A new year is an important time for writers, as we list our writing goals, looking back ruefully or with pleasure over the last 12 months.
Today – Thursday 7 February – is Time to Talk day: an opportunity to talk publicly and privately about mental health and wellbeing.
At Writing West Midlands, we work with writers at all stages of their careers, from age 8 to beyond 80. Some writers have been writing since they can hold a pen, others come to writing as a second (or third, or fourth!) career.
With that in mind, it is worth reminding ourselves that being a writer can be a long and frustrating journey with its own particular menu of disappointments. All writers know that, of course. No-one comes to writing expecting immediate rewards.
But to lighten the load, we’d like to offer two observations.
Firstly, friends who are also writers help us keep on an even keel. They know the pleasures and difficulties of writing. Keep talking and keep sharing work and progress (or lack of it) with each other. It is a comfort to know we all face the same challenges. To reveal that not much has been achieved this last week, month or year is fine. Place your triumphs in context alongside your failures.
Secondly, the rewards we are most obviously offered – winning competitions, being published, receiving awards – are not the only outcomes on which we should focus our attention. Students of economics will appreciate that, as a whole, this industry is more than happy to offer many ways for writers to compete for favour. A few are taken up by the industry, most are not.
That is how this market works. But there is another market of which we are also part, a market in which we share (rather than trade) our emotional and intellectual selves, not for financial reward but for the pleasure of creativity and community. This is about writing for, and writing with, friends. It is about sharing and reading and listening. It is about the unmonetisable rewards of community, understanding and common humanity.
Which is to say, by all means be ambitious but now and then check-in with yourself that these ambitions are not going to cause misery if unachieved. Find small rewards along the way. At times be content to not participate. Writing is important but other things are important too.
The Writing West Midlands staff team, Room 204 writers-in-development, and the wider writing network in the West Midlands
The Samaritans: available 24/7 for anyone in need
Rethink Mental Health: help and support for people affected by mental illness