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A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Mental Health and Writers by Bea Davenport

Mental health and writers –do you want the bad news or the good news?

I always prefer to get the bad over with first. So I’ll start with the worrying fact that as a creative person, you’re apparently 25% more likely to suffer from mental health problems, according the journal Nature Neuroscience. It’s simply that, as a creative person, you think differently to many others and that is often a challenging way to live.

We’re working in a tough profession. It’s low paid – for most of us, below the minimum wage, if it’s possible to measure it that way –so most of us need an alternative job in order to be able to eat and pay the rent. But say you’re a children’s writer to most people and if you don’t hear the words ‘JK Rowling’ and ‘loads of money’ in their next sentence, then you’re very lucky.

The odds against success are scary. We’re all too aware that agents and publishers get hundreds of manuscripts every day and that of these, they’re only likely to pick a tiny handful at most. And unlike other jobs, being employed (i.e., getting a publishing deal) is no guarantee of being employed again. Just being good at it is not enough.

And yet it’s highly competitive. Every day, we meet people who look at us hungrily and tell us that they, too, are writing a novel.

And knowing all of this, as we do, we’re still likely to be self-critical and blame ourselves if our draft needs more work or we’re too tired to write or we get a rejection.
It’s a job we do, largely, on our own, and isolation is only healthy in short bursts.

How to cope with all of this and stay relatively sane? I’m no therapist, but as someone who could do ‘stress and anxiety’ as Olympic sports, I’m happy to share what works for me.

  1. Time out: You can’t write all of the time and you probably shouldn’t force it when you’re tired or distracted, because you’ll just have to spend the same amount of time rewriting. Allow yourself a break – after all, you’re your own boss, so don’t be a mean one. Take a walk, play with the kids, stroke the cat, watch junk TV. You’re a human, not a writer-bot.
  2. Eat chocolate, chips or whatever gets you to the end of that chapter.
  3. Connect: Writers are getting the hang of boasting on Facebook as if they have perfect lives, like everyone else, but it’s just a marketing ploy. Make connections with individuals and you will find we all have the same worries and insecurities, which help put your own into perspective.
  4. Affirmations: When I get a really lovely comment about my writing, I print it out. I kept a particularly good one on my wall for a while! Or store them in a file and refer to them on the tougher days.
  5. Celebrate milestones: When I was longlisted in a national competition, a writer friend asked how I was celebrating. Of course, I said I would only open the fizz if I got on the shortlist. He advised the opposite – to celebrate every stage of success. Those moments are few and should be rewarded.

I seem to remember promising some good news. OK, here goes: writing is a highly therapeutic act – and that has science behind it too. The habit of expressive writing is reported to improve even physical health, resulting in a strengthened immune system, lower blood pressure and fewer visits to the doctor. And remember – if you are an author – no matter how bad your day – you’re living the dream of most people in Britain, according to a YouGov poll. Cheers!

 

Bea Davenport 1Bea Davenport
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Bea left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in June 2014. It is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House was Bea’s first novel for children, although she has two adult crime/suspense novels published by Legend Press.
In 2014, Bea worked with Fiction Express on an interactive e-book where school pupils read a chapter each week and chose what should happen next. Bea then wrote the next chapter in time for the following Friday! The paperback version of the book, My Cousin Faustina, is now published by ReadZone Books.
She is programme leader in creative writing for the Open College of the Arts and lecturer in journalism at the University for the Creative Arts.

 

 

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2016 by .

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