Check Yourself: Livin' on Sunshine while Workin' 9 to 5

Being a writer can be incredible and fulfilling, but it can also feel solitary and a little bit terrifying. How do you navigate working alone, finding a community, dealing with your mental health, finding work, and coping when the money just ain't flowing? CHLOE PAPAS, an experienced journalist and writer, answers all of these questions in Check Yourself, a column on navigating the pitfalls (and the spoils!) of the writing life.

Illustration by  Angela Dalinger

Illustration by Angela Dalinger

Q: How does a creative person maintain their mental and spiritual wellbeing in a corporate office that often suppresses creativity? 

A: Dear Office Creative,

Thanks for getting in touch with this question, and I’m sure it’s one that many writers can relate to. Unfortunately, for many corporate workplaces, changing the font colour in an email signature is their idea of radical creativity and it bloody sucks.

I’m not sure what your exact situation is, but I assume that you aren’t in a position to shake things up much in the workplace and maybe leaving for a different job isn’t an option right now. No matter what your circumstance, feeling drained and unsupported can be an absolute killer for your mental health and creativity.

I think the first and most important thing is to check in with your mental health. Your mental health and ability to tap into your creativity go hand in hand, and one won’t roll on too well without the other. I am a huge advocate of finding a great therapist: you can cry at them, talk shit about your awful colleagues, and walk on out of there with no negative repercussions (if you aren’t sure how to access professional help, here’s something I prepared earlier). From there, it’s about keeping yourself happy - or at least healthy - while you’re at work.

It could be simple things like actually taking your lunch break, and going for a walk or reading for half an hour. Maybe it’s having a page in the back of your notebook at work that has little writing prompts or ideas for you to take a cheeky look at when you can’t look at one more spreadsheet. Maybe it’s listening to a podcast on the train, or listening to music while you’re at work. Think about the space that you work in, and how you can keep yourself mentally and spiritually healthy while working within it. This may depend on your workplace’s policies, but I’m going to work on the assumption that you at least have a bit of desk space to play with.

Get an indoor plant, have something in your drawer that means something to you, put up photos of people you love or places you’d like to be (the beach, a dog park, a tent in the middle of nowhere). Think about what fills you up outside of work, and try to bring pieces of that in with you - even just to glance at on the bad days. These may sound like tiny things but I can promise, they make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your cup filled in an environment that can otherwise bring you down.

Now, to your second question: finding time for writing. My biggest piece of advice here is to create a schedule. It doesn’t sound very creative, and I can empathise that you may only feel like writing when your stress levels are low or inspiration strikes. But, carving out specific time - even if it’s only one hour, a few times per week - can make a huge difference. It means you can’t put it off, and that time is your creative time. If you don’t feel like writing, read. Research. Plan out what you might like to write next, lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling.

If a week or two goes by where you don’t write much, don’t beat yourself up about it; writers are far too good at getting the guilts. If I have learnt anything over the past few years, it’s that the best way to get your writing mojo back - no matter why it’s done a runner - is to give yourself the space and time to heal and recharge. Above all, read. It may sound like a strange approach when you have asked me how to stay committed to and positive about writing, but aren’t books why we all do this in the first place? Isn’t reading a great novel one of the best feelings in the world? Doesn’t reading thousands of words that have been placed together so perfectly make you want to, maybe, try to do the same? Keep devouring.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of CHECK YOURSELF, coming out tomorrow. While you're waiting, read yesterday's edition on how to Surviving on the $$ of a Full-Time Creative.

Chloe Papas is a writer, journalist and editor based in Victoria via Perth. She spent a few years working as a journalist for the ABC before turning to the freelance life. Her work has been featured in publications like SBS, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Daily Life, Vice and Junkee.