Sunday, January 26, 2014

Beating the Writing Blues

Today, guest writer Claire Fryer shares some tips on how writers can avoid or get out of depression: 

Most professions come with at least some health and safety risks. Although many people wouldn’t immediately associate writing with danger, evidence suggests that it can be a risky business in terms of mental health with rates of depression and anxiety being particularly high among those of us in the writing community. There are many factors thought to contribute to this, including an isolated working environment, irregular pay and consequent financial worries. Not to mention the intense internal pressure that comes with a career in writing, such as self doubt, fear of rejection and the dreaded writer’s block that sometimes engulfs us all.

Depression can be a shattering condition for anyone, but for a writer it can seriously impair their creativity, motivation and sheer ability to write, which will affect their confidence and their career in a vicious cycle. For this reason it is important to stay positive and take action against things that may cause or worsen depression if you want to keep writing. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

Create a healthy work space

Writers spend the majority of their time in their workspace – whether that be an office, a spare room or simply a desk. Because it is generally a sedentary job it is important to make sure that the environment, tools and equipment that you are working with are fit for purpose. Not only will this keep you physically healthy but it can help improve your mood too. Ensure that the area in which you write is well lit – ideally with natural light but if this is not possible opt for full spectrum lighting as this is more like natural sunlight than florescent lighting. 

Keep the font size and resolution on your PC (if you use one) as large and clear as possible to avoid eye strain and maintain a good posture by investing in a good quality, adjustable chair to support the back and arms. Many commercial office blocks now also include green plants in their offices where possible, as not only do they improve the aesthetic appearance of the office but they detoxify the air and increase oxygen too. This makes the air cleaner which will help fend off bugs and germs, as well as keeping you alert and motivated.

Take on extra work

When a writer is caught up in a novel it can be all consuming and highly stressful. Taking on more work and responsibility may not sound like an appealing thought but it can help you gain perspective by taking breaks from your novel whilst still ‘working’ and being productive. This will allow you to have a little distance from such a mammoth task while still honing your craft and building your portfolio. 

Take on extra freelance writing work if possible. Writing for and other content providers often enables you to take on as much or as little work as you can manage, and this ‘no pressure’ approach can be ideal for working around your other commitments at your own pace and earning a little extra income, which will also alleviate any financial concerns. 

Remember that writing often begins as a hobby, so do not lose your love for it. Make time for the areas that excite or interest you even if they aren’t completely relevant to your workload. If you enjoy writing poetry for example then make sure you continue with it even if you are busy.

Take regular breaks

Lack of sunlight, little exercise and bad diet are all factors that can exacerbate low mood, so drag yourself away from your work at regular intervals and go outside! A brisk lunchtime stroll will increase the production of serotonin in the brain, and so your feel-good endorphins will start flowing and leave you pumped up and motivated for an afternoon’s work. 

The beauty of being a writer is that you can pick your own hours. But do try to work to some sort of a schedule that allows you to take time out for breaks and meals. It can be easy to snack at your desk, but maintaining a well balanced diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich meat will not only benefit your physical health but your mental health too.

Seek medical help

Lifestyle tips can go some way to relieving the symptoms of depression, but in all cases it is beneficial to seek professional advice from a counselor or doctor. Cognitive therapy and medication can often be necessary to help fight and manage depression in order to allow to you live a normal life and continue with your career. Be wary of taking any tranquilizers or mood suppressing drugs though as these may harness your creativity without effectively treating your depression.

Utilize support

For anyone suffering from depression, social support from family, friends or support groups can often help alleviate symptoms. Writing can be a very isolating career, and so once again it is important that you remember to take breaks and make the effort to interact with people. Conversation and interaction are proven to boost self esteem, reduce anxiety and consequently leave the sufferer feeling less stigmatized by their condition.

Special thanks to Claire Fryer for sharing this article with Coaching for Writers. I welcome guest writers. If you are a writer and would like to contribute an article offering tips about writing, publishing or marketing books to this blog, contact Brian(at)BrianMoreland(dot)com. Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Genre Debate

Today, guest writer, Claire Fryer, shares some interesting insights about genre writing:

The Genre Debate

A few years ago, that great juggernaut of Canadian literary fiction, Margaret Atwood, re-opened the can of worms regarding what makes “science fiction”…well, science fiction. Atwood’s discussion of the term “speculative fiction”, emphasized in its application to her best-selling Maddaddam Trilogy, fell under the category of what several writers and critics already believed science fiction covered – that is, challenging the social, political, historical, etc. modes which are presented in variations of their current modern context; literally to speculate. Utopian and dystopian alternate universes are one great example. 

Atwood possibly wished to disassociate herself from the mainstream understanding of science fiction as the spaceship-ridden galactic whimsy which has bridged the outskirts of pop culture with shows like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, rather than explore a more open-minded view of the genre. But the debate – regardless of how old – does raise a very important question about the concept of genre itself. Writers don’t just need to focus on being good writers – they need to have a fairly good understanding of the arena they are playing in too.

Audience Is Everything

Writers often say they write for themselves, and many can get by with this – by nature writers are curious, intuitive, and introspective, searching for answers and exploring for possibilities – and chances are, if a writer can portray this in an engaging way, they will share common interests with an audience. So where does genre come into this? 

The less sexy side of writing, a.k.a. the publishing industry, will say that it’s about marketability. Readers will flock to a certain section in the bookstore for a reason; choosy readers will immediately search for their author of choice. Some will even search for specific plot lines, archetypes, a stereotypical hero or one who breaks the mold – strong female empowerment, for instance.

Where publication is concerned a writer must be prepared to put a label on their work, and be familiar with the audience they are writing for – or perhaps more importantly, hope to write for. This shouldn’t dictate the overall narrative or style of the text on a huge scale, but can work as a source of inspiration rather than another commercial confinement. 

For instance, a writer might decide to take some of the norms of the genre and work freely within them and subvert them – take the work of Neil Gaiman, for instance – who blends science fiction, fantasy, and hysterical fiction to create highly entertaining novels and short stories which are adapted for the screen. This kind of creativity can enhance the genre and expand its horizons (think of the innovative work of Frank Herbert, especially Dune) or even give birth to an entirely new genre on its own, but one which will still appeal to a target audience.

Getting It Right

So how does a writer distinguish between a fine line of diversifying a genre or defying it completely? Well, these are things that an intuitive editor should be able to help out with, but as always, a writer’s gut feeling is the most important. There are different ways to approach a genre, just as there are topics. Approaching a genre can be the same as finding different ways to explore a study – take education for instance. It can be examined on a technical point of view, as well as a social and cultural one, even political. But there are several aspects in which a perception of education as an issue can be viewed. 

A genre, just like a story, can be approached in much the same way – if genre is going to play an influential role in the story, then it’s important to consider what and how you want to treat it, and to explore its subgenres as well. Will you introduce a new kind of character type? Will you change the dynamics of traditional story layouts? Are you going to critique or parody the genre, celebrate it, make it accessible to more readers or narrow it down to a few niche connoisseurs?

However you decide to treat genre, just make sure it is purposeful. Although some of the greatest literary ideas have occurred by accident, avid readers tend to be very critical about how a book adheres to or usurps different themes – so whether you choose to untangle a genre or follow it closely, just be sure that it’s intentional – even if you leave a little questioning to the audience. And of course, it’s also okay to cross into more than one genre at a time as well. As with everything, remember that while focus is the key to a great work, you have the freedom to explore endless possibilities until you get there.

Special thanks to Claire Fryer for sharing this article with Coaching for Writers. I welcome guest writers. If you are a writer and would like to contribute an article offering tips about writing, publishing or marketing books to this blog, contact Brian(at)BrianMoreland(dot)com. Have a great day!