I sometimes wonder about the impact of writing on your mental health.
Not in a general sense – studies have shown that there are strong correlations between creative writing and mental health benefits, largely due to “cathartic expression of thoughts and feelings”.
I have little doubt that creative writing can be good for you mentally, but when you’re actually doing it, when you’re in the process of creating characters, and really getting into their heads, their motivations and logic, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. And that can spill over into your day-to-day life.
I’ve noted this when I’m writing particularly tough characters or scenes, and forcing myself to try and understand and see things from their perspective. After I’ve finished my writing session for the day, I might feel down or angry, and for a moment, I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because of that delving, that shifting of your perspective into that of the character. It’s not a lingering feeling, it generally goes away again pretty quick. But I have wondered what it must be like for my wife, and for others who live alongside at times unintentionally moody writing types.
Vandermeer writes about how he struggles to concentrate on anything other than the story when he’s working, and that often impacts on his real-world perception:
“It’s as if my writing self has signed some contract with the outside world, allowing my everyday surroundings to be overtaken by the terroir of my novel. As a result of this contract, a lot of weird stuff happens and I’m able to transform it into fiction.”
Vandermeer further explains some of his surreal experiences, which all tie back into the themes of his novels, and can only, logically, be linked together by his brain trying to make sense of the various inputs and mashing them together. The experiences can make him feel paranoid and disoriented, which is similar to my own view – and when you’re writing about things like a father seeking revenge against the person who killed his son, and really trying to understand the true hurt and anger and pain of that perspective, that can, at times, be problematic.
I guess, the only thing you can do is to be aware of such – when you’re working on something, and you’re heavily, emotionally invested in the work, it’s likely going to have an impact on your perception. But it’s probably not your perspective that’s problematic, it’s seeing things through the characters’ eyes which alters your response.
Maybe take a moment to decompress when writing, shift out of that mode and dial it back. Do something simple to break away from it, and try to remain aware of your own perspective versus that of the character.
Or maybe it’s not everyone, I don’t know. But I certainly experience the overflow of character emotion into my real-life.