Mental Health Tips for Memoirists

My friend and I are both working on nonfiction book-length objects that are (at least partly) about grief. She’s been a great resource for me. We can compare our emotional experiences of writing, and we can make highly inappropriate jokes that would creep most people out. (Death creeps people out.) Here is some of what we are talking about:

1. If you don’t cry, no one else will either.

Your goal is to make them cry, people! Writing is not a gentle art. You want your readers to cry with you and laugh with you. My friend’s memoir has made three adult tutors cry in their place of employ. Write and cry, drink some water to rehydrate yourself, and go back to the page.

2. It’s OK to stop.

Writing is hard, people, and writing about grief is extra hard. Push yourself a little, but stop before you have a panic attack. It’s all right to write the hard stuff in little chunks. You know, take care of yourself and all.

3. Create a safe space for yourself.

Make a date with a friend after you finish writing for the day. Don’t fucking write about your mother dying the day before you go to your hometown for a visit (that’s me at this moment). A little therapy might help you work through the process of writing.

4. Go there.

The New York Times Book Review will pan you if you skimp on the good bits, if you shirk the emotional work, if you gloss over the important details. Make your writing space physically or mentally safe and fucking go there. See rule 1.

5. Find a relaxing hobby.

Have something you can turn to that has low emotional impact and will make you happy. Because I completely lack hobbies other than writing, I am working on a schlock novel that may or may not see the light of day. I don’t fucking care, I’ll publish it when I’m 60. I’ve also developed a fierce Words with Friends habit.

How do you cope with the emotional weight of your writing?


9 responses to “Mental Health Tips for Memoirists

  1. Love #4. So applicable to novel writing as well.
    #3. Hang in there.

    I read blogs to get out out of my own head and into someone else’s. It’s a great break from the egocentricity inherent in whatever I’m working on.
    Oh yeah. And I make clay people. Or rather Power Ranger. Or Minions. Copyrights be damned. My kids won’t rat me out.

  2. A friend called me, choking on her tears after reading a chapter and meanie me thought, wow, I nailed it!

    I feel lucky to say I’ve worked through a lot of my grief. It still hurts, but is tinged with nostalgia. Mine was so tangled with anger, guilt and unfairness that it took me a while to unwind the choked, broken dreams buried at the center. They were so fragile and sad, I had no choice but to learn how to forgive. Writing was my main tool; a way to exhume the rot and look at the evidence. I didn’t find a way of staving off the darkness though. I sat there until I found enough understanding to venture back into the light. Maybe I’ll try your way instead. It seems much kinder.

    Good luck at home.

  3. Oh tricky, very tricky. I’d say make sure you are paying attention to your mental well being as much as possible when delving into the depths. Maintain all aspects of health, sleep, nutrition, exercise and so on. My own writing has the emotional weight of a fly’s wing so I’m covered. I can stay up late, eat all the crap I want, remain sedentary for days on end and so what? But if I were writing heavy I’d faire attention and try to be extra nice to me.

  4. Pingback: She-It (-ed* Me) | writeitdown-ith

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