There are many reasons to write: Money, pleasure, revenge, or preferably all three. On top of these, one of the reasons I write is for the sake of my mental health.
I started the first book in what would turn into the Tales from Undersea series in 2017, about a year after I went through a period of severe depression. I won’t go into the details, but I’m a British immigrant living in an EU country, so you can probably figure out what caused it.
At the time I was working on a novel I’d been writing on-and-off since university. I liked it and enjoyed writing it at the time, but I was becoming increasingly aware that it was full of cliches and probably wasn’t going to be well received if it was published. It also focused mainly on a revolution plot, which was a little too much for me, considering where my mental health was at the time.
But then I got the idea for a submarine pirate adventure book which I started once my mental health had improved to the point that I could write again. Not only was this book exciting, it was funny. It gave me something to be passionate about again. These are some more ways it has helped me:
- Stable routine
I admit I’m still somewhat of a night owl and an insomniac, which makes it difficult to get up in the morning. But getting up mid-morning, writing, and working on marketing and publishing activities in the afternoon is a much better routine than getting up at 2pm when the sun is already beginning to set, lazing about in my Moomin pyjamas for a few hours, then deciding it’s too late in the day to begin anything and eating an entire tube of Pringles. Getting up somewhat earlier has also allowed me to get in some morning exercise to get direct sunlight on my face and prevent winter depression.
2. Celebrating small miracles
My book still only gets miniscule sales. Yet whenever I make a big achievement like finishing a draft or making a sale, I get a hit of dopamine (the happiness chemical in the brain). Even small things like getting a new subscriber to my newsletter or a comment from someone on Instagram saying they like my book’s cover gives me a small hit. Long periods of barely any sales can be depressing, so I wouldn’t recommend a self-publishing career to those who can’t handle that level of rejection. Yet to me, that only makes it better whenever I do get a single sale or review.
3. Dealing with things I don’t want to face
A lot of people assume the things authors put in their books reflect their subconscious desires. If that’s true, authors must be the most terrifying creatures in the world. While a lot of my writing is self-indulgent (it’s fun to imagine myself as a badass pirate captain), I mostly use it as a way to explore things I don’t want to go through in real life. I can live out the fantasy of being a mother, fighting in a war, or falling in love with someone else then come safely back to my own life.
4. Getting outside my own head
This is perhaps the best thing that writing can do for your mental health. While I’m more-or-less recovered from my episode now, I still have moments where I feel overwhelming anxious, angry, or depressed. When I’m writing, it forces me to focus on the task at hand rather than any of these negative emotions. I can’t be thinking about how much I want to hurt myself if I’m trying to figure out how my characters are going to escape from the monster or what the best synonym is for ‘roar’.