Hello writers! We’re back with the final installment of Being a Better Writer … from Topic List #20. Still, I probably gave a few of you a scare there. Tis the season, right?
Anyway, before we dive into today’s writing topic—which has a lot more to do with writing than some of you might think, so stick around—I do want to reemphasize what was said above with a different context. This is the last topic from Topic List #20, and that means that there is currently a Topic Call going for Topic List #21. If you’re not familiar with what that means, well it is pretty straightforward. Have a writing topic you’d like Being a Better Writer to discuss? Head on over to the Topic Call and post it! Get your topic put on the list! That’s it! Hit that link!
And that is all the news I’m doing today. That’s it. Topic call, and the end of Topic List #20. Because I want to dive right into things today. I want to talk about mental health.
Not just in writing, but the whole process. Editing, writing, publishing … the works. Why? Well … because if I’m honest I feel like mental health and its related, associated topics aren’t addressed as much as they should be. Especially if you live in the United States, where decades of neurosis from earlier generations have pounded the idea into many people’s heads that “If it’s not physical labor, it can’t be stressful because it’s not even work.”
I’m not exaggerating about this. I wish I was, but I have been told point-blank before by more than one person that what I do ‘isn’t work and can’t be tiring because all I do is sit and hit keys all day’ or some variant thereof. Because it’s not a ‘real outdoors job’ therefore it cannot be tiring, exhausting, stressful, or even count as effort or ‘real work.’
Now, I’m going to say something right now as an aside: This. Is. Crap. Utter garbage. And I can say that with the highest possible authority, because I’ve done some of the hardest of the “real jobs” out there. I paid my way through college working on commercial fishing boats. I remember one week where I tracked my time working, on my feet, and it was over 150 hours in one week. That’s right, I was getting two hours of sleep a night or less. I’ve been so tired from those jobs that I’ve literally fallen asleep before hitting a bed and slept for 20+ hours at the end of trips.
BUT … I would never say that what I do now is any less stressful or hard work. Is it easier on my body? Yes. I’ve got some long-lasting impacts to my knees and the rest of me that came as a consequence of all the hard labor I’ve done over the years.
But have I been just as mentally fogged at the end of a day in which I’ve edited over 60,000 words as I have at the end of a long day on a fishing boat? YES. Writing, editing, and publishing a book is exhausting. My legs may still have plenty of energy at the end of an 8+hour writing session, but my mind? It’s been through a wringer. I’m exhausted. I have ended 10+ hour days of fishing and 10+ hour days of writing with exactly the same mental fog of fatigue.
As someone who has done both ends of the spectrum, from commercial fishing boat and cannery work to sitting at a desk all day trying to figure out how to make an imaginary person’s declaration of love sound genuine, real, and in character … I am someone with the authority to say “both of these are exhausting.”
Are there people who shirk and aren’t that tired? In both paths. There are just as many people who call it a day and slack off on a fishing boat after a single set as there are people who “write” by sitting in front of a keyboard watching Youtube and then after 3-4 hours writing a single sentence that they’ll “touch up” tomorrow. Yes, both exist. But far too often one type of job gets a free pass in the public mind, while the other doesn’t.
Okay, stepping back from that aside and explanation, I wanted to make that tangent clear because as I stated at the start and with the lead in … Many, many people, especially in the US, believe this to be true. “Oh, it’s just writing. What do you have to be stressed about?” This is a question I’ve had directed at me after expressing to someone that I’ve had a long day, because many people in the US have bought into a fiction far more outlandish than anything I’ve ever written, the fiction that “brain work isn’t real work.”
Unless, of course, you’re a CEO or a C-Suite executive. Then it’s the most draining, compensation-desperately-needed job in the world.
But back on topic, today we’re discussing mental health and writing precisely because of this false perception. A false perception that many writers fall into the trap of. A belief, pushed fiercely by some, that writing and similar work “can’t be real work” and therefore cannot be the cause of stress.
And this mistaken belief? It can wreck you.
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