Writers are emotional. Writers are reclusive. Writers are weird. Writers are crazy.
Well, writers are also carrying infinite universes around inside of us, okay?!?
Then again, while I wish these statements were simply stereotypical falsehoods, I relate to them too much for them to be totally inaccurate.
Writers of fiction live inside their stories. For our work to be any good, we have to embody our characters, fully immerse ourselves in the world and work of that story. If that transporting experience doesn’t take place for the writer, how could it ever for the reader?
Therefore, it stands to reason that we seem crazy. Because when I’m writing an immature sixteen-year-old, I sometimes act like an immature sixteen-year-old in my real life. If I’m writing a romantic scene, I feel more amorous and loving in my own life. If I’m writing a bitter argument, the world feels more brutal, harsh, and I respond in kind.
The veil between the “real” world and those of our stories is thin. We borrow from our real worlds in order to inform our fictional ones, of course, but the opposite is also true. My stories, characters, and worlds seem just as real to me in the midst of writing them as any experience I have in the “real” world.
That’s why books are transporting. Why books are magical.
That magic doesn’t come from nowhere. It isn’t some spontaneous sparkle that bubbles up in the person suddenly when they put pen to paper, fingers to keys. It comes from meticulous excavating of ourselves, our experiences, our empathy, our research, our understanding, our perspectives. It comes from our ability to live, breathe, experience the world we are creating. It comes from the daily grind of sitting in the headspace of someone else. Often, several different people.
These stories live in our minds before they ever live on the page, before they ever find a way to another. We are responsible for holding them, giving them voice, depth and truth. Characters speak to us, tell us who they are, what they are made of, who they are trying to become, and we have to let them occupy our minds, possess our lives, to ever find a way to their story. I have literal voices in my head sometimes. That is enough to drive a person slightly mad for a spell.
I often feel intensely emotional, uneven, off-kilter when I’m in the guts of a book. If my characters struggle, I hold that struggle within me until it’s resolved. If my book’s world is crumbling, I’m crumbling inside. If the writing isn’t going well, if the story is hitting a brick wall, if it’s not coming together, I fall apart, again and again. I don’t just seem crazy, I feel crazy. (I am crazy?)
Tending to my mental health then changes depending on what I’m working on. During a project, it often means allowing this emotional ride to be okay. Giving myself space and grace and permission to ride the waves of this process.
The art of writing fiction is indistinguishable from the artist themselves. This is why stories stop working, writer’s block emerges, frustration threatens to break it all apart when we don’t take good enough care of ourselves. If you stop nurturing the artist, you stop nurturing the art.
We talk a lot about taking care of our mental health for the sake of ourselves. But do we give it enough voice that we need to nurture our mental health for the sake of our art? Our work?
Mental health is complex and certainly not always to tied to our work, but mental clarity, daily functioning, and our ability to take care of ourselves does have a massive impact upon our work. If any of those things are out of whack, our work suffers. And if our characters are suffering, our mental health can suffer. It’s a two-way street for writers.
If you’re a writer who feels a little batty, stressed, unsure, overwhelmed, take a moment to check in with yourself as you sit to write. Are those feelings yours? Do they belong in the book? Do you need to set them aside or infuse them in your story? Are they coming from a character? Can they inform a character? Are you okay holding them a little longer while your characters find their way? Do you just need to take a break?
Your mental health is inextricably tied to the story you’re writing, and deserves as much attention as anything else. If you’re looking for permission to feel crazy, you got it. Because crazy is just code for being in tune and emotional. It’s okay to be emotional about a dream. It’s okay to cry over a manuscript. It’s okay to be so tuned in to your art that it hurts sometimes. It’s okay to want something so bad it feels physically painful to have to wait for it. This writing thing is crazy-making.
When in doubt, nurture yourself and your art will follow.