The Benefits and Drawbacks of Immersion for Writers

Today’s guest post is by therapist Hayley Watkins.

Immersion is often a wonderful experience. It’s a particular state of mental involvement that many of us, as writers, find deeply comforting and satisfying, and it’s quite likely that it’s what draws you back again and again for more.

But like so many things, immersion is a double-edged sword. On the plus side it gives you the cocoon-like sense of protection from everything but the world you’ve created on paper. It’s also intense enough that when you withdraw from your writing you walk away feeling satisfied.

Both of these feelings offer big psychological benefits. After all, everybody needs to feel safe. When we feel safe, we feel ready to meet the demands life throws at us.

Satisfaction is the other side of that coin and can be described as a feeling of fulfilment of our desires or needs that we indulge in to avoid boredom or frustration. Safety protects (but may limit) us, while the pursuit of satisfaction stretches us. So far so good.

The problem with immersion is that a tight focus also means detail-oriented or small-picture thinking. That works well when we’re researching something for our story or thinking about which extras will be present in a scene or designing some element of world-building, but it doesn’t serve us so well when we reach the point where we want to promote our work.

The Perils of Promotion

Promoting your work can be hard, especially if you don’t have helpful contacts and a ready-made audience. I’m not going to talk about the business of taking your writings to market here because there’s already a lot of information online about that. Instead I want to focus on you. In particular, I want to talk about how you look after your own mental and emotional health while you’re doing what needs to be done to get noticed.

I said earlier that immersion is about deep mental involvement. That means that when you’re immersed, there’s no room in your mind for anything else. There’s another word for that: focus, and I’m going to guess that focus is one of your key strengths.

The problem with focus is that when you focus on a task, you neglect to keep an eye on that task in context of your other tasks, so it doesn’t help you notice when you have done as much as you need to, to get noticed as a writer. There’s always one more guest blog you could approach, or one more article to read that might have that key bit of information (or information presented in the right way) to click. Focus can lead you down a rabbit hole with little or no awareness of how far you’ve come.

Even when you do come back out into the proverbial fresh air from a self-promotion binge, it’s likely you still think about how your promotion efforts are going. You might think about it while shopping, walking the dog, or picking the kids up from school. That isn’t good for you. You’re well-adapted to focus, but focus is an extreme mental activity, and after a while it will wear on you. To borrow a simile from the world of sports: focus is meant for sprinting, not marathons.

So my message to you is this: be kind to yourself, or, more specifically, be attuned and alert to yourself. The first time you’re likely to notice that you’re overusing your talent for focus is when your body starts telling you so by mirroring the tension in your mind.

Assessing Your Body Feelings

Take a moment just to feel. How do you feel at the moment? Is your scalp tense or relaxed? Is your neck flexible or tight? Do your shoulders hurt? Your cheeks, brows, or eyes? How deep are you breathing, or how deep a breath do you feel like you can take? How does your belly feel?

Are you clenching anything—your jaw or toes, perhaps? How well have you been sleeping lately? Has your appetite changed? The signals your body is giving you can be easy to ignore, but there is no better way to gauge your state of mind.

There are a few antidotes to being unhelpfully detail-orientated, and you can find them by researching “big picture thinking.” It’s very much a corporate management term, but it does have wisdom to impart for us. For example, Fast Company suggests here that we should allocate time to think. For us writers, that means to walk away from our computer, notebook, lists, or whatever it is we use to organise our promotion campaign, and think about what the overall project needs. (Here is another post to help you straddle your detail-orientated self and your big picture one.)

Is talking to your current gaggle of fans helping enough? It’s engaging with your audience, which is great, but would the time be better spent writing pitches instead?

The article has other suggestions, such as talking about the project with a buddy, and that can be an immensely valuable thing to do because it will force you to put all of those unverbalized feelings, worries, and focus points into words. As a trainee therapist, I’m all about encouraging people to feel, but words have a wonderful way of clarifying things.

Keep in mind that you are the one completely indispensable element of your writing. Without you the writing doesn’t happen, and it certainly doesn’t reach an audience. It is too easy to flog yourself in your efforts to get the job done, but I urge you not to. You are your own best writing tool. Look after you, and you look after your writing career.

Hayley Watkins has been a creative writer since childhood and is now an advanced trainee specializing in Transactional Analysis, working towards accreditation. Connect with Hayley on Twitter.

6 Responses to “The Benefits and Drawbacks of Immersion for Writers”

  1. Marilyn October 29, 2018 at 12:46 am #

    Sounds a bit claustrophobic for me. Need to get some air, exercise, and yoga. A retreat in the England country side would be nice.

    • Hayley Watkins October 30, 2018 at 5:47 am #

      Hi Marilyn,

      You’re absolutely right. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of feeling happy in your environment. I’m glad you have identified that that is what you need!

  2. Priscilla Bettis October 29, 2018 at 3:33 am #

    I’m a middle-aged woman, and just now I’m starting to pay attention to my mental health needs. Do I need a break? Do I need mindless chitchat with girlfriends? Do I need to sit and feel bored for awhile? Thanks for this important post!

    • Hayley Watkins October 30, 2018 at 5:49 am #

      It’s never too late to start paying attention to your mental health needs. I hope you develop a second-nature approach to figuring out what you need to look after you.

  3. Sue MacDonald October 29, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    A very timely and useful article especially the point about getting away from the computer etc., Artist/writers as we are, my spouse and I make a point of going for what we call Big Days Out for what used to be called ‘blowing away the cobwebs’. It works.

    • Hayley Watkins October 30, 2018 at 5:51 am #

      Hi Sue,

      It’s incredibly beneficial to do something that isn’t writing for a while. Your Big Days Out sound like they’re just what you need!

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