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Don’t Forget to Breathe: Mental Health is a Critical Part of Your Success
San Francisco Writers Conference San Francisco Writers Conference
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, September 22, 2021


I know this is a column about business. And usually I give you some nuts and bolts and action items on how to attack the numbers side of self-publishing.

But this week, I want to tackle something not quite numbers and spreadsheets, but just as critical to the success of your writing business. 

  • Mental Health and Resilience

There are a lot of cliches and jokes around the sanity (or lack thereof) of artists. How many genius creators throughout history suffered from maladies of the mind, whether it be depression, addiction or hearing voices? 

This connection isn’t just in our head (don’t mind the pun). Studies do actually show that there is a connection between mental health conditions and creatives. In 2017, the Perspective on Psychological Science journal published a study called “Creativity and Mood Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The study explored whether mood disorders cause creativity, creativity causes mood disorders, or an unknown variable causes the link between creativity and mood disorders. It’s an interesting question. One the one hand, artistic pursuits may attract people with existing mental health conditions, as people find solace in the outlet art can provide. Expressing yourself through pen and paper, canvas, photography, music etc. can be incredibly cathartic. So much so that it’s so often used as a therapy treatment. Artistic communities also tend to value deep emotion and expressiveness and may be more welcoming to those struggling with mental health.

On the flip side though, researchers also found that the high-pressure, high expectations and fierce criticism faced by many creatives may lead to higher levels of depressive symptoms and anxieties. It’s a business full of rejection, solitude and frustration. In short, this ain’t a job for the faint of heart.

I think this is something we need to talk about more in the writing community. The struggling, depressed, drunken writer slowly weaving madness into genius may be romantic, but trust me, it’s not a way to live. And while I have many a times channeled my grief or struggle into my writing, you don’t need to be unhinged to create great art!

As someone who has been a full-time writer for four years now, I can tell you it’s a lonely road. I love what I do. I can’t imagine another life. But writing is HARD. Making a living at it is even harder. You spend countless hours alone with your thoughts and imaginary friends. You talk to yourself. You talk to your imaginary characters. You often forget to eat, pee or even stand up for hours on end. Day drinking is really tempting.

People with “regular” jobs don’t always respect or understand what you do. (I can’t tell you how many times people want to come stay with me during the week because “I don’t really work.”) 

You face rejection on a daily basis. 

You spend weeks, months, maybe years of your life creating something. And then your editor rips it apart. Your beta readers shred it. You go back to the workshop, sprinkle more blood, tears and black magic over it until it’s so perfect, it’s blinding. 

Then you still get an agent rejection, an editor pass, a one-star review. 

And let me tell you, it’s not always a consistent business. One year you might have a smash success. The next year you might crash and burn for reasons you can’t control like, I dunno, a global pandemic, a new baby, moving across the country with a new baby during a global pandemic…not that I’m talking from experience or anything…

Did I mention it’s hard?

Unfortunately there’s no magic bullet to make this career path easy, but you can prepare yourself for the blows and still love what you do every day in spite of the setbacks. 

Wait, you want me to suffer immense failure and be HAPPY about it? 

No, not happy. Resilient. 

You have to fortify yourself against the inevitable setbacks. Because they come at you whether you’re prepared or not. 

You have to pick yourself up. Dust off the dirt. Try again. Becoming a successful author is sometimes a last-man-standing kinda game. You only fail when you quit. But you have to survive long enough to make it. Resilience is a necessary part of this business. And it starts with taking care of your most precious asset–your brain!

Here are my top basic tips on how to keep yourself reasonably sane in this insane career path. 

  • Exercise. It is the single best thing you can do for your stress. If you get to the point where you are writing full-time you will quickly see it’s a desk job on steroids. I have actually sat at my desk for 16 hours in a single day. Do you have any idea what that does to your back, wrists, legs? Get up and move your body. Do it. Right now. Not only will it help you stay physically capable, it shakes off writer’s block, helps reduces stress and boosts endorphins. 
  • Meditate. Want to manage your stress, clear your mind, boost creativity and actually re-wire your brain? No, it’s not magic but it’s damn close. I know I’ll get a lot of resistance on this one, but trust me. The benefits are incredible. Studies show regular meditation actually increases the gray matter in your brain. You don’t have to spend hours a day in a shrine. Five minutes a day is all you need to reap the benefits. 
  • Find a writing community, even if it’s online. Not only have I worked from home and solitary for the past four years, I’ve also lived in four states and two countries in the past six years. It’s adventurous and exciting–and also lonely as hell. Every time I start to make some friends, we move again. It’s tempting not to even try. But the wonderful thing about the writing community is we’re all in the same boat (ok most people don’t upend their lives every year, but most writers are home and alone). Find some fellow writers to FaceTime with, have a live stream sprint session on Zoom, or online chat like it’s 1995. Your spouse, family and non-writing friends may be the most supportive people in the world, but they might not always understand the specific struggles of trying to make a living writing. Sometimes the only thing that’ll do is a good vent session with another writer who feels your pain. I have friends who I literally talk to multiple times a day, every day. They understand what I’m going through, can offer me advice and help me stay motivated. It seriously keeps me sane. 
  • Take. Breaks. I suffer from this one hard core. It can definitely feel like there are never enough hours in the day, especially with a little hurricane hulk-smashing toddler slowly dismantling my house brick by brick. And is a story/book/project ever REALLY done?? But sometimes the best thing you can do for your masterpiece is to take a step back and give it room to breathe and grow. Allow yourself time to do what inspires you. Read a book, visit a museum, walk through nature. It’s not wasted time, I promise.

If you want some of my favorite books on meditation and resilience, here are my top three:

10% Happier by Dan Harris

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Rising Strong, By Brene Brown

Happy Writing!

Amanda J. Clay writes gripping mysteries and thrillers with complex, kick butt female leads designed to keep you up all night. When in the mood, she also crafts the occasional messy love story (Because, hey, the world is a complicated place). A Northern California native, she currently lives in Nashville, TN with her dashing, real-life hero of a husband who inspires her heroes and villains alike. During the pandemic they welcomed their first daughter who is doing her best to keep them on their toes.

[email protected]

IG: amandajclayauthor

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Facebook: amandajclayauthor

The San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change conference are both produced by the San Francisco Writers Conference & San Francisco Writers Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The SFWC Director is Laurie McLean.  For registration help, contact Richard Santos at registrations@sfwriters.org. For SFWC sponsorship opportunities, contact Carla King at Carla@carlaking.com
The SFWC website is: www.SFWriters.org

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Elisabeth Kauffman
Title: Director of Marketing
Group: San Francisco Writers Conference
Dateline: Oakley, CA United States
Direct Phone: 13103676215
Cell Phone: 13103676215
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