As a new writer, deciding to become a part of National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo, was a big decision. Daunting is a more suitable term because of the 50,000 word count in a 30-day period.
I told myself that I wasn’t alone because thousands of people put themselves to the task every year. I set off to the forums to introduce myself on the NaNoWriMo website and make new friends in the writing world. I found a thread relating the people in their 20s and mental illness. As someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and unspecified borderline personality traits, I gravitated toward the topic.
It was relieving to find others like me in my age group who are passionate about writing like I am. One of my problems with mental illness is the thought that I am alone.
Even though I feel like my disorders hold me back at times, they help me in my writing and telling my stories. After all, I’m in good company as Ernest Hemingway had bipolar disorder and Philip K. Dick experienced hallucinations. Don’t get me started one of my favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe.
These are some of the ways my particular set of symptoms and quirks help me in my writing.
1. Connecting with the Characters
I spend most of my time in therapy which means I also spend a lot of time understanding my feelings. I’m also forced to reflect on why situations affect me and how I should react. Because I practice this in my own life, I can apply this insight to my characters. It’s easy to create a protagonist battling inner demons when you do so on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to make the characters react appropriately. I’m still a work in progress!
2. Writing is Cathartic
Bipolar is an emotional disorder and my emotions are all over the place. It’s like trying to wrangle a herd (or gaggle?) of toddlers.
While they aren’t always ideal, my high emotions serve as fuel to the writing fire. Sometimes it’s easier to create a certain scene if the emotion is intense. If I’m particularly angry, and so is my character, then the scene flows realistically, if not dramatically. What’s a good story without conflict and drama? Just ask the Kardashians. But I digress.
By pouring my emotions into the page, I’m able to release the negative emotions in a constructive way that doesn’t involve eating three bags of potato chips.
3. Built-In Therapy Groups
Like I mentioned before, many people are like me in the profession and have been doing so for years. Because of my borderline traits and panic disorder, I often doubt myself and my potential success. These thoughts often cause me to have panic attacks or the urge to quit writing altogether. But I’m not alone.
I always fear that what I’m writing isn’t any good but forget that it is a process, and not a short one either. My writing isn’t perfect on the first try, and I suspect that it rarely is for anyone.
Like Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
There are theories that people with mental illness are more creative, but it isn’t a prerequisite. However, I do think creativity helps alleviate symptoms and leave the artist with a sense of accomplishment. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed an elevated mood as well as a decrease in destructive behaviors.
My first drafts might be shit as Hemingway said, but they’re interesting shit.
Does being creative help you release any unwanted emotions?
Nicole C. Thomas
Nicole is a writer working on her first novel Samantha Darkened, created during NaNoWriMo 2016. She writes weekly posts regarding books, writing, and mental illness. She has an interesting sense of humor which includes a love of alliteration and puns.