I've been writing journals since I was an angst-ridden 15-year-old, singing along to Madonna in my bedroom while raging at how hard life was.
They were my way to get through any difficult situation, including the devastating end to my first marriage, and a way to process my life when my health fell apart and I had to leave London in my 20s to go recover in the Australian outback.
I still journal – my thoughts, my goals, anything really. Writing continues to be my counsellor, as much as my passion and my business. So I'm thrilled to bring you this article today by Kristina Adams on how writing can help you too.
A few years ago, I was in a dark place. I was so anxious I could barely leave the house and so depressed some days I didn’t get out of bed until late afternoon.
Fast-forward to now and I’ve published three books while working full-time and living with fibromyalgia.
Overcoming my demons – and learning to deal with different ones – was difficult. But ultimately, it was writing and publishing my books that got me through it.
Distraction is a great painkiller
There are two types of pain in this world: the physical and the psychological. It can be easy to dismiss the connection between the two, but it’s more significant than we sometimes think.
For example, anxiety and stress can lead to joint pain in the same way that chronic pain can lead to depression. It’s therefore important to always be kind to yourself and remember that when one part of you is in pain, the other can follow.
This link between our mind and body doesn’t just cause pain, though. It can also relieve it.
Those who had a more complicated task barely even noticed the pain, with some not noticing it at all!
They conducted the same experiment using a placebo instead, and the complex task was proven to have a greater pain-killing effect than the placebo.
For me, writing is my biggest painkiller. Whether I’m curled up with my characters, pondering over a poem, or plotting a blog post, nothing relieves pain more than immersing myself in my writing.
Writing is therapy
Health issues of all kinds are incredibly isolating. Writing about your problems can help you to deal with how they make you feel, particularly when you struggle to articulate them verbally.
While you should most definitely talk to people, too, writing about what you’re going through can be a great place to start. It doesn’t even have to be a piece of creative writing – a diary entry or blog post can help, too.
Some of the best stories, artwork, and songs have come from great pain.
Of course, facing your demons hurts. But when you face them on paper, you do so in a safe environment.
Writing down how you feel also teaches you to express your emotions (which is always a useful skill when you’re a writer), and if you share your writing with others, it can even help those going through similar experiences to feel less alone.
That’s why, while sharing stories of my anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia make me more uncomfortable than a too-tight pair of jeans, I still do it.
You never know who your words will help.
All writing is fantasy
Who doesn’t love escaping reality (especially right now)?
When you write something (unless it’s hard-core investigative journalism), you’re investing in a fantasy. That investment is powerful.
My characters have gotten me through everything from homesickness to so much pain that I want to cry, and I’m honestly not sure I would’ve managed without them.
When you’re going through a tough time, having somewhere to escape to makes a huge difference. It’s not always possible to physically escape, which is why crafting stories inside our minds can be so beneficial.
Writing and publishing give you back control
When the people you love are struggling, or the doctors have no idea what’s wrong with you, it makes you feel pretty helpless.
Writing gives you back control.
While you’ll never have full control over your real life, you’ll always have complete control over what happens to your characters.
Self-publishing gives you even more control because you get the final say over when, where, and how your book is published.
When your external world is crumbling or you’re worrying yourself silly about something you can’t change, finding a way to claw back control is empowering.
So long as you keep organised, there’s so much to learn and do that it’s impossible to feel useless.
A productive mind is a happier mind
Last summer, my mum was admitted to hospital. Nobody knew what was wrong with her. The only thing we did know was that she was in excruciating pain.
There was nothing I could do to help her. She was in the capable hands of the NHS, and family members that live much closer than I do. Not to mention driving to see/help her every day would’ve been too much for me, and everyone knew it.
I’d already set a publication date for Productivity for Writers when she was admitted. It wasn’t too late to change it, but I started to wonder…did I really need to?
Rather than sitting around moping and feeling useless, I finished Productivity for Writers and published it on the date I’d originally planned.
It sounds selfish to put yourself first when a loved one is suffering, but if there’s nothing you can do to help them, why punish yourself?
A loved one will support you in your decision to keep going and will encourage you to do so because you’re no good to them when you’re in pain, too.
Goals keep you focused
When you’re in pain, the last thing you want to do is sit down and work (and we both know that writing is WORK). But actually, as we saw in the study above, it’s one of the best things that you can do.
It goes beyond the power of distraction as a painkiller, though. Goals keep you focused. They stop you from getting bored or feeling helpless because there’s always something that you can do to work towards your end goal.
If your end goal feels overwhelming, you can break it down into small, specific chunks.
Go even further than breaking down your novel into each draft. Break it down into stages: your character descriptions (one point on your to-do list for each), structuring your plot, writing each chapter, etc.
The smaller the chunks, the better you’ll feel and the more opportunities there are to reward yourself.
And you must reward yourself every time you cross something off your to-do list! It reinforces that you’re doing the right thing and that you should keep going.
My personal favourite is an episode of How to Get Away with Murder or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries…there’s some sort of pattern emerging there…
Your ‘why’ means everything
Setting yourself long-term goals – and pushing yourself to achieve them – gives your life purpose. It gives you your why. And that purpose will keep you going no matter what life throws at you.
But finding your why is tough.
It’s one of the hardest things to do in life.
So don’t worry if you don’t know what yours is yet.
Use it as a reason to explore.
Learn new skills; meet new people; do things that you’re passionate about.
The more curious and open your mind is, the sooner you’ll find your why and the more likely you’ll be to find your way out the next time a black hole threatens to drag you inside of it.
Has writing helped you with adversity and difficulty in your life? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Kristina Adams is the author of What Happens in New York, What Happens in London, and Productivity for Writers. She has a degree in Creative Writing and regularly writes about writing on her blog, The Writer’s Cookbook. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, baking, or thinking about writing some more.