It's been a little while since you and I caught up, and the topic of writing pressure has been pushing against the inside of my head quite a bit.
Mental health challenges are not exclusive to creatives but there's plenty out there to suggest that 'we' tend to be fairly susceptible. As we hit the end of October, SAD season is really starting to get its claws in. It's dark by late afternoon; it's cold; it's wet. Yes, the turning leaves have been pretty but it's about now that I start to really pay attention to the starkness of naked branches and the decomposing carcass of a lost summer underfoot. A lot of us are mourning the warm kiss of sunshine on our skin and leaning into winter survival mode.
I briefly thought about writing an utterly predictable article about the healing properties of journaling and creative writing, and how to seek solace in the potential of a blank page from seasonal affective disorder or depression compounded by a prematurely sinking sun. In the end, I decided that would be a bit hypocritical. What I really needed, and what I'm passing along to you, is permission not to write.
Which I appreciate is a bit odd for a creative writing website. Stay with me.
Writing makes many people feel better, and I encourage you to try it and try to stick to it if it works for you on a therapeutic level. However, unless you have to write, don't make yourself miserable with guilt because the motivation isn't there and you didn't pick up a pen today. Balancing your mental health takes hard work and a lot of energy, particularly when external factors are putting you under additional pressure. It’s okay if you need to prioritise self care, and if that self care isn’t ‘writing’ today, that’s totally fine.
It's a controversial opinion, but I really think one of the most dangerous pieces of writing advice out there is that you need to force yourself to write on a schedule, or to produce a set amount of content per day. That works for plenty of people but it’s almost always presented aggressively as something all writers should do. If your income depends on your writing, sure. But if it doesn't, and you're spending all your energy on personal balance right now, don't make yourself feel so much worse by punishing yourself for not banging out a new chapter or a short story.
Actually, once you start forgiving yourself for not wanting or being able to write and take some of that pressure off yourself… the idea of sitting down with a blank page might start to fill you with a bit less guilt and dread. It might start to feel tempting again, and less of a chore. Instead of dwelling on how behind you are, or how out of practice you are, you might find a little freedom to romance an idea or two.
So here's my writing advice for you today: If you don't want to write, don't write. Don't feel shitty about that decision. Don’t steal the joy from your craft. Be kind to yourself. Prioritise self care. And when you're ready, that blank page will be patiently, deliciously waiting.
Liz has been waging a cunning campaign of procrastination for, well, her entire life. Her most recent schemes for avoiding completing a full length manuscript were a mid-life crisis Masters degree in Creative Writing and starting the Writing Voices website. She is now busy entertaining new strategies for continuing the cold war against her writing career. Keep reading.
If you need support with your mental health, please reach out to a local service.
Imagery by Dương Nhân via Pexels