over this profession. So many of my writing friends struggle with it. My own diagnosis in 2015 made me realize how critical it is to seek help. Treatment drastically improved my quality of life. In some cases it may even save a life.

But there are other threats to our emotional and mental well-being. They can take many forms, chipping away at our most vulnerable defenses. Every day I wrestle with three in particular: jealousy, isolation, and the fiction of failure.

Jealousy

The green-eyed monster ate me up in 2016, I’m ashamed to say. It is a foul, drooling, greedy beast. It skews reality, comparing the worst of ourselves with the best of everyone else. And then that word, that evil little word, becomes a daily mantra: fair. It’s not fair. It feeds on all the genuine happiness you feel for your friends’—and strangers’—successes, and twists it into something ugly but all too human.

Social media has made it possible for us to feel envy 24/7. All that good news, just a click away! But there is an easy fix. Take a break. Turn it off, even just for a day or two. When I do this I feel an immediate sense of freedom and peace, allowing a calmer, more rational perspective to prevail.

Isolation

By and large, we writers are an introverted lot. Our profession involves sitting alone in front of a keyboard for hours at a time, and we like it that way. But when we emerge from the fog of writing, we need a support system: people who ground us, who love us, who keep us sane so our writing can come from a healthy and productive place.

Whether it’s a spouse, a writing group, a parent, a neighbor, or even an online forum, there is no substitute for someone who will be there to listen and support us no matter what. They remind us that our writing, at its glorious best and moldering worst, is not us.

The Fiction of Failure

Deep inside my mind is a cruel, clever voice that insults me every waking hour of the day. Sometimes it whispers. More often it shouts, drowning out all rational thought. One of its favorite topics is the many and varied ways that I’ve failed at writing. But it’s just as happy to bring up regrets, fears, personal appearance, and pretty much any inadequacy real or imagined.

If we have no defenses in place to counteract this voice, pretty soon we start to believe it.

We can arm ourselves with ammunition against the lies. Compliments that others have paid. Milestones we’ve achieved. Strengths we possess. Write them down if necessary—maybe a sticky note on the computer, or a giant poster on the wall. Yes, the voice is crafty. Yes, it has a gift with words.

But so do we.

Above all, we must be kind to ourselves. Goals are guidelines. They are not measuring sticks to tally up all our shortcomings—and they are not weapons to beat ourselves over the head with. Best of all, they are not set in stone, but can be altered to suit the changing circumstances of our writing lives.
_______________________________

Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

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