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5 Wellbeing Tips for Writers

To celebrate World Book Day, we asked MA Creative Writing Online Tutor Megan C Hayes to share her top wellbeing advice for writers.


Dr Megan C Hayes is the author of several non-fiction books including Write Yourself Happy (Gaia) and The Joy of Writing Things Down (Greenfinch). She's also an Online Tutor for the University of Hull's MA in Creative Writing.Megan C Hayes

 

Writing – as with many forms of creativity – involves sharing part of who we are with the world. In the words of creative writing researcher, Celia Hunt: “any kind of writing involves self-exposure; we place ourselves and our views not only on the page but ‘on the line’”.1

 

Here are some tips to help you stay well as you put yourself on the page and on the line in the writing process.

 

1. Write what you know (with care)

 

The maxim to “write what you know” is useful. In practice, however, it is important to take care when we draw upon personal material. Even seemingly neutral topics, when examined closely as we do in writing, have the potential to trigger challenging thoughts and feelings – perhaps things we didn’t even know we thought and felt.

 

Always take your own emotional safety seriously when writing. Keep a personal journal in which to reflect on the writing process, and have someone in mind with whom you can safely discuss anything that might come up (e.g. a supportive friend, writing buddy, or relative).

 

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2. Notice self-censorship

 

Many of us have had negative experiences wherein our creative work has been criticised in some way – whether at school, by parents or by peers. We often learn to survive this criticism by self-censoring, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Self-censorship can be an important protective measure.

 

What’s important is that we become reflective writers, aware of whether censoring our voice is helping or hindering our creative practice. When we write and share writing, we usually need to be a little bit braver than we probably feel (in order to develop), but not so bold that we get what is sometimes called a “vulnerability hangover”, i.e. we share personal material that we might later regret.

 

Reflect often in your personal journal, lean a little out of your comfort zone, but always honour your own boundaries as you write and share writing.

 

3. Experiment and build creative confidence

 

Creative practice is all about experimentation – and allowing ourselves to experiment is how we build confidence. You might play with more procedural or constrained forms of writing (a famous example is the lipogram Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright – an entire novel without the letter ‘e’!).

 

Conversely, more meditative or automatic forms of writing involve a sort of surrendering of conscious control to see what comes up in a free-associative way (try Googling “automatic writing prompts” or doing a brief ten minute meditation before writing).

 

There is no one way to produce writing, so enjoy the process of trial and error to discover your own creative capacities, hone your unique style, and build your confidence as you go.

 

Blank notepad and pen

 

4. Be mindful of your reader (i.e. edit, edit, edit...)

 

Once we’ve drawn upon real experience, tackled self-censorship and begun to experiment with our process and style, then we can begin to think about editing and polishing our work for an audience. While it can be enjoyable to share quick first draft material, we should always give ourselves permission to sleep on it before sharing. This is because the editing process is our way of working out whether we’ve really said what we wanted to say.

 

This isn’t just about checking for typos: look at whether your writing is representative of the writer you hope to be in the world. Think about the relationship between you and your reader at this stage. Might something you’ve expressed cause unintentional offence? What do you want your reader to feel, and are you as confident as possible that the creative choices you have made will achieve this?

 

5. Dare to share!

 

Following some editing comes the big moment: sharing our work. It’s important when taking part in any kind of writing workshop that we learn to discern for ourselves what we are ready to share, or indeed whether or not we may ever want to share particular pieces of writing.

 

To assess this for yourself, you might ask reflective questions such as:

• Am I able to “step back” and be somewhat objective about this piece of writing?

• How will I feel if this writing is criticised?

The joy of writing things down book cover

• Am I at risk of experiencing a vulnerability hangover if I share this writing?

• Am I prepared to develop this work based on feedback?

 

The new knowledge (and fun!) that arises from editing, sharing and redrafting our writing requires us to be ready to “hold” others’ opinions about our work. Check you’re ready for this, and then dare to share. There you have it: a few introductory ideas for staying well in the writing process. What else would you add to the list?

 

Find further tips on writing to stay well in Megan’s latest book, The Joy of Writing Things Down

 

[1] Hunt, Therapeutic Dimensions of Autobiography in Creative Writing, 50.

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