It’s invisible and soundless, but it is the most critical aspect of a writer’s ability to do the job: the robustness and stability of his or her mental health. The argument can be made that the most important tool in freelance writers’ toolboxes, especially content writers’, is the ability to almost instantly switch from one topic to another and be able to discuss that topic in the point of view and for as many words as the client requests.
Good mental health is about flexibility and balance. Flexibility is about accommodating another’s needs and point of view. Balance is about accommodating those needs without losing your sense of self. Writers can use three simple techniques to keep sight of who they are, no matter what the project:
1. Breathe. I mean deep breaths that go down past your navel. Take in air, hold it for a second, push it all out. Do this throughout your writing stint, once as you begin your writing, and again every time you pause. This one simple technique –– if you choose to use it –– does two major things for you:
- Helps keep you calm. To paraphrase one of my graduate school professors, it’s impossible to breathe deeply and panic [or stress out] at the same time.
- Helps you think clearly. Deep breathing supplies your brain with a healthy flow of oxygen.
2. Take in data without interrupting (not easy, I know). Get the whole story and avoid the dramas caused by misunderstandings. Malcolm Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine, said, “With all thy getting, get understanding.” This leads to clarity and a more peaceful approach to communication. When you don’t have to defend an incomplete picture of a situation, you don’t have to defend your sense of who you are to yourself, or anyone else.
3. Know yourself. OK, Socrates wasn’t big on details when he gave this advice to his students. There is no right or wrong here, but knowing what works for you is critical to improving your mental health. Figure out how you deal with assignments, deadlines, pressure, cash flow, and relationships (all kinds). Factor that knowledge into deciding what to do or not do. Being driven by demons to do something is romantic but not healthy. Ask Mozart.
Maintaining your identity in the chaotic world of freelance writing is challenging and multi-faceted. We are encouraged to ask for help in getting clarity on assignments. We need to ask for help in getting clarity on who we are, too. Support groups, a mental health professional, a professional forum –– online or in-person, are all good places to start the process.
Rosanne L writes both fiction and nonfiction with a mental health twist. She knows enough about herself to say she’s twisted and reclusive, which often results in her needing the mental health support she so enthusiastically recommends for all of us.