Writing, like anything creative, can be a really joyful endeavour. We’re letting our imaginations run free, tapping into our inner child, going on adventures. What could be better than that?

Well, it’s also really hard work. And if you’re writing something long, that can be exhausting. You might never get to the end. And if you do get to the end, you might then face rejection after rejection, or worse, stony silence! It’s easy to start thinking that it’s all a big waste of time! Believe me, I’ve been there!

However, over the years, I’ve (mostly) managed to keep a positive outlook, and summoned up the persistence and determination to continue. But better than that, I’ve found ways to stay in touch with my joy of writing.

So I want to share the 8 concrete strategies that have helped me keep my mental health in good shape. I hope you find them equally helpful.

Photo by Wictor Cardoso

8 ways writers can look after their mental health

1. Life’s a journey, not a destination!

One of the simplest ways to tap into the joy of writing is to concentrate on the simple act of writing. As the saying goes, life’s a journey not a destination, and the same is true of writing. Getting work published or produced is very a small part of the journey – and even when you get there, things may not go as well as you hoped. You may not sell many copies, and you might have to deal with bad reviews! So you’d better enjoy the process of putting words onto paper, otherwise it really isn’t worth all the effort it will take you to get there.  

2. What can you control?

We can’t control whether other people will actually like what we write. But one thing we can control is our ability to sit down at the blank page, and keep on working at it. So when you sit down to write, instead of obsessing about all the things you can’t control, like, whether or not it will be a big hit, remind yourself of the task at hand. What’s the one thing you want to work on today? Whether that’s coming up with ideas, writing your first scene, or editing a chapter – let your brain zoom in on that one, single task.

3. Try being mindful

It’s hard to stop ourselves from dreaming about becoming a huge success, but whenever we do that, we take ourselves away from the here and now of writing. If you’re struggling to stay present, try using some simple mindfulness techniques to connect to your work.

  • Close your eyes
  • Take 5 nice, slow deep breaths.
  • Roll your shoulders a few times.
  • Smile
  • Look at your page and start to get inside  your story and character.

4. Reframe failure

Having your book rejected by a publisher or your screenplay ignored by producer can feel like failure. But is there a way to reframe this? How about reminding yourself that failure is a natural part of the creative process. If you’re not failing, you’re not challenging yourself – and you’re not learning. The more you’re rejected, the closer along the path you are to hopefully getting published or produced. So why not welcome failure in?

You could also say that being rejected is a sign of courage; you put yourself and your work out there. That’s brave. And if you keep doing that over and over, that shows that you are strong and have a lot of grit. Try to bask in those great qualities, rather than dwelling on the idea of rejection and failure.

I’ll go even further with this theme and recommend introducing some ‘rejection’ and ‘failure’ into your own writing process. By this I mean, make sure you’re coming up with multiple ideas, then rejecting the vast majority that aren’t original or interesting enough to be worth spending time on. You want to be picky about what you choose to work on. That way you’re giving yourself the best shot of coming up with something fresh and new.  But if you’re not a good judge of your own ideas, make sure you get feedback.

5. Celebrate every success

If you haven’t got to where you want to be, it’s very easy to dismiss any progress you may have made, and simply declare that you’ve failed or are useless! However, very few people are overnight successes; success usually happens slowly, one small step at a time.

So try to make a habit of celebrating every little bit of progress you do make, whether it’s some positive feedback, getting shortlisted for a competition, or having some work performed in a ‘scratch night’. No matter how small the progress, take time to celebrate it; share your good news with family or friends, or even just pat yourself on the back. Writing can be a long, old slog, so it’s worth taking the time to cheer ourselves along the way.

In a similar vein, why not create a good news folder? This could be either a physical one or digitally on your computer. Collate all the encouragement and nice reviews you receive about your writing. Whenever you find yourself feeling down about your progress, take a few minutes to read some of these positive words. It will hopefully lift your spirits and get you back on track.

6. Adjust your expectations

Did you secretly hope you would write one book/film/play and be an overnight success? I know I did! I’m sure I heard many times how hard it is to write a film, yet that didn’t stop me from secretly believing that I would beat the odds. And still to this day, I always hope my first draft will be a masterpiece! Alas, it never happens that way.

Did you also secretly think that you’d find writing a novel or film script easy? Yup, me too! You watch and read a lot, you know what’s good and what’s rubbish, you have lots of ideas – how hard can it actually be to write one of these things yourself?

Adjust your expectations, and accept that writing something half decent is HARD! So if you’re struggling, that’s normal. Earning your living as a writer is not an easy thing to do. Becoming successful at it is even harder. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but if you’re determined to do this, take it day by day. Get advice, share your work, try different strategies, but don’t expect it to happen quickly and easily.

7. Write something easy

Writing may not be easy, however, some things are easier to write than others. So if you’ve completed a number of full length novels or screenplays, and have been diligently sending them out, without much luck; perhaps you’re starting to feel jaded and despondent by the rejection, if so, take a break by writing something easy.

For example, if you write fiction, how about trying your hand at some poetry or short stories? If you write feature films, why not have a go at writing sketches or short films? If you want to write TV drama, perhaps try writing a short radio play instead. If you want to write for children, try writing a children’s picture book.

What’s easy will vary from person to person, but generally speaking, shorter pieces of work are often easier simply because we can hold the idea in our heads from start to end. Also, it’s really satisfying to complete a story within a short space of time; and just getting to the end can give us a confidence boost.  It also takes less time for someone else to read something short, so it can be quicker and easier to get feedback, which is helpful.

(By the way, I previously wrote about how my career took a turn for the better, when I decided to write a short film.)

Writing shouldn’t always be a huge, exhausting challenge. It can just be a bit of fun. So if you’re feeling drained by the rejections you’ve been experiencing, why not let yourself off the hook for a while, write something easy, and reconnect to your joy of writing.

8. Collaborate

Writing can be a lonely business, especially if you are shy about sharing your work, as I was, to begin with. A lot of the writing process is spent on our own. However, research shows that spending time with others is a really important for our mental health. So what can we solitary writers do to look after ourselves?

Think about how you can collaborate with other people. This could be as simple as joining a writers’ group. However, could also collaborate with others and push your writing forward at the same time?

Here are a few suggestions about how you could do that: If you write fiction, consider collaborating with other fiction writers on a book of short stories, self-publish them then join forces to market the book together. If you’re a screenwriter, you could write a short film and collaborate with some film makers to get it produced. If you want to write for television, why not try your hand at writing a fiction podcast and collaborate with some actors, then produce, publish and market it yourselves? It will be far less competitive than breaking into the TV market.

When we collaborate, we doubly boost our mental health. First we get the benefit of spending time with other people. And secondly, producing a piece of work and putting it out there, gives us an opportunity to learn a new skill and improve our writing too. And that increases our confidence. The most fun I’ve had as a writer has been when I’ve been collaborating.  

So if you’ve been writing for a while, and the rejections are grinding you down, take the time to try some of these strategies. I hope they help you keep your own mental health in a really positive state.

What works for you?

I’d love to know what helps you stay sane, when you’ve faced the umpteenth rejection. Let me know in the comments.

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