A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When it comes to mental well-being, I’m really boring. What keep me sane and healthy are regular working hours, daily walks, and wholesome leisure activities – playing the guitar, singing, crocheting and reading. I’m so vanilla.
The thing about mental health – I guess about physical health too – is that you don’t think about it when it’s OK. I only thought about it this week because I’d volunteered to write this post. And quickly realised I’d no interesting insights to share, beyond endorsing the sensible and thoughtful ones already proffered here earlier this week.
When I was a teacher, I was often very aware of being stressed, but it was generally attributable to overwork, and assuaged by holidays. Giving up that job to be a fulltime writer, after years of trying to juggle two careers, I imagined that the stress in my life would go down, and therefore my mental health would be great.
There’s no doubt that my day-to-day life is easier, less crammed and frenetic. It must be wonderful to be your own boss! former colleagues say, envy glinting in their exhausted eyes. They are less envious when I tell them I earn about a third of what they do, and that most of that comes not from my five (so far) books, but from workshops/ fellowships/ residencies/ school visits, etc. So – a different kind of stress. Will I still get gigs next year? Will I still be published next year? And if not, who will I be? Writer is my identity in a way that teacher never was.
You get to work in your pyjamas! they wail. Why are people so fixated on writers in pyjamas? I have never in my life gone to my desk in a state of deshabillé. And about half my working days involve going into schools or libraries, or to my Royal Literary Fund Fellowship in a university: pretty odd I’d look, rocking up in PJs. But yes, I could write in pyjamas if I wanted; I could write all night and eat dry cornflakes and wear my knickers on my head, and nobody would know. That’s the thing about the writing life: so much of it is private and solitary.
Because of that, I think you need to know yourself well and learn what works for you. Don’t worry about what other people do. Don’t worry that you’re not normal, or, in my case, too normal. I once went to a writing workshop where the tutor said if you wanted to find time to write, you’d simply have to live in a messy house. Ditch the hoover! Embrace your inner slattern! Most people applauded; I twitched in horror, and panicked that I must be somehow less creative than them, and that I wasn’t messy enough to make it as a writer.
But I did.
I like daily word counts and highlighter pens and colour-coded editing. I need regular hours and a tidy study and earplugs and silence. That’s just how I am. As a teenager I couldn’t do my homework until I’d tidied my desk and my bedroom. I don’t have an inner slattern – and frankly, I wouldn’t embrace her if she was unwashed and in sweaty pyjamas.
If I were the heroine of a YA novel, this liking for order would be a sign to the wise reader that I was about to implode and break down, and emerge a broken but stronger person. But I’m in my forties, and this is how I am. I don’t think it’s simply keeping chaos at bay. If you see me in Tesco’s with my knickers on my head, or I answer the door to you in my pyjamas, then you’ll know it’s stopped working. But in the meantime, I’m going to cross this blog post off my list, do 1,000 words of my work-in-progress and then have my daily walk.
And that’s what keeps me mentally in one piece. And that’s OK. Whatever works for you, works.