Like many bipolar writers (and neurotypical writers), my writing life has been filled with doubt and indecision. I had my own set of rules that constituted what it meant to be a “real” writer. Even after being published in anthologies and starting my freelance writing career, I felt like a fraud, mentally keeping a list of what it meant to be a “real” writer:
- Real writers write every day.
- Real writers have a book published.
- Real writers make money off their writing (even after I did this, I told myself that “real” writers LIVE off the money they make from their writing… I was never going to stop adding reasons that made me feel like I wasn’t a legitimate writer.)
What Makes A Real Writer?
Sure, I write often, but not every day. If I do, it might be just a few sentences, and that’s not enough, right? And having a book published? I’ve been working on my memoir on and off for two years. Who knows when I’ll finish it? I’m still growing as a writer, teaching myself how to write a book as I write that book. I can’t rush that process. On top of all that, I live with bipolar disorder.
I live with bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. The bipolar aspect of my illness means that I experience “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” I wake up most days and change my mind about my religion, my college major, my career path. Consistency is not something I excel at. Even staying focused on my memoir is extremely difficult as I come up with new ideas for other writing projects every other day. So, writing every day? That’s just not going to happen for me. And that’s okay. Last Fall, my creative writing professor asked the class,
“How often do you have to write to be a writer?”
“Every day,” I said, full knowing that meant I wasn’t a writer.
“No,” he said.Writers just have to write. You don't have to write every day or even every week to call yourself a writer. You just have to write. Click To Tweet
Bipolar Writers Have Unique Struggles & Strengths
My professor was right. Writers just write. There are many books and blogs out there that will tell you that you must write every day for X hours in order to be a writer or succeed at writing. But being a writer is about going off on your own. It’s a lone wolf lifestyle that bipolar writers know well. It can be hard, but that means you get to make up your own set of rules.
Yes, writers need to set guidelines for themselves to stay on track. But bipolar writers may need to set guidelines for themselves that consider their own unique struggles and strengths. I try to write at least once a week for at least 20 minutes. I usually write more, but my schedule is packed lately. If I don’t write more than once a week, that’s okay. My guidelines take my bipolar disorder and busy schedule into consideration. Because my bipolar disorder makes me lose focus and have mood shifts so often, I have little tricks I use to keep myself working on a project.
6 Tips For Bipolar Writers
- Put a reminder in your phone or tape up a reminder on your corkboard or whiteboard. I taped up my outline and a notecard with the title of my book. When I’m about to throw myself into another idea, I see my corkboard and remember that I will always come back to my memoir until I finish it.
- Ask your partner, best friend, or writing buddy to remind you why you started this project in the first place. I talk about writing… a lot. I talk about my memoir, too, even though I’ve read writers should be close-lipped about their creative projects. Oops! I mainly talk about my memoir with my partner when I’m discouraged, and he talks me through it.
- If you’re working from an outline, keep it handy or tape it above your desk so that when your mood dips, you still have a roadmap to sludge through until you’re feeling inspired again. I just started doing this, and it is SO helpful. When I know I’m ready to write, it helps me work on my memoir instead of writing about something else altogether. I sit down to work on my memoir and write about something unrelated way too often, so this is really helpful for me.
- Have faith that the ideas that matter, they will stick. I panic, a lot. I know that the “me” tomorrow will change her mind. She might change the basic beliefs that make up her life. Does she believe in ghosts tomorrow? Does she even believe she’s real tomorrow? I can’t count on myself because of my bipolar disorder. My ideas come and go. It’s hard to accept that so much will be lost in the pit of my manic racing thoughts. But I’ve learned that the ideas that matter will stick. They will come back like a boomerang.
- Try to look for the good in your condition when things seem to be falling apart. To be sure, it’s hardly a boring life for writers with bipolar disorder. We’re are highly imaginative and inspired, especially when manic. Yes, manic episodes can be incredibly damaging. Mania is not always euphoria. Much of the time, it’s irritability, racing thoughts, and distractibility. But not always. Sometimes the episodes take us for a ride, and then we start writing again after being blocked.
- Last but not least, be kind to yourself. I beat myself up SO much because I am so moody and flaky, because my opinions and desires can change as quickly as twenty minutes later. I wake up every day and feel like a different person, which means my basic beliefs and the direction of my creative projects change. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. People get tired of hearing about my brand new ideas that I will just chuck later. But at least my life is never boring. Sure, sometimes I just want to get the hell off this ride, but there are times, too, when I am so high in the sky that I feel sorry for those who will never know how beautiful it can be up here.
About The Author:
August Blair is the blogger behind Writers With Mental Illness. She is a freelance writer and student. She is passionate about writing and psychology. She studies at The University of North Georgia. You can find her writing online and in print. Connect with her on Instagram and Goodreads.