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My Writing Process: A Look at How and Why I Write Novels about Mental Illness

Recently, novelist Chris Longmuir invited me to participate in a blog tour in which writers discuss their writing processes. Kyle Arrington My initial impulse was to decline, as this is a mental health blog rather than a writing blog. I then realized that all of my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is about mental health issues; therefore, I decided that this event does indeed have a place on my website. Below, I answer four questions posed to me about my writing process. It is my hope that this will provide some behind-the-scenes input into what I write and why I write it. Before I begin, I’d like to shout out a thanks to Chris Longmuir for inviting me to participate. She has written many novels, most of them crime novels. Check her out at   Why and how I write novels about mental illnessWHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON? While I wait for my fourth novel, Twenty-four Shadows, to be released by Apprentice House Press in the spring of 2016, I’m working away on my next. Like my others, it’s a character-driven novel that highlights a personal attempt to live life amidst mental health and environmental challenges. It’s a woman’s journey that spans a lifetime and two continents. My novels currently available are Losing Elizabeth Leave of Absence My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel   HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE? The genre of my writing is contemporary fiction, which is an extremely broad category, and the novels within are varied. It’s difficult to state why one novelist in such a huge genre is different from another. Portland Trail Blazers Perhaps my works are unique for their mission (more on that in the next question). I use fiction for non-fiction purposes. Air Jordan 5 (V) Actually, Leave of Absence was selected as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards 2013 competition in a contemporary fiction sub-category they dubbed “Faction,” fiction based on fact. Air Max Flyknit Hombre Losing Elizabeth was awarded Storytellers Campfire’s top honor in 2014, the Marble Book Award for being a “book that makes a difference in the world.” Kirkus Reviews called My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel “A vital tool for sufferers and their families that broadens understanding of a debilitating illness” and named it to their top books of 2014.   WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO? My goal, through my novels, is to change the way the world thinks about mental illness and the people who experience it. I’m hoping to help increase both factual understanding and empathy. Fiction is a powerful vehicle for teaching fact. Nike Yeezy 2
People connect to characters in novels, and they empathize with them. Commonly, people transfer their empathy to real-life human beings. canada goose dawson parka So I use fiction as my medium for humanizing mental illness, for deepening empathy and compassion.   HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK? I begin with what to me are the biggies: theme and character. I ponder what I’d like to focus on, what theme I want to illustrate, and then I envision the characters who will help me do this. While I do brainstorm as I create characters, I typically end up “feeling” them rather than “thinking” them. Moncler Homme For example, with Leave of Absence, I wanted to show life in behavioral health hospitals, and I wanted to portray schizophrenia and major depression. In My Life in a Nutshell, I wanted to show how very debilitating various forms of anxiety can be. With each story, I pondered, often with my eyes closed, almost in mediation, how that would play out. As I did this both times, characters came to mind, and with them, deeper issues than I already had in mind. Once I know the characters, I spend time with them in my mind, and it doesn’t take long before I’ve bonded with them and feel close to them. After all, if I don’t feel a closeness to and an empathy for my characters, how in the world will readers feel it? And isn’t my whole point to build empathy and understanding? Once my characters are firmly established in my heart, it’s time to delve into their specific difficulties. While I do have a Master’s degree in counseling and am credentialed as a Nationally Certified Counselor, and while I do live with bipolar 1 disorder and experience anxiety, I never, ever, think that I know it all. That would be absurd! I enter the research phase, a phase I never fully leave until a manuscript has been revised by me, edited by a professional, revised by me again, and re-edited by said professional. Research is an integral part of my writing process. Julian Edelman So are brainstorming and sketching and revising. UGG Classic Sparkles With each and every chapter, I begin by reviewing where I’ve been and where I want to go. Each chapter, as I write, is a step in how the characters are going to get where they need to be. Writing, while challenging, is great fun. Positive psychologists speak of flow, the period in which one is fully engaged in what he or she is doing. In flow, one is focused, and all other thoughts, worries, stresses, and other negative things fall away. asics lyte 3 rosso uomo Finding flow is important for mental health and well-being. I find my flow when I write. Hopefully, that helps me achieve what I’m writing for in the first place: understanding of mental illness and empathy for those who experience it.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing, Tanya. I now know why I am currently edgy, dissatisfied with life, restless and a bit fed up. I am not in the “flow” of writing anything. Gillix

    1. No matter what we do, we all “ebb and flow” with the process. The fact that you feel the way you do also means that you experience the opposite, too (or else you wouldn’t notice a difference). I think it’s part of the creative process (and the general process of life, for that matter). With your writing talent, you’ll experience flow again!

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