3 Ways Writers Can Stay Creative and Protect Their Mental Health

Writers put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to producing. We’re told that successful writers produce at least a couple of novels a year, and in between our big projects, we should always be producing short stories, flash fiction, or blog posts to submit and publish.

Because of this, sometimes we lose sight of one of the most important reasons we write.

Writing is about self-expression, not just a way to further our careers. Being called to write is a gift given to us so we can explore our inner landscapes and create new worlds out of that internal terrain.

When we focus only on producing we forget that writing is our soul’s go-to guide when we need comfort and healing.

When we use a writing session to release emotion, interpret our needs, or acknowledge a hidden desire things can get messy. We won’t always like what comes out of us and we may even be embarrassed or angry at what ends up on the page. But the best way for a writer to vomit out all the pent-up stuff that needs to be aired is to write.

If you feel agitated, panicky, worried, angry, or wounded you are likely in need of healing.

There are three methods you can integrate into your regular writing practice to ensure you spend time using your writing gift to heal yourself, as much as you use it to entertain others.

Keeping a Daily Journal
This one sounds easy, but takes persistence and a commitment to yourself to keep up with it. Because it’s a journal, it should remain entirely private. So it doesn’t matter if every entry is a masterpiece, and word count is irrelevant. The important thing is that you write something every day to describe the emotions going on in your inner world and anything else affecting you outside of it.

Keeping a journal helps you chart what’s going on with you over time, as well as gives you a sacred writing place to use as a refuge from the world.

Free Writing Sessions
Grab a timer and set it for 20 minutes. Set the intention to let everything and anything that comes to mind have free reign on the paper. Maybe you’ll end up writing nonsense, or maybe you’ll just end up ranting at someone who really pissed you off this week. Whatever comes out, allow it to come with a spirit of self-acceptance and non-judgment.

Letting yourself pour everything out in one big flood can help you unclog the emotional gunk from your creative pipes and get to the good stuff.

Writing Poetry
Some poetry you want to show and submit, and some is purely for your eyes alone. Regardless of how it ends up, set the intention at the beginning that your poems will remain private to take the pressure off. You can even tell yourself that the goal of this exercise is to write really bad poetry to free yourself from all expectations.

Poetry demands we speak through images and rhythm. By using self-expression in this way we can approach our emotional world from another angle and unearth things long-buried and forgotten.

Every writer should be spending at least half an hour a week writing something that is just for them. It keeps us balanced and sane, and a mentally healthy writer will have the energy they need to steadily produce and publish.

And mental health and more energy are really the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out:

Creative Intensity Doesn’t Have to Be a Curse

Discovering Yourself as a Writer

The Beast of Self-Judgment

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9 Comments

  • Reply Marie Ann Bailey 22 October, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Good, sound advice, Lauren! I think too many writers (including myself) do get caught up with the pressure of having to constantly produce. Not everything that is in us to write is necessarily meant for the public, as you note. I’ve kept journals on and off for most of my life, and I agree that private journals are critical for one’s mental health, at least the sense of equilibrium. Sometimes I do write, or rather rant, about mundane things like my day job, but it’s not wasted words. Vomiting out my frustrations on paper is a freeing experience. Once it’s done, I’m free to write what pleases me, what entertains me. Thank you for this post!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 22 October, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks Marie! I really do believe that if we can free our emotions, our creative channels open up and have the capacity to give us so much more.

  • Reply Judy Roberts 22 October, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you for this, Lauren. I agree that journaling especially is not only good for us emotionally, but that it also can contribute to the writing process, sometimes by bringing forth ideas or strands of thought that later end up in our work. Still, as you have said, it has to be a place where we write with no pressure to produce. I appreciated being reminded of this and also of the value of free writing sessions and poetry. Good post!

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 23 October, 2014 at 3:49 am

    Writing just for productivity is something I cannot do. If I’m not emotionally connected to the subject, my writing sucks. Luckily, my livelihood doesn’t depend on my writing.

  • Reply 3 Ways Writers Can Stay Creative and Protect Their Mental Health | A Writer's Alchemy 23 October, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    […] 3 Ways Writers Can Stay Creative and Protect Their Mental Health. […]

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 25 October, 2014 at 3:38 am

    I hadn’t thought of that – half an hour a week for never-shared stuff. Good idea.

  • Reply Jay Prince 16 November, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Excellent article, Lauren! Being relatively new to the world of writing – now 27 months into my first manuscript – I’d felt the pressure to produce frequently as well. I hadn’t heard that successful writers produce at least a couple novels per year or that they are to produce short stories and such in between, but I have heard from multiple authors that we should be writing EVERY day. And that just never sat well with me. Especially considering that there are times when a writer just may not feel like scribing, or they may not have any new, quality content to add to their opus. So it took me a long while to realize that – ya know what – it’s totally okay if you take a break. I had to remind myself that the project is MINE. So, ultimately, I get to be the judge of how well things are progressing.

    I LOVE your advice on keeping a daily journal, because that’s precisely how my manuscript came to life. Twenty-seven months ago it started as just a journal of the struggles I was experiencing after retiring from the U.S. Army, and it has since evolved into what will be a memoir of that difficult period in my life (and I’m still living the story). And, in hindsight, I can definitely attest to the therapeutic effects of journaling and how it really does provide a writer with a place of refuge from the outside world.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 17 November, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Wow, your memoir sounds really interesting! And I completely agree: writing every day just does not work well for all writers. I personally write once a week for about an hour, and I’ve finished four novels this way (of course, it has taken me six years to finish those four novels, but I’m just not a fast writer). Every person is unique and needs to find a method that works with their own unique expression.

      Do you have a blog? Would love to follow along on progress with your memoir!

      • Reply Jay Prince 17 November, 2014 at 10:00 am

        No blog. At least, not one related to the progress of the book (I’m working on a travel blog that’ll go live in Q1 2015). I do, however, post updates from time to time on twitter, and I noticed we are now connected there :-).

        Thanks!

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