After last month’s blog on physical fitness, I was going to write about mental health, but since this is a short blog and I don’t want to trivialise such a serious subject, I’m just going to mention some of the more common psychological issues amongst writers and why the romance community can provide such a great support network. So this month’s hint/tip is – Join in! (but only if you want to…)
Although the idea of a link between artistic inspiration and psychological turmoil is an old one, it’s only over the last century that studies have been able to prove a correlation between creativity and a higher risk of depression, neurosis and anxiety disorders.
Since we all know that writing often feels like an endless cycle of self-doubt, procrastination and occasional despair (mainly about how much people are prepared to pay for a coffee and not for a book), that’s not a massive surprise, although I think it helps to know we’re all in the same boat. Non-writer friends and family might be supportive, but they can’t necessarily relate to or understand the huge amount of energy and stress that goes into writing.
Writers on the whole also have a reputation for being introverted. Some people seem to think we’re a bit odd too, which doesn’t exactly help our self-confidence (or is that just me?) which means there can be a temptation to hide ourselves away in our writing, which can then lead to feelings of isolation, social anxiety and depression.
Of course not all writers are introverts, but we spend so much time on our own – planning, researching, writing, editing, re-editing – that we probably need to have a few introverted tendencies. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. Maybe a degree of neurosis is the price we pay for creativity, an integral part of who we are, because some of those tendencies can also be positives, as Stephen Fry puts so brilliantly in ‘Moab is My Washpot’ –
“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
Yes, we might sometimes feel lonely, but on the whole, we’re comfortable spending time in our own heads. Which is great for writing, but not so great when we’re forced out into the real world, which can actually feel pretty traumatic. Which is where the RNA comes in…
The annual conference is next month and some people are already feeling nervous about it. I was pretty anxious at my first conference two years ago as well, but I was lucky. The very first person I met was someone I already knew from Twitter, the lovely Regency writer Virginia Heath. So I had a friend! Then I met a few other people and not one single person told me to go away.
Imogen Howsen, who runs a session on the New Writers Scheme, says to remember we’re all probably worrying about the same things – ‘don’t assume that someone who looks unfriendly is actually unfriendly–they’re probably just shy or overwhelmed by the noise/busyness’. To make life easier, Kate Thomson is also running a get-together specifically for first-time attendees so please don’t feel that you won’t know anyone.
So this month’s tip is to not let writerly anxieties get in the way of joining in (unless you don’t want to, which is also totally fine). If you can’t make the conference then see if there’s a local chapter to join. The great thing about the RNA is that we all have something in common. We all love romance literature so we already have one thing to talk about. I’m happy to chat and I’m pretty sure Immi, Kate and Virginia are too, so that’s 4 of us for starters. It really is a great place to share your love of romance without judgement (because how often do we get to do that?) and talk/complain/laugh about writing – the good, the bad, the funny and the neurotic. Just bring prosecco or chocolate and you’ll fit right in.
Next month, I want to compile a list of the best writing advice you’ve ever been given. If you have any good tips, please e-mail me at email@example.com or DM me on Twitter @JenniAuthor and I’ll include as many as I can.
Jenni Fletcher has written four Medieval and Victorian books for Mills & Boon Historical and her fifth (her first Roman-set romance) is being published in September this year. To be honest, she doesn’t much like prosecco, but chocolate is always welcome…