When you first decide to be a writer, you might read books on how to write a blockbuster, you might work on your grammar and punctuation or you put hours of research into your favourite genre by reading a hundred lovely, juicy books (aka living the dream). You’ll probably receive a ton of advice, both online and in person, about marketing and social media presence. However, no one (and I mean no one) tells you that you might go a bit bonkers.
I’m making light of the subject because a) it makes for a less boring article and b) it’s a genuine coping mechanism of mine. So, apologies if anyone feels that I’m being flippant in the terms that I use or imagery I envoke. The truth is, it’s just easier to see the keyboard when laughing rather than crying.
My second caveat is that writing didn’t actually drive me to depression; I was already there, but some of the things that I had to handle as an author really didn’t help. And I don’t want you to feel the way I did.
Why do so many authors struggle with mental health?
Although I might quite enjoy implying that being an author has driven me to eldritch gibbering, the sobering fact is that so many writers that I know, myself included, struggle with their mental health. It crops up often enough that it makes me wonder whether people with mental health issues are drawn to writing, or if writing drives us all bonkers. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, it’s a well documented and anecdotally supported truth that a lot of authors live with depression, anxiety and any number of other mental health conditions. Even back in the BCs, Plato said that a writers’ creativity was the result of irrational, unmanageable and overwhelming forces. Does that sound familiar? It certainly does to me.
How can authors maintain their mental health?
That was a long preamble so let’s get to the real question: “What do we do about it?”
If you sign up to my online seminar and send me the contents of your bank account, I’ll tell you…just kidding (or am I? Mwahaha).
Of course, I want you to go ahead and read Down Days, but you needn’t worry, it isn’t a self-help book. I’m certainly not trying to style myself as a mental health guru. That sounds like a lot of effort that I’m frankly not willing to put in (only partially joking). No, Down Days is just my attempt to share with people what it’s really like to live with mental health issues, and that’s it.
With that in mind, I’m going to give you the only bit of advice that I can think to give for absolutely 100% free, gratis, on-the-house, and purely because I love you.
Manage your expectations to the best of your ability
Of course, everyone’s mental health is dependent on different things, but I guarantee that if you can work on this one thing, your life will be made a lot easier. There are a ton of ways that you can manage your expectations and an equal amount of ways in which it will help to keep you from going totally deranged. Here’s a few:
1. Don’t get carried away by the dream
Authors, new and old, don’t get carried away. The dream is strong – I know this because I have the same one. The one where people will love your book, your characters, and probably you as well. The one with a lovely juicy paycheck so you can quit working checkouts and do your real work. The fact is, this may not happen for you. I say this from the bitter bottom of the author pile and having a lot of writer friends (oooh, look at me with all my friendy friends) who still have a day job to support their dream. It turns out that sometimes dreams need a little scaffolding.
However! If you manage your expectations, write for the love of it, and take every reader that you do get as a beautiful bonus, I promise that it will keep you (a little more) sane.
2. Remember that people are just human (mostly)
Next, manage your expectations about the people that you will work with. I can tell you a ton of stories that back this up but I don’t have space. We’ll have a brew and I’ll tell you all about it someday. For now just trust me: not everyone is as professional as you’d like them to be. You’re about to work with a lot of other humans in your writing career. That means that you might get cover art handed in late or not at all, you might get a dodgy printing of your first book, your first signing might be in a freezing cold community hall with nothing but the local vicar’s cat for company.
There’s a difference between a mountain and a very tall hill
Those are just two examples of the way that you can manage your expectations and stave off the psychological downside of being an author but I’m sure that you can now think of a hundred more.
What it all boils down to is if you can manage your expectations before these hiccups happen, making them feel like hurdles rather than portculis’, then all of this will make you resilient and keep your chin up for the tough job of being an author. Because it is tough. BUT (and I really mean those capitals) it’s also one of the most rewarding jobs in the world and I really really want you to experience it, not be dragged down by the little things that won’t matter in a week, a month, and certainly not a year’s time. To be a little mad is never a bad thing, but I would hate to see anyone lose themselves to stress and depression and anxiety the way that some authors, myself included, do.
So, manage your expectations, gird your loins, and get typing. I hope we share a table at a convention someday.
Both of us pleasantly bonkers.
Craig is an author, ex-nurse and uber-geek from Doncaster, UK. His latest book, Down Days, is his first foray into non-fiction, an honest, darkly funny and utterly geeky take on his experiences of living with depression. Craig continues to write on the subject of managing mental health for authors in his monthly Patreon newsletter at www.patreon.com/craighallam