Poet and artist Blake Auden shares tips on how to use writing to manage your mental health
I have suffered from anxiety most of my adult life and I’ve tried a range of therapies, techniques and approaches to managing my mental health – but nothing has quite helped me in the way that writing has.
There are numerous studies that highlight the benefits of writing when it comes to trauma, anxiety, and overall mental wellbeing – as it allows people to externalise their feelings, and see their experiences from a new perspective. But that isn’t to say that writing doesn’t come with trauma of its own.
In my experience of writing poetry, I have found that being truly vulnerable and honest – both with yourself and with your readers – takes something from you, but it also gives something back.
Trying to unpack and examine complex and deeply buried emotions was difficult, and often unsettling; perhaps to hurt is only an act of remembering. However, the process resulted in me feeling more comfortable with my memories, and better able to talk about my anxiety with the people I love. Ultimately, writing afforded me an opportunity to face my demons in a way no other therapeutic approach has done, whilst helping me to genuinely connect with my reader, and hopefully help them to deal with their own anxieties.
So, with that in mind, here are five simple tips to help you use creative writing to manage anxiety yourself.
1. Start by reading
In his masterclass on writing poetry, Billy Collins suggests that in order to find your voice, you must first explore the voices of others. Through reading – whether it’s poetry, novels, non-fiction, or any other kind of creative writing – you can familiarise yourself with how others use language, craft metaphors, and elicit an emotional response from their readers, and this can help inform your own approach to writing. By listening to other writer’s voices, you can begin to understand what makes your writing different – what separates you from those who have gone before.
The process of reading can also help you make sense of your own emotions, particularly if you’re trying to deal with complex or traumatic experiences. Finding resonance and understanding through the work of others can be deeply cathartic and help kickstart not only your recovery, but your own creative work.
2. Start a journal
I have long been an advocate of journaling, both as a writing exercise and as a tool for managing your mental health. Writing in a journal every day helps to externalise your emotions and allows you to look at them from a new perspective.
You can simply write about your day, or you may prefer to use prompts – a quick search online will give you plenty of options. By writing down how the emotions you’re experiencing, or how moments from your day affected you, you’re immediately taking a more mindful approach to your thoughts and feelings, and this makes it easier to process and understand them.
Not only that, but regular journaling gets you into the practice of writing every day, and can often give you starting points for poems, stories, or even a novel. I still journal regularly, and lines from my journal often make it into my poems in one form or another.
3. Focus on authenticity
Once you begin creating work of your own, I think it’s important to try to be authentic and honest, even more so than the format or style of language you use. You want to achieve resonance with your readers, and I think the best way to do that is to write from your own experience.
It can be tempting to write what you think people want to read, but a lack of authenticity in your work will likely alienate readers and prevent you from building a connection with them. Write about your own experiences, emotions, struggles, and try to be as honest as possible in what you produce – both with your readers and with yourself.
Not only will this make it more likely that people want to continue reading your work, but it can help you to face your own trauma and your own emotions. The ability to create something beautiful and meaningful from pain is hugely cathartic, and this was my approach for my recent chapbook The Things We Leave Behind.
4. Don’t be afraid to share your work
It can be daunting to share personal work online, particularly when you’re new to writing. But it is only through publishing your work, whether that’s through traditional media (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.), online or via social media, that you can truly connect with an audience and begin to evolve as a writer.
Feedback is a crucial part of any writer’s career, and this can come in many forms. Of course, critical analysis and reviews are a part of that, but the most important feedback will come from the community you will become a part of. For me, I found my community through Instagram, where I was able to connect with fans of poetry and with other writers. Their feedback was hugely important in growing my confidence as a creator, and in making me feel like I was doing something meaningful with my work. Feeling a part of something bigger than yourself is incredibly important, and it can only come from building a following and sharing your work with them.
5. Write letters, even if you don’t send them
I’m a great fan of letter writing, both as a technique for overcoming writer’s block and for helping you to acknowledge and process your own emotions. Similar to journaling, writing letters to people in your life allows you to externalise how you feel and talk openly and honestly.
In most cases, I would recommend you don’t actually send the letters, as this gives you the space and freedom to be completely honest, both with the person you’re writing to and with yourself. It can be genuinely cathartic to get everything out onto paper, and can actually help your relationships with the people you love, as you’re no longer bottling everything up.
Writing these letters can also help prompt your writing, particularly if you’re writing poetry or short pieces of prose. I have often taken ideas, lines or phrases from letters I’ve written and turned them into poems, particularly for my recent chapbook.
Blake Auden is a poet and artist based in Brighton, UK. He has published three collections of poetry, and his fourth book ‘Murmuration’ is released worldwide on 5th October 2021. You can find links to buy the book here.
If you need support for your mental health, connect with a professinal using counselling-directory.org.uk