I want to be a writer, but I have struggled with Schizoaffective Disorder for quite some time. Some of the symptoms of the disorder are amotivation and trouble with initiation (Getting things started). I have written many, many incomplete short stories over the past eight years, and my writing is improving... but I want to make this more than just a hobby of mine. I've considered schooling, but I really have to get a handle on my procrastination, or just plain forgetfulness, or lack of motivation, or whatever it is...

Perhaps its due to all the thinking I do instead of writing. I used to think so much, worry, until I could no longer function, and have had to quit jobs because of it. I wasn't very talented at work, whatever work it was, because I would be trapped in my head instead of being on task. I have came leaps and bounds in this regard. I have come to a new beginning, where I am no longer trapped by my own thinking.

I quit drinking, which was a huge distraction from writing, and made my writing worse. I even quit smoking! My life has a normal routine to it now, of psycho-social groups and exercise. My life is heading in a positive direction. I just need something to kick-start my writing.

I want to write a novel

I have the ideas, I'm just afraid that I will give up after I make the outline, like I used to do. At my group they have a room where they allow me to write undisturbed.

My questions are, how much time should I dedicate to writing during the week? (like how many hours each day?) How can I stay motivated, and stick to my goal? Is it possible to write and have a mental illness? How can I stay focused, and not want to write something else even a chapter or two into it? ... and, is writing as a career possible for me?

Thank you.


  • 8
    I have no experience of such an illness, BUT. When you write "My questions are, how much time should I dedicate to writing during the week? (like how many hours each day?) How can I stay motivated, and stick to my goal?" you are asking the same questions every writer does. So I believe yes, you can. There is only one way to find out: start writing and see where it gets you. That's what we all do. And remember that a writing career is very hard to achieve even for "sane" persons. Good luck!
    – FraEnrico
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 7:16
  • 23
    Any can-I-overcome-my-disability-and-reach-my-goals question is certain to get several encouraging answers, and rightly so. But you should also consider that making a career as a novelist (that is, making enough money to live on) is an extremely rare and difficult thing to do. Even commercially published novelists with several books to their name often are not making enough to live on. That does not mean it is impossible or that you should not try, but it is also important to realize that your disability if far from being the only hurdle you will face. Forewarned is forearmed.
    – user16226
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 10:22
  • 8
    Ezra Pound, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Robert Pirsig - yes, you're in good company
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 11:03
  • 14
    Stereotypically, it's practically a requirement. Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 21:23
  • 2
    Although I don't have the answer you seek, I do have some tips. 1. If you write on your computer, disable your digital desktop (icon clutter distracts). 2. Try to write at least one word a day, six days a week (if you do that, odds are you'll write more than one word a day, and odds are it'll get easier). 3. Take care of your nutrition. 4. Read. Reading makes writing easier. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 6:17

9 Answers 9


It is totally possible to become a writer with a mental illness, even Schizoaffective Disorder. I'd suggest that you may have greater self-awareness and coping strategies as a result.

Time Commitment

Whatever works for you. But start with a manageable and reproducible target. Even if it's one hour per day. Start there and grow to suit your situation. If I had to pick an number I'd say aim for 2 hours per day. You can write 50,000 words in a month - that matches NaNoWriMo target and is the length of The Great Gatsby.

Most beginner writers aim for 2 blocks of 2 hours (that they fit in before and after school/work). Interestingly many professional writers I've spoken to also write in blocks of 2 hours. Very few write non-stop for 6-8 hours a day. I suspect that those ones dictate to a transcriber or dictation app. Dictation is a skill I wouldn't recommend learning just yet.

Like playing a musical instrument writing is a skill. You cannot begin writing at 8 hours per day. Instead build up to it based on what works for you. Professional classical musicians practice from 1 to 8 hours per day, but research suggests results diminish after 2 hours.

Mindful writing is required. Actually producing words, not editing - that is a separate effort.

How to stay motivated

Log your work output and effort

Count your daily word output and log it somewhere. On a spreadsheet, in an exercise book, on a whiteboard (take a photo of it from time to time). As you produce words the "run-rate" and total word count will motivate you.

What you write at this stage doesn't matter. 800 words on the outline or plot is still 800 words. Just classify it as outline, plot, Chapter X.

I find it useful to also log the time it took.

You may like to add up to 10 words to describe the session (feelings, thoughts, whatever but keep it brief)

The First Draft is sacred

Writing is about starting. After that writing is about finishing. Finish the draft. It doesn't matter if it is good, you're not going to show that first draft to anyone.

Get the words out. If the writing is ugly or ineloquent, keep going. Trust that you will fix it in the next draft. If you notice a minor plot problem make a note for later (e.g. how does our hero fly this plane if earlier I wrote he has epilepsy and never learned to drive?)

Major plot or character problems may require you to retrace your steps by going back and changing things. I would suggest making a note about the problem and proceeding if possible as if you'd fixed it earlier.

The goal is to finish the draft. It is like climbing Everest. Once you are in the danger zone you have 2 options - reach the summit or return to base camp.

Don't judge your work until you finish this draft

Our inner editor/reader/critic is the main reason most people do not write more or finish much.

Separate Editing from Writing

Don't edit while you are writing and don't write while you are editing.

After you write X words or Y minutes/hours take a short break before reviewing the words. Ideally don't revise the work until you have the first draft completed. If you must review I suggest reviewing the previous day's work or even the work from last week.

Avoid the trap to you tweak as you write.

After you finish your first story (short- or novel), start the next one immediately during your next writing session. Edit the first story in your editing session. So if you write for 2x2hrs each day you can either make the second 2hr block an editing session or you can fit a third 2hr editing session in. See how you feel.

Keep reminding yourself that you will fix the writing and plot problems in the next draft.

Plan your writing

Create an outline - it may or may not be "canon" for your story. I find my characters go off on their own.

Break the project down to chunks. You don't need to plan those chunks down to daily goals. They should be specific and they should be achievable in a week.

Every writing session has an outcome. It can be either a word count or a story point. Tell yourself what part of the story you are telling this session.

It's okay to start with short stories and grow from there.

If you get distracted after a chapter or two spend some time writing short stories that are finished in one writing session. Then work on longer short stories that take a few sessions to finish.

Build up to stories that take a week to finish.

Finally you'll be ready to move to stories that take a month to a year to finish a draft.

Practice your editing process on the short stories if you like.

Have a Workspace

I write on my laptop in a variety of places but I have a special place that I churn out words.

The familiarity reinforces your brain that this is writing space and time.

Put a written goal visible at every writing session.

Use either a post-it note or a big sign above your screen, but put up that goal.

Today I will write "The hero arrives at the camp"


  • Write at the same time every day.
  • Write for the same amount of time. This is beginning advice, some professional writers keep writing until they get their word count every day. Journalists do this too.
  • Start writing at the beginning of the writing session. No Tea or Coffee making, outline reviewing, twitter/email/stackexchange checking. 9:00am start producing words.

Maintain a Sparks file

A file (or collection of files) to collect ideas (i.e. Sparks). Periodically review to refocus and generate new tasks. -- Fritz Freiheit on Sparks

This helps with motivation but is really about writing process.

I have a text file in my writing directory called _Sparks.txt (so it sorts to the top). I have it open in my editor but minimised.

If I get a great idea while writing my current goal, I quickly type the pertinent points out in the Sparks file and save it for later. If later I can't tell what was so fascinating about the idea then it was just a distraction. Normally I still like the idea when I return to it.

My sparks range from single lines e.g. * I am a minor league mansplainer to 500 words of plot or setup or even a picture I found online (I save picture inspiration to pinterest.com)

I count words I add to the spark file in a separate column on my daily log.

When I want to start a new project I open the Sparks file and pick a project. I create the folder for the project in my writing directory, I cut the spark note out and put it in the project directory, along with other inspiration and log files.

A note on Revisions

I print out my first draft double spaced with 1" margins.

I edit with a pen and hand write the changes.

My second draft is then written by retyping the entire thing incorporating my notes and changes - no cutting and pasting. That is the second draft.

Rinse and repeat.

Nobody ever gets to see my first draft or any draft I haven't finished because...

The First Draft is Sacred!

  • 4
    This is a fantastic answer and would apply to anyone.
    – S Karami
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 8:44
  • 1
    Thank you, this is great, I will experiment. Sparks.txt is a fantastic idea.
    – michi
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:56

Reading your question made me smile at times. First, I'm happy that you are moving in a positive and for you worthwhile direction. As far as I remember, so-called mood-conditions, like bipolar and schizo-affective seem to be linked to creativity and expression of creativity, and writing seems to be a good way to put this ability into action.

Second, procrastinating seems quite common among creative minds, regardless of diagnosis, if any.

Try the following: Prepare your workspace, bring your tools. Set an alarm clock to 20 minutes, and make sure you can see the time passing. Whatever you are up to, be it brainstorming, be it planning the course of a story, be it sketching a character of your story, be it researching on a book or on the net, you start immediately and stop with the alarm ringing.

When the alarm is ringing, if you are in the flow, you may work another 20 minutes, set your timer. After that, if you are in the flow, do it again. Do this 3 times maximum (60 minutes), then take a pause, leave the writing-space, move, interact, etc. If you are still motivated and able, continue as described.

If you were doing other things unrelated to your writing and didn't return to your writing within these 20 minutes, that's it for the day. Start over again tomorrow with the same procedure.

Whenever you are progressing well, you may increase from 20 to 30 minutes. If this is increasing distraction or procrastination, reduce to 20 minutes; if you experience 20 minutes as too long, so you lose focus, put off etc., start with 15 or even 10 minutes, increase only if progressing.

The principle behind is called time-restriction, it is a psychological approach to overcoming procrastination.

Edit: I have been thinking about your question again and came up with another point I didn't address:

The role of writing as part of the healing process.

It has been thoroughly researched [e.g. Pennebaker, University of Austin, and many others]. Probably, writing could be part of a psychotherapy as well, and make its effects profounder. In case that you do. or plan to attend psychotherapy, writing might be a useful part of that.

  • 1
    Another fascinating trick. Again this could work for anyone.
    – S Karami
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 8:46
  • 2
    Nice answer. Is that the basis of The Pomodoro Technique?
    – paulzag
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 10:33
  • 1
    @paulzag thank you, I don't know the pomodoro technique, so I can't say. These principles have been researched by Watzlawick er al. at Palo Alto.
    – michi
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:51

I would submit that a mental illness may be an advantage in being a writer.

Writing, to me, is about observation. Experiencing things, observing them, and capturing that experience on paper is the essence of really great writing. It might become fictionalized by a thin veneer such as a different name for a real person, or it might be fantasized to the point where a talking dragon is having a conversation with an animated shoe, but if the underlying feeling is based on something the writer has actually experienced, it will be more vivid and have more impact. Impact is everything, so the writer who has real life experiences outside the vanilla norm is at an advantage when it comes to writing things that transport someone far away from their normal life but making it so realistic that they can't put it down.

Many of the very best writers had an unconventional background. Many of the very best also had issues of one kind or another. From drugs to depression, intense personal experiences and challenges have led to some of the best writing ever published. The key is to get across the feeling that goes along with that struggle, so someone who has never faced it can identify with and understand the protagonist and go along for a ride somewhere they would never, ever be able to see and experience in their own life.

The key, to me, is first observation as I said. Working on distilling down what you experienced in real life into the most concise form possible while maintaining feeling. Then, the creative part is to attach these kinds of real things to fictional stories, fictional locations, fictional people. If you are a combat vet, you still don't know what it is like to be part of a group of knights charging at a horde of monsters, but you do know what it feels like to go into combat, so you can make that fantasy battle have the kind of gut-punch realism that will make readers feel like your whole fantasy world is somehow real.

You may not know what it is like to have a physical handicap but you can probably extrapolate from what it is like to overcome a challenge that you carry with you all the time. You may not know what it is like to grow up in an abusive household, but you can probably extrapolate something about the inherent difficulties of fitting in. These are the kinds of stories that really bring out the waterworks in readers. To me, that is great, because the very first thing I want to do above anything else is make my reader feel something.

As for the actual writing part: just decide what you are going to accomplish and be ruthless with yourself until you do it. It is very simple. Writing itself is a very simple, mechanical activity that gets better with practice. Having a great story to tell is a lot harder. If I were you, I'd think about storytelling before writing. You say you have a lot of half finished stories lying around. That's great. It tells me you have the mechanical activity down. If I were you, I would find a friend, someone who you feel pretty comfortable with and who is a good listener. Sit down with them somewhere comfortable and just tell them a story. It can be totally made up, it can be totally true. Just tell a story. Practice telling stories to various people as much as you can, and you will develop a sense of timing, a feel for what gets a reaction, and an instinct for a story that will be so compelling that it will force you to complete it once you start to put it on paper. You need to find a story that is important to you, or it will never be important to your reader.

From Pat Conroy's Prince Of Tides:

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”

Edit: had to add a quote from Hemingway:

“You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless—there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is go straight on through to the end of the damn thing,”

Ernest Hemingway in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald 1929

  • 1
    +1 if i could plus this more I would. It's so true and I like the way you presented the information.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 17:08
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    William James, I think, has something to say on this subject per The Varieties of Religious Experience. The thesis holds for artists as it does for saints--using channeling. I think it's more than "one would have to have a screw loose to pursue a career in the arts"; I suspect that, unless one actually goes a little bit "crazy", one will not produce any astonishing or novel insights.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 22:35
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    I would extend this to creative thinkers in the sciences,by which I mean those with the towering reputations that have advanced science human understanding by great leaps. In these cases it appears that solving a particular problem is an obsession, and the people who pursue such obsessions are often initially thought to be delusional.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 22:38

First of all I'm not a doctor and good luck with your schizoaffective disorder. I cannot imagine the extent of its effect over your life; that's something you have to judge by yourself.

But from what you write, it seems you have already made progress in other areas of your life - e.g. quitting drinking and smoking, better dealing with your job and such - despite your mental illness. Why would writing should be any different? So my answer is definitely yes, at least to the main question.

Going over the others:

How much time should I dedicate to writing during the week?

Up to you, but from what I heard, a good practice is to struggle and write something - anything - everyday, just to keep an habit. So let's say, half an hour a day? Someone suggests counting up the number of words you write rather than the time you spend writing them, but in the end is quite the same. You have to keep your gears running. The point is making an habit out of it. You'll find tons of answers on this question on the site, you'll just have to look around.

How can I stay motivated, and stick to my goal?

I'm not the best counselor on this, since I'm struggling with the same issue. I'd say: try to break your goal into smaller pieces - that are more easily achievable. "I want a novel done" seems quite a far-away target, and it takes a lot of time to get it done. If you manage to write, let's say, one or two pages a day, you'll just be one or two pages closer to your goal... and novels can have hundreds of pages. Not really reassuring, is it?

Think differently. What gets me going is, rather, "I want to write this scene" or "I want to make those characters meet, and do something". It might be poor outlining, but I tend to build my stories around characters and events. I know in advance most of the important stuff that is going to happen and I usually fill in the blanks between one "important scene" and the other.

The good part of this is that you can set some more reachable milestones: in my opinion, it's more rewarding. You'll go sleeping thinking "Ah, finally I made that thing happen. I think it played out well, now, up to the next one".

Is it possible to write and have a mental illness?

Imho, yes. As I said.

How can I stay focused, and not want to write something else even a chapter or two into it?

Well, we already talk about two problems here: the fact that you cannot write consistently and the fact you can't seem to finish a novel. I'd say it's better to address them one at a time: first, start following a writing routine until "it works". Then worry about keeping faithful to a story.

From a personal point of view, if you're having problems with writing in general, worrying about writing a novel doesn't help much. If you're trying to follow a daily routine, but can't seem to progress on your novel, just write something else and call it a day. Sure, the con is that your novel won't get any further, but at least you have written something, instead of looking at a blank page in guilt.

is writing as a career possible for me?

Again, honestly: why not?


I think a good strategy is to pick (even randomly) a story you want to write and start sinking some cost into it. In other words before putting anything down, do a number of days of research on the subject. Write small stories connected to your novel. Create a mini universe as a starting point if it's fiction, or put down a plan if it's non-fiction. But, do at least a few days of research first. I'll tell you a bit of my own experience.

I am not a writer, but I'm half way through my first novel. I'm a scientist who happens to have a mental illness. After a few years of medication, it seems to be under control. When it wasn't under control, my inspiration seemed boundless. I also think I had more feelings and more intuition.

At the beginning, I had to take larger doses of medicine and that made it impossible for me to work or write. At this time, the doses are smaller and I can function. As a scientist, I'm better. I'm more focused and more disciplined. As a writer, I tend to lose inspiration. I have bipolar disorder, so before being medicated, I used to gush a whole chapter in one day. Then I'd scrap it and write another chapter of something completely different. If you have this kind of problem, better write short stories.

But, I'm writing a (fiction) novel. To write a novel, I need to be able to stay with it for a long time. I've been writing for more than one year. I don't care so much when I finish, because it's not my day job. My trick to stay focused was to write about myself. My characters all have a piece of myself or of what I wished to be. There is always in my story a little something that stuck to my memory. Somewhere there is a white picket fence from a beautiful house I've seen in Pennsylvania, and so on.

My book will probably end being 3-400 pages long. But there are maybe thousands of things I imagined happening to my characters. They all have stories, each of which could be written in a more or less interesting book. Every time I have a little break from my actual work, I think of what would be the most probable improbable and interesting thing that could happen next in my story. When I find something I believe it's clever, I can't wait to make a little time to write it down.

Then there is Sutter Kane. Kane is my alter ego. Every time I go off tangent and think something else would make a wonderful subject of one of my books, one of my characters reads or quotes from a great Sutter Kane book. I don't know if any of Sutter Kane's ideas will make it into the final version, but it's my way of dealing with my mind going all over place.

More to the point: I try to find chunks of times to do my writing. I don't write without doing a little research first and thinking about what should be in the chapter. I think of many possible scenarios, and then I vote the best. Then I write down, preferably starting in the morning so I have time to write a significant part of the chapter in one day. Over the next days I keep editing. Then I move on.


Congratulations on setting the writing goal of wanting to complete a novel. Janet Frame from New Zealand was a writer of high repute with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she may be an inspiration and motivation to you. Her biopic is called "An Angel At My Table." I am writing my first novel and have found great guidance in: The Marshall Plan by Evan Marshall, or another novel-writing reference work as a support for planning and organizing your novel before you start. This step-by-step process prevents overwhelm and creates an organized framework with which to proceed. Overwhelm can be a huge motivation killer. Also, I find it helpful to belong to a writer's group, and knowing they are waiting for the next instalment is good motivation for me to deliver the goods! Best writing wishes from the trenches. I'm currently in the second draft of my first novel, and have a mental health diagnosis which affects motivation as well. I've just accepted that motivation may not always be consistent, and I take one project, one step, at a time. And if I'm not motivated to write, I can research, or step back and survey what I've done and take notes, or think about it. Do what you can and you will find your fondness for it, and desire to spend time with it, grows!


I'm going to address the questions one by one:

How much time should I dedicate to writing during the week? (like how many hours each day?)

  • There is no right answer, except too little time will result in a lack of progress, where too much time could result in burnout. Many professional writers find a schedule to be helpful--Hemingway reportedly wrote for at least 4 hours per day before drinking himself into oblivion. By contrast, legend holds that Kerouac's "On The Road" was composed in an extended burst of manic energy. (Note that both writers are considered important and almost certainly had mental health issues beyond alcoholism:) It's ideal if you can write a little bit every day, but it's also quite natural to experience dry periods where you're just not motivated, and those may be taken as opportunities to "recharge".

How can I stay motivated, and stick to my goal?

  • This one is easy: choose a subject you are passionate about! A very large number of artists "write the same book" or "paint the same subject" (in quotes b/c not meant to be taken overly literally) which is to say their work is the result of their obsessions. imo the best work comes from such obsessions.

Is it possible to write and have a mental illness?

  • Not only is it possible, it is considered in some circles to be an advantage. (Not that mental illness is a picnic, or to be desired or sought, but a large number, if not the majority, of significant artists seem to have some form of mental illness.) In some sense, one has to be "crazy" to pursue a career in the arts because it is so difficult to succeed, and success is almost entirely based on factors beyond the artists' control, and usually involves a huge amount of luck.

How can I stay focused, and not want to write something else even a chapter or two into it?

  • The truth is, you won't always be able to stay focused. This is natural. Finishing a work, regardless of its quality, is very good practice, but don't feel compelled to have to keep working on something you are "no longer feeling". You never know when a gem is going to emerge, so you just have to keep coming back to, and stick with, the process. Start out writing short pieces, then graduate to longer forms. (Microfiction is a great way to start. Only write stories you can finish in a single sitting.)

is writing as a career possible for me?

  • It is possible, but is a very risky career choice, even for the most talented. (If you care about money and comfort, and are not already independently wealthy, do not choose art as a career!;) This does not mean you shouldn't practice art, just you can't be assured of getting paid for it.

I, too, deal with schizoaffective disorder, and I have written one novel, which was for me a real accomplishment. I understand what you mean about problems with motivation. One of the reasons I wrote the novel was to see if I really had it in me to complete such an undertaking.

Here's one thing I did to keep me going. I've learned that I'm somewhere between a discovery writer (who figures out what the story is by writing it) and an outliner. Specifically, I need to have some overarching ideas of the plot and structure before I can sit down and write. What I did to keep going was to pick a milestone, something important that needed to happen in the story, and write in a way that the story headed in the general, maybe a little meandering, direction of the milestone, but not go straight to it.

This tackled the biggest struggle I have in writing: being stuck because I don't know what to write immediately next. I swear the meds I take have left me less smart and less imaginative than I was before starting them.

Another piece of advice I learned and use successfully, not just in writing but in my work as a programmer is to stop work in the middle of something. It gives me something to do immediately next when I resume working and gets me back into the flow.

For what it's worth, I'm currently writing my first murder mystery, with an accidental detective who is schizophrenic.


"My questions are, how much time should I dedicate to writing during the week? (like how many hours each day?) How can I stay motivated, and stick to my goal? Is it possible to write and have a mental illness? How can I stay focused, and not want to write something else even a chapter or two into it? ... and, is writing as a career possible for me?"

If you're looking to write a novel I don't believe you're asking the right questions.

  • How much time should I dedicate to writing during the week?

As much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Writers tend be artists rather than machines. When the stars line up, the ambient temperature is just right, and the earth tilts on its axis at just the right angle - genius will spring from your fingertips. Other day you'll be banging out embarrassing.

I once knew some band-members, they spent many years writing and performing their songs. A record company advanced them $1.5 million - they spent a good chunk of the money on therapy because for the next 12 months, no new music would come to them.

  • Is it possible to write and have a mental illness?

You'd be surprised at the number of writers and artists suffering from mental disorders, and many of those not afflicted with said disposition go to extremes to self-inflict.


_ I have the ideas, I'm just afraid that I will give up after I make the outline.

Why do you think it is necessary use an outline? Using an outline affects the writing process. The process effectively becomes a mapped out journey to a specific situation -where's the fun in that? Some days you might just want to go out to what you can see.

One time I saw a hat placed on a wall beside a busy main road. It was an expensive hat. There was no wind to speak of. I began to wonder under what circumstances that person could have lost their hat? Heart-attack? Mugging?

It should be noted at this point that I probably suffer from mild Aspergers. I was watching TV (Star Trek). A character named 'Seven' noticed a child was bleeding. The character promptly announced "Naomi Wildman, you are damaged!"

So I have two characters; the man who lost his hat and an emotionally challenged woman. I'll put them in a test-tube and see what happens. I've no idea where it's going . . . probably a very "Driving Miss Daisy" type story. But there will be no outline. I'll make it up as I go along.

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