It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK in the week I'm writing this (WB 14 May). Mental health plays a huge role in our lives as writers. After all, we explore our characters’ mental frames of mind and often, we can help restore the mental health of our readers by giving them something to escape into (something I’m exploring with my #BookBalm campaign).
But it’s also so relevant because many authors battle mental health issues. I recently shared a personal battle I had in this blog post.
It can seem like an enviable life doing what we do as traditionally-published authors. But it can be such an isolating and scary experience too. We fear talking about the insecurities and worries that plague us. There’s this sense you always need to be enthusiastic and excited and SUCCESSFUL as a writer.
But the truth is, we’re terrified we might not get another contract. We fear people will hate the novel we hold so dear to our hearts. What if we get writer’s block? What if we run out of ideas? What if our agent and / or editor hates our next idea? If book sales are disappointing, what does that mean for our career? If we're lucky enough to be full-time authors, how long will that last?
Sometimes it feels like the questions just won’t stop. There are ways to help ease the mental anguish. But obviously, some mental health issues go so deep, only professionals can help. Don't be scared of visiting you doctor and seeking help. I did as you'll see in the blog post I link to above. But for now, here are some tips that might help:
1. Make ‘honest’ author connections
It’s so easy to feel like crap when you’re seeing other authors shout from the rooftops about their successes. And why the hell shouldn’t they? They deserve it! Plus it's very likely they will have had their fair share of low points too. But not many of us talk about those low points meaning we don’t often read about them, which in turn makes us feel we're alone with those low points. It's a vicious cycle!
But there are places where people share the tough stuff. If you find it difficult seeing other authors’ success, it’s time to change the frequency. Seek out places where you can hear about honest author experiences so you know you’re not alone in your insecurities and what you perceive as ‘failures’. This can come in the form of listening to podcasts like the The Worried Writer podcast by author Sarah Painter where she shares advice and interviews to help authors overcome self doubt and fear. There's the Honest Authors' Show too that is run by two traditionally published authors. It gives a refreshingly honest (hence the name!) take on the traditionally-published author experience.
And then there are communities you can join. I’ve set up the Savvy Authors’ Snug on Facebook, for example, a closed group for traditionally-published authors who need a safe place to share their fears and struggles.
2. Aim for the long-term
This relates to my post about changing your mindset, and it’s relevant here too. By seeing our writing as being part of a long-term career, we have a much better chance of lessening the mental pain when we don’t reach those short-term goals we all obsess over. Things like obsessing about pre-orders and stalking the bestseller lists in launch week, for example.
Of course, the numbers are important. But if you see them as being part of a bigger picture - a strong and steady build towards a long-term author career - then it becomes a little less painful when they don't meet expectations. Instead, focus on your day-to-day work, the foundations you’re building for a strong career and the relationship you have with your readers (more on that below). The snowball effect rather than the overnight success.
And remember, the fact you got a publishing deal in the first place, selected by an editor at a publishing house to spend money on and nurture, means you’re already miles ahead of a million other writers.
3. Watch what you eat
I don’t mean go on a diet, screw that! What I do mean though is author life involves a LOT of sitting around and much chocolate eating (please don't tell me it's just me!). And this can be fine, in moderation. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 40 years on this planet, the relationship our minds have with our bodies is profound. If you eat better, then it will often make you feel better mentally. Here are some steps I try to take each day. Hands-up, I'm not perfect. I often slip up and stuff my gob with chocolate brownies. But I do try...
- I keep a large cup of water with me and take regular sips, refilling it when it's empty
- I have a fruit bowl nearby and try to eat at least two pieces of fruit as I work
- I try my best to prep several portions of food, meaning I'm not tempted to grab something unhealthy as I work.
- High sugar intake has been linked to poor mental health. This doesn't mean you need to cut it out totally. I personally think every author needs some sugar in their life. But just make sure it's the right kind of sugar and you have it in moderation day-by-day. I have some dark chocolate in my desk drawer for when I need a sweet fix. Dark chocolate is actually good for you in small doses, you know! Make some sugar-free cakes at the weekend and freeze them. A quick defrost in the microwave and you have a sweet treat without all that processed sugar.
- I don't beat myself up when I slip up and indulge. In fact, I allow myself indulgences when I reach a deadline or something good happens.
4. Move more
I’m not telling you to join a gym or sign up to a running club. Sure, do that if you want to. But what’s most important is to move. Writing is such a sedentary task! And exercise has a direct scientific link to lifting your mood. Here are some things I try my best to do:
- Walk the dog each morning
- I try to get up from my desk every 30 mins or so, often to make a cup of tea. I used to keep my tea-making stuff within reach so I didn’t have to move to get to it. But now I’ve moved it to the other side of the room. Okay, just a few steps but it means I'm moving!
- Walk around the garden at lunchtime
- Walk around when replying to emails or checking social media on my phone
- I like dancing so now wake half an hour earlier every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to do a dance workout. On Tuesday and Thursday, I try to do a quick 5-10 minute yoga stretch at my desk before I start work, so it doesn't feel too formal. Do a search on YouTube for free workouts and yoga sessions to suit you!
5. Focus on your readers
I don’t mean obsess about your reviews. As I’ve said so many times, I found the worst individual reviews I got were for my best-selling titles. The more you sell, the more bad reviews you’ll get. Go check out your favourite authors on GoodReads or Amazon, select their one and two star reviews… you’ll see what I mean!
No, what I mean is focusing on your connection with your fans. The readers who love your work. The ones who follow you on social media and email you. Create a ‘Happy File’ on your desktop of the loveliest emails and comments you get from readers. Damn it, print them out and plaster your walls with them!
Focus on interacting with your readers. They are so grateful when you do. And stop obsessing so much about what goes on in the publishing bubble that's filled with other authors, publishers and book bloggers. The most important bubble is the one you share with your readers and more often than not, it’s a lovely positive place to hang out in.
I hope this helps. Please share your own tips in the comments and I’ll add them to the article if you’d like me to!