You can’t write if you’re dead. Obviously.
What might not be so obvious? You can’t write when you’re miserable or unhealthy, either.
Despite that, the trope of the Tortured Artist prevails. Our literature textbooks are packed with romanticized tales of famous authors who were alcoholics, who were severely depressed, who lived fast, died young, or committed suicide. The tale is that their creativity somehow stemmed from their suffering, that they created works of such depth and beauty through the inspiration of pain.
Personally, I’d rather not be one of them.
We have our own milder version of this in the online writing community today. We tweet about consuming crazy amounts of caffeine to fuel our marathon writing sprees, pouring a whiskey to muster the courage to hit ‘send’, and binging on cookies and ice cream to mourn our rejections. In a way, we celebrate these things, romanticize the struggle to create art and get published. It’s a coping mechanism. It makes the process seem sexy and heroic. It creates camaraderie. It’s something we all bond over, something we can shoot a knowing smile over and think, yep, I know how it is.
I get it. I’m guilty of it. So very, very guilty.
For me, it’s the combination of small bads that make a big bad. Back problems from sitting in a chair writing all the time. Caffeine addiction and levels of coffee consumption that are kind of scary. Unhealthy eating habits that may involve consuming massive amounts of cake and/or nachos. All of these things chip away at my mental and physical health. My system is always flying between highs and crashes from caffeine and sugar, so how can I possibly expect my brain to operate at peak writing performance?
I’m not saying don’t drink caffeine or eat sweets, or trying to demonize those who do. I’m not your mamma. I’m saying I don’t want to be one of those writers who romanticizes unhealthy habits or ties them intrinsically to the process of writing. Yes, they’re things I do on occasion, but I need to divorce them from my identity as a writer, lest my writing become dependent on unsustainable habits. Being a writer is a risky profession. There’s already a high correlation between being a writer and things like depression, and I deal with those problems with or without my writing. I need to take the best care of my body and my mind possible so I can continue to create throughout my entire life. A functioning body is essential for a functioning brain, so I’m committing right now to taking better care of my brain’s vessel.
I’m probably going to fail for a while, because look—I really love cake and coffee and rum.
And you better believe you’ll see me at big celebrations with my third rum and coke in one hand and a slice of cake in the other. But I want to be writing for a long, long time. To make that happen, I have to get my day-to-day habits back on track. Maybe one cup of coffee in the morning is enough. Maybe I don’t need that sixth cup at 10:00pm, right?
Don’t sabotage your health or your writing. Set yourself up for success. Care for your body and brain. Make your writing a positive force in your life, not one that puts you at risk.
What sorts of habits are you seeking to change, and how do you think they could improve your writing life? Let us know in the comments!