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.

Writing Memoirs

Posted on October 3rd, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

Memoir writing may seem easy because you know the content: your life. Not so fast. Writing a memoir that others love to read requires your full writerly attention. Answer the questions: What do you want a reader to learn? Why would anyone read this memoir? What is the story arc?
I enjoy helping writers put their life stories/memoirs together for their families. This audience already knows something about the writer and has often asked specific questions of the writer, hoping for answers. Memoirists looking at larger audiences must look at their story as a novel, just not fiction. Readers love a good tale, especially if they are treated to good writing, careful development, and terrific characters. If they are new writers, then they may need some support.
As a reader for a book award, I read a memoir about a … Read More »

Finding Time to Write

Posted on October 3rd, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

Finding time, making time, so much to do, how to do life and write, too? These are the questions you ask yourself when you aren’t up to your neck with a project. These are the questions you ask when you think you know what it looks like when real writers write, and you aren’t doing it. But you are a real writer. Please gently pinch your right foreman with your left hand. Feel that? You are real (my apologies to all the philosophers I’ve known and read, but I am on my way to a point, here). Now look at the collection of documents in any of your computer folders. Writing, right? You wrote all that. You see where this is going…. you are a real writer. You have proof.

So now that you are … Read More »

The Promise of First Drafts

Posted on October 3rd, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

One of the things I do is read and respond to first drafts of books, non-fiction or fiction. They are rough and raw with the intensity of the writers who are wrestling ideas down to the page. I have such admiration for anyone who is willing to just sit down and bang out a draft. It is so much!

I get to make suggestions and give direction about how to move the draft toward being more readable and beautiful. Often the writer has hurried through some really fabulous scene, and I feel like I just had a drive-by kiss and I want MORE! Sometimes I get confused about where we are and who is who, so I need the writer to explain things better. Other times I just need more information to be convinced of an argument or a … Read More »

Writing, Publishing, Selling

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

Getting a book from your brain to your local bookstore shelves has three really big steps to it. Writing the book, getting the book published,and selling the book. All three steps take time and require our best efforts.

I am currently living in the second and third steps of two different projects. They have very little to do with the ping of ideas that led to the writing of the books. I like the crackle of connections between ideas and the brain tingling challenges of crafting sentences to hold them. What a rush, right?

Most writers like the writing and somehow think the publishing and selling are not what they signed up for and that they really don’t have to do them. Wrong.

Getting your book published, either self publishing or traditional, moves your book into the public arena for people to see, … Read More »

Writing as Craft

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

Just in case the muse isn’t sitting on your shoulder, whispering perfect prose, here is a great practice exercise to get your writing flowing. It has three steps: Copy, Closely Imitate, Freely Imitate. Using the prompts below, copy the prompt, then imitate it as closely as possible, then let loose and imitate it freely.

For example:

“Now! Now!” said the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” and they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.

“Write! Write!” shouted the instructor. “Faster! Faster!” And the class wrote so fast that it seemed like their pens had grown wings, scarcely touching the surface of the paper, till suddenly, just as Ralph was running … Read More »

Writers as Thieves

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

I have seen a few articles and comics lately that talk about how writers steal ideas. It sounds a bit creepy, and it can make us remember all those lectures we got in college about the evils of plagiarism.

So, I’d like to reassure you; it is okay to borrow ideas and even steal a few when you are writing. There are a few considerations, and they are covered amply by the rules regarding plagiarism. So when does one steal?

When I find myself engrossed in a piece, I look for how the writer did it. I hope to find something to make my writing better. I plan to use it, too. Call it premeditated theft.

When I am listening to a conversation, I sometimes write down an image or a turn of phrase someone used. I don’t ask for permission, either. … Read More »

The 90-Day Plan

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

Fred Dearborn and Marti Woodward taught me that it really does take a long time to create a new, positive habit. Even though this new habit is really a good one, and you are committed to it, a new habit is just as hard to establish as a bad one is to extinguish. Who knew?

When I ghosted The Ten Power Protocols for Dearborn and Woodward, I learned that people tend to relent just as their new habit is about to become a permanent fixture. They are just about to the tipping point when they decide that they don’t have to focus on the new behavior anymore or they just decide it’ll never “stick.” They quit when they are ‘this close’ to making it.

Well, if I could add together the amount of time I’ve spent trying to establish exercise habits, I … Read More »

Summer Reading

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

What do writers read? Anything, everything, all the time. Reading for fun is well, … fun. Because we can be a serious bunch, fun is good to leaven our lives and minds.

Reading is research– research into the way others handle writerly tricks of the trade: timelines, voice, person, citations, dialogue, setting. Reading with a writer’s eye can provide your own seminar on the author at hand.

Reading is footwork. What is selling these days? What are the hot topics? Also, how are we punctuating these days? What is up with the third serial comma? Chickens, roosters, and ducks? Or capons, hens and geese?

Reading is stretching into new territories. Volunteer to read for book or story contests. Read to kids in the library. Read stuff you don’t usually touch for age groups you don’t fit or write for. Stir up those creative … Read More »

Molly’s Magic Decoder Ring: Pronouns and Punctuation

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

After a while, it gets a little embarrassing to be unsure of pronouns and punctuation. I hope these pointers can help.

Easily confused pronoun forms:

He She It —- pronoun

His Hers Its —- possessive pronoun

He’s she’s it’s — contraction


It was not its turn yesterday, but it’s now!


Easily confused punctuation:

. , ; : (not emoticons)

I love the rain this morning. The garden won’t need to be watered.

(two complete sentences)


I love the rain this morning, and the garden won’t need to be watered.

(two complete sentences with a conjunction)


I love the rain this morning; the garden won’t need to be watered.

( two complete sentences that are closely related in meaning)


If it hadn’t rained this morning, I would have had to water everything: the front garden, the herb garden, the patio potted plants, the window boxes, and the terraced garden.

( a sentence with … Read More »

Kurt Vonnegut Was My Writing Hero

Posted on August 27th, by Molly in Blog. No Comments

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 »