I can already hear some of you saying, “But, Kara, writing is my hobby! It’s my one passion, my true love,” etc.
And, yeah, same, but that’s also part of the problem. For those of us who would eventually like to write full-time or think of writing as more than a hobby, writing can become an all-consuming activity. We spend hours upon hours of our lives staring at the screen, working on plots or outlines, posting on social media about our work, and of course, editing said work. Often, we clock in more time with our writing than we do with our day jobs.
But what happens when the words stop flowing for a while or we write something that isn’t well received? In the past when this happened, I caught myself falling into a mental health spiral because so much of my self-worth is tied closely to my ability to write and my productivity in relation to my writing. Part of this is certainly tied to the capitalistic notion of hustle culture and productivity = self-worth. Author and writer also become part of our identity, and when that part isn’t being stoked, we lose our sense of who we are, our self-confidence, and that leads to a lot of the mental health slipping.
What I found helped me to feel less mentally chaotic when stress or life made writing difficult was learning to crochet.
What I love about crochet is that when I’m done with a project, there is an immediate pay off. I learn stitches, I follow a pattern, and I get a hat/scarf/blanket/produce bag/stuffed squid. Unlike writing where it takes months or years for a pay off, crocheting smaller projects can be done in an hour or two. It’s something I do to wind down if I’m feeling stressed by working on something simple or repetitive or to challenge myself by choosing something with an intricate pattern like the blanket in the picture. It helps keep me centered, especially when my writing isn’t going well.
Part of the reason this works is because I am a goal-oriented person who mentally gets off to ticking things off a to-do list, and a crochet pattern is basically a to-do list that ends in a product magically appearing. I can see the pay-off happening as I work the pattern, and that gives me the brain boost I need to counterbalance what’s going wrong with my writing. Does it help all the time? Absolutely not, and sometimes, I can’t bear the thought of picking up my crochet project and working on it.
But having a hobby that isn’t writing to give your brain that boost it needs to keep out of a downward spiral is really what is key here. If you’re athletic, maybe going to the gym and doing reps or having a pick-up game with your friends will do the trick. If you’re a crafter like me, maybe try crochet, needlepoint, knitting, plastic canvas, or even needle felting. Nothing like stabbing something a million times to get the frustration out. The good thing is, most of these hobbies don’t cost very much. You can get cheap yarn and a serviceable set of hooks/needles for $10 and there are tons of tutorials on YouTube, which is where I learned to crochet (I highly recommend HookedByRobin or JaydaInStitches).
If you are not crafty, then try video games. Much like crafts, quests give that bite size chunk pay off and seeing progression through a story or quest helps to refill the wells with serotonin. I greatly enjoy low stress games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Ooblets, so if you aren’t a big gamer, those might be a good place to start to unwind.
The other thing I might suggest if you don’t feel like getting into a new hobby or playing a game is reading. I think most authors also tend to be readers, but I get frustrated when I hear authors say they don’t have time to read. You can probably make time for anything you truly want to do, even if it’s squeezing in a few minutes reading an ebook on your phone while in the bathroom. It still helps to refill those creative reservoirs.
Truthfully, I think doing something non-book related is the better option when you need to counterbalance writing angst. Doing something with your hands or playing video games, which helps to engage that hand-eye coordination and decision making anyway, are rife with pay-offs that might make you feel better if things are going wrong. Those small pay-offs that a hobby can bring add up and will ultimately lower your stress even if a pattern or project is frustrating in the moment. A side benefit is that I’ve often had plot epiphanies while my brain was busy chugging away a crochet project or plantings crops in Stardew Valley. It’s the repetitive, meditative nature of it that allows for your brain to run in the background and unpick the knots you’ve made.
If you’re feeling frustrated or stuck with your writing, I highly recommend trying a new hobby or picking up an old one.