Writing and Mental Health
High school poetry wrenched my mental agonies out of my head and splattered them all over the place. It felt better to write, but the writing was, well, immature. College writing was constipated. I was bound up with rules and expectations and, well, abject terror. It got better as I went along, but my academic voice was not full throated.
For two years after college, I lived in Europe, Germany mostly. First I traveled around on my own, and when I ran out of money, I worked for the US military in a variety of capacities. This was not a plan, but it was really good for my writing. I hung out with other Americans, some military and some just ex-pats like me. We were full of ourselves – we were also in our twenties. Lots of travel, lots of art, history, music, good beer and strong coffee created a vibrant environment. I wrote reams of poems, stories, and personal essays.
So when do you think I was mentally healthiest?
In these past few months, I’ve noticed two blogger friends of mine step away from the written word. Their lives are very difficult right now, and they are handling substantial personal issues. One friend has returned triumphant – full of her usual smart alecky tone, full of open, personal information that comes to an insight worth sharing. The other is still wondering when she’ll be back. She doesn’t have the centered confidence and control she prefers to exude in her professional blog. It may be a little while, yet.
I remember a professional writer saying once that his journal was his shrink. He worked out his personal issues every morning. It kept him mentally healthy. I am afraid that when I journal, I just write to my belly button and don’t always get clarity or perspective. God doesn’t take over my pen and show me the Light every time. But I believed the man about his journal. I just don’t have that experience reliably. Do you?
So I don’t know if writing will keep us sane or that we write more when we are feeling sane. It does seem, though, that writing a lot is a symptom of increased mental health. So when I am having trouble writing, I do the things I need to do to improve my mental health – read, listen to great music, view art, travel, and drink strong coffee. Usually, I get to writing and I feel much better.
Kurt Vonnegut was my writing hero. Anyone who could illustrate an a _ _ hole in a literary novel with an artfully drawn asterisk won my heart and admiration. I read every book he wrote, so I was popping at the seams when in the mid-80’s I had a chance to actually talk to him. Not an interview, not research for an article. Just a friendly chat.
Vonnegut gave a talk at Bucknell University where I was working in the Writing Center, and he wanted to see this thing called a Writing Center. His tour guide had taken a class from me, and he brought my hero to my doorstep. Vonnegut and I smoked cigarettes together (and I saved his Pall Mall butt). We talked about the way I work with writers and how helpful it is to get useful feedback.
The … Read More »
I have spent years trying to find perfection so that I can write: the perfect place, the perfect pen, the perfect keyboard, music, coffee, you name it. It has been fun, but these distractions are just that. I had to adopt a more pragmatic approach to drafting, revising, refining, and editing.
Get ’er done. Set goals and deadlines and meet them. If I waited for someone to set them, I won’t get much done. Not that many people are clamoring for the next issue of whatever I am writing.
Get together with other writers. Share my ideas, drafts, and polished writing to get feedback. Also, saying I will bring a piece to read means that I will finish it. I dislike embarrassing myself!
Send it out. Like trying to find perfection, we can all mess around with a written piece until we … Read More »
The cursor on my screen is not sliding along, uncovering words gracefully expressing great ideas. No. It isn’t moving. Blink…Blink…Blink. The weather is lovely, so maybe a gardening adventure will rejuvenate me. Cutting back the roses and spotting crocus and daffodils, that would be fun!….. But I have agreed to stay right here and work on any of three projects. I have been at this writing thing long enough to know that sometimes, I have to grab the muse by her long flowing gown and sit ‘er down. I will stay here because I have prepared for such moments.
My writing space is full of memories of those who inspire me to keep at it. The cover photo my son took of a great man whose life I wrote down. Gifts from students who believe in me. … Read More »