Writing to help support your mental health

10 March 2021

There are many ways to look after your mental health, and UCL alumna Catherine Tang has found writing to be a great form of self-care. Read about why writing helps her, and learn how you can try it out, no matter how much experience you have.

A person writes in a notepad

COVID-19 has brought each of us a lot of losses. There are people who, when you parted with them, you thought you’d see them again soon. There are graduations that are beautiful online but could still be more exciting in reality. There are trips that never take place, independent bookshops that you have to wait a longer while to visit. I am currently in a city which I find pretty dull as I’m taking my gap year, and when people ask what makes me happy here, it’s always “my family and writing”. Personally speaking, poetry, prose, novel and playscript help me handle all the pandemic negativity quite effectively. 

I’d like to emphasise that the writing you use to heal and support yourself does NOT have to be limited by anything – so we are not talking about a distant art that only students with relevant trainings could “master”, I promise. It’s for everyone.

Of course, coming from UCL Writers’ Society, I am a big fan of all sorts of creative writing – but this does not have to be your focus. You can type up a simple paragraph on your laptop shouting out all the problems that squeeze the lemon juice out of you. You can write a short letter to yourself outlining what you would like to tell yourself or would like to hear from others. You can keep a diary, with only two to three sentences per day to record what trivial things have sparked up your day a little bit: a message from a good friend, a cute dog pic on Instagram that you scrolled past, a meme that roasts your field of study…Thoughts are already good and dear, but they will be given much more power and create more satisfaction when they turn into real words, written down. Unless you feel like doing so, you do not need to share your writings with anyone. It can be a secret process, something only for you to reflect on.

Writing is effective because it is always slightly easier to give advice to others than to help oneself; also, on paper (or on the screen), you can indulge yourself with alternative endings when reality fails you inevitably during the difficult times the whole world shares.

A winter ago my Grandmama passed away, right a few days before I came home for Christmas. I planned to fly back that summer before but due to an internship, did not. Since then, I’ve given everyone a chance to say goodbye in all the fiction I have crafted. It is probably a privilege in real life, but definitely a norm and basic right in my stories. Even better, in one way or another, my characters resolve their struggles and misunderstandings with each other before they have to part ways (though many of them do not realise what they've done at the moment, they'd be happy when reviewing their life in hindsight). This has helped me reconcile with myself for not being able to say a goodbye with Grandmama in person: I have my characters tell each other that nobody can predict such tragedies, that the dead ones will never blame you for not being able to come to their side, that love will never fade away. When I tried to tell myself about those, I thought they were simply excuses; but when my characters did, I started believing in them. I have, through weaving stories together, answered all the questions I asked myself.

Catherine Tang, BA Linguistics (2020)