The Healthy Writer

I was lucky to attend a talk on writing today by Sherry Ashworth. Sherry talked about her career and how attitude to her writing has evolved. One of the many interesting aspects she touched upon was the idea of how to be and stay a ‘Healthy Writer.’

Sherry pointed out that being published can ‘mess with your ego.’ The published writer can become ‘an honorary teenager,’ hypersensitive to both criticism and praise. The highs and lows of the writing life can become extreme. If you are thinking about your writing in an unhealthy way, you will have an emotional rather than a practical response.

I was somewhat embarrassed to recognise myself at this point in Sherry’s lecture. I have been very lucky to receive some lovely reviews for my pamphlet, but managed to wind myself up over one where the reviewer in question wrote very poorly, misquoting from one of the pamphlets he was reviewing and expressing his forthright views on what poetry ‘should be’ in a badly written piece. But the part that really got to me was this guy’s description of me as ‘an able writer.’ How dare this amateur describe me as able!  I stormed around being indignant for considerably longer than was strictly necessary. Teenagers are meant to be hypersensitive; writers should have some sensitivity, I suppose, but this is really no excuse for not being a grown up when you are.

Here are some of the points Sherry made about avoiding the excesses of ‘Teen-head’

Don’t over-react to praise and criticism. Try to keep calm.
Don’t follow the crowd; only wear a fashion if it suits you.
Don’t post airbrushed pictures (literal and metaphorical) on Facebook- avoid boasting.
Choose your friends carefully. Every so often you meet a fellow writer who’s a bit like a character from the film  ‘Mean Girls.’ They are apparently in the cool clique, but when you have left their company you somehow feel smaller. Avoid these people. There are plenty of lovely writers out there who will like you for who you are.

Thankfully, I was also able to recognise myself in Sherry’s other description, that of the ‘Healthy writer.’ This is the one who writes, like a child, for the simple unself-conscious pleasure of writing.


  1. Thanks for this, Roy.Very helpful and true! The teen head trap made me wince with identification. We’ve all been there. Another helpful distinction I’ve come across, from the American creative writing teacher, Julia Cameron, is between the writing career (which we all have to address if we want to achieve a measure of recognition) and the writing life, which is writing simply for its own sake, for the sheer joy of it. As you say, writing like a child. It’s important to keep these two aspects distinct, otherwise one risks falling into unhealthy ways.


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