I know, I know, I’ve spent the last five years talking about the health benefits of writing. And I stand by that.
Getting to write, express your feelings, explore ideas and taking the time to create instead of consuming can have huge benefits.
But the actual job of writing a book can have a negative impact on your body and your mind, sometimes.
Here are a few, and the things I’ve found that help!
Aches and pains
I work all day at a computer, and then I write my books in the evenings, at the weekends, even on my lunch breaks! So RSI (repetitive strain injury) is a big one. I also have weak, clicky wrists, so typing can be a pain sometimes.
As with other office/screen workers, sore eyes from the screen, and neck and back pain can be problems.
When you’re on a deadline, sometimes you’ve just got to power on through, despite the pain. A few ways around it are switching to audio, using something like Dragon software to dictate your book. Sadly, my brain doesn’t work that way, I’m better on paper – I just don’t think out loud.
The fix? Taking deadlines into account, lots of stretching, standing up and something like yoga or foam rolling to lengthen those muscles back out again.
‘Writer seeking waistline’
If there is a worse job for weight gain, I have not yet found it. Sedentary, irregular hours and a culture of biscuits, chocolate and alcohol. When you’re on a deadline, you don’t get up unless your bum goes numb. Cooking real dinners goes out the window, along with exercise and seeing the outside world.
The author world is full of ‘just one more bag of chocolate buttons because edit are hard’ or ‘one more glass of wine because I finished the first draft’. There’s also so much tea/coffee that I wonder if I’m ever truly hydrated when I’m working on a book.
I’ve always struggled with my weight, and that’s because my two favourite things (reading books and writing them) are usually done sitting down. I try to walk more, get a workout in or get outside. Thirty minutes out of your day doesn’t take a huge amount from your writing, and I usually find getting out of my own head helps iron out any storyline kinks, or produces some new dialogue when I’m least expecting it.
But a week before submission? Forget it. The best time to exercise is when you’re absolutely procrastinating over starting those line edits!
You know what’s more terrifying than putting your heart and soul into something and releasing it out into the world?
The number of people who will rip the absolute shit out of it for no reason at all.
I’m not just talking about negative reviews (which can be devastating, let’s be honest) but friends and family who dismiss what you do, people on twitter who tag you into negative comments, weird private messages from people who want something from you – the endless stream of feedback on something that is an extension of yourself.
It’s exhausting, being that vulnerable. And in our online world, we open ourselves to that every time we publish a book.
Going offline, avoiding reviews and reminding readers and bloggers to please not tag us in negative reviews where they tell the world that the thing we spent months creating is a completely derivative shit show are ways to balance that vulnerability.
Losing yourself in the story
You know that saying, ‘no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader?’ We have to feel and discover things as we create the story in order for the reader to feel the same. So if you’re shedding a tear for a dead character, think how painful it was for us to kill them off.
Then think about how it feels having to be inside the mind of a psychopath, or a terrified person tortured by them, or a character dealing with trauma…most of us disappear into the world we create. We need to, to make it convincing. We need to inhabit a world, become part of it and the people within it, in order to do our jobs well.
But that can lead to all sorts of depressive moods, irritability, feelings of helplessness and a loss of perspective. We lose connection with our own lives because we’ve reconnected in a new one.
I’m making it sound like psychosis, and that’s not what I mean. But if you think about how much a book can affect your mood when you read it, I’d triple it for the experience of writing it. Especially if you’re on a deadline, and you’ve been through it over and over again, making subtle changes.
In my upcoming book, Before We Part, one of the main characters is very anxious. She always has been – in some ways, it’s more a personality trait than a diagnosis. Writing about her life was a good way to express my own anxious feelings and my experiences of panic attacks. But on the other hand, the more I submerged myself into that world, the more I started having panic attacks again in my own life. Because I was stuck in that character’s mindset, I was carrying around her baggage with me, on top of my own.
The best way out of this for me was exercise (yay, more of that) and writing things about my own life as a sort of ‘fiction palate cleanser’. I’d write about my own (positive) memories, or write gratitude lists. Anything that brought me back to the here-and-now and grounded me.
I mean, we all have these, but whilst I’m going for it, here are the ugly emotions/experiences that I have as an author:
- Jealousy (huge marketing budget/huge advance/huge 5 way auction for book/new very exciting deal)
- Unrelenting self criticism
- Fear of being misunderstood
- Sour grapes at the odd bestseller I didn’t think was that good
- An unpleasant amount of ambition
- Moving the goal posts just before you achieve something
- Belittling any achievement
So why do it, right? You add in the poor sleep schedule because of all the coffee and the characters who wake you up with an idea just before you pass out, only to wake up and find a note on your bedstand that says ‘blind-murder-mice-cheese’, and you’re on your way to some serious problems.
We do it because we love it. I do it literally because I can’t not do it. It’s part of who I am, it’s how I feel most comfortable expressing myself, and if I wasn’t writing stories, my whole flimsy personality would collapse into dust, revealing that I have very few hobbies or interesting things in my life.
So whilst being an author might be unhealthy, there are loads of great things about it:
Being creative, expressing yourself, exploring, playing, completing something, finishing hard things, patching together edits like surgery, rewriting from scratch, getting wonderful messages, seeing positive reviews, feeling like you’ve reached someone.
Writing brings an immense feeling of satisfaction, and if you’ve got a book burning away inside you, then write it.
Just make sure you book into that yoga class, though, okay?