Self Care for Writers

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[This article was originally published in the Sisters in Crime The Stiletta August 2021 newsletter. To read the entire article, click here and go to page 7.]

Do you ever feel like querying, submitting, and constantly searching for a publisher or agent is like always being hungry and rarely being fed? Well, there’s more than just a publishing contract that can feed the longing of a writer’s soul.

[Pull quote] Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it. – Simon Sinek

Why do you write? Do you work a bleeder of a day job and write novels on the side because you crave a creative outlet? Are you retired from a successful career and finally diving into the novel that’s been haunting you for decades? Are you a travel blogger touring the world, or have you always written, since childhood, as a means of escape?

We read a lot about self-care on things like yoga websites, in spirituality magazines, but rarely do I see this guidance slanted toward the writing path. And there’s more to self-care than yoga and massages. It’s about tuning in and being real with ourselves about our dreams, our capacity, our limits, and our needs.  

The writing life comes with lots of perks – freedom, flexibility, creative expression, and eccentricities are more than welcome. But what about the challenges we face, like loneliness, disappointment, burnout, and overwhelm? Exhaustion, frustration, and unmet expectations? No one ever talks about the emotions we repress to prevent rejections from derailing us. We develop grit and tenacity, and those coping mechanisms are mission-critical survival tools. And rejections aren’t without value either, because they’re evidence of productivity and courage. You can’t get rejected if you’re not writing and putting your work out there. But what happens to our hearts and souls when we receive a rejection (or hundreds of them) …or get nothing back at all? Does something die inside us, or is a new level of persistence born making us even more unstoppable? Either way, writers need emotional support, and not just here and there. We need it consistently.

Having a plan for your writing path and future is great. And having the energy and drive to execute that plan is even better. But at some point, your culture of multitasking can easily turn to self-sabotage and overwhelm, resulting in a pattern of ignoring your needs. Ilene Strauss Cohen from Psychology Today writes about this in her article What It Really Means to Take Care of Yourself. The writing path is often deadline-driven. How far will you go to meet a writing goal? My benchmark is if I need coffee to stay up late enough to write, I’m too tired. Go to bed!

Admit it – the process of creation is exhausting. We need mental rest from the constant, micro-decision making required for writing and outlining complex stories, not to mention the decisions and strategy needed to navigate the ever-changing publishing landscape. Writing is solitary and often lonely. It’s easy to feel depressed, unworthy, and invisible after a long string of rejections. Many of us write stories and novels in addition to sustaining demanding day jobs, consulting, and family responsibilities. We manage multiple workloads, juggling way too many things, and God knows we haven’t had a vacation in over a year. We need to regularly restore, replenish, and revive our creative spirit. How do we do that?

Self-Care Habits for Writers

  1. Take a break – take a day or two off if you’ve been pushing yourself hard and feel burned out, depressed, uninspired, or resentful. Or if you’re stuck and don’t know how to move forward with your story, take two weeks or even a month off to give your mind some space from it. Work on another project or start something completely new.
  2. Take care of your vessel – stretch your writing muscles: back, neck, arms, hands, and cover the basics like food and hydration.
  3. Set small, reasonable goals – that way you can meet them easily, and small successes lift the spirit.
  4. Celebrate your wins, even small wins – buy yourself a present.
  5. Acknowledge and grieve your losses – talk to friends, family, or your writing connections, or use journaling to validate your feelings, whatever they are.
  6. Say NO! – Boundaries are an effective form of self-care because they demonstrate self-respect and awareness of our capacity. Saying no also demonstrates our self-awareness and attunement to our higher needs.
  7. Ask for help when you need it – from a writing coach, an editor, proofreader, or marketing consultant.
  8. Get more sleep – so many benefits here, to physical and also emotional/mental wellness.
  9. Fresh air – Spending time outdoors and in nature is a great way to chill and breathe and give space to your day.
  10. Community – don’t always write alone. Talk to a writing companion about your writing dreams, your current projects, and your progress. Join a SinC NorCal write-in, a critique group, or find a writing partner. Even during a pandemic, this can be done virtually.
  11. Perfect your writing habitat – Where do you write? On the floor in the dark with your computer on your lap? Even if your ergonomic position needs adjusting, you can still bring a sense of comfort to your writing habitat with a candle, comfortable slippers, and a cozy chair. When it comes to comfort, details matter! We already keep track of so many of those details with our stories, characters, jobs, and families. Now, it’s time yourself.  

If we can reserve a bit of the energy we usually give everyone else and give it to ourselves, who knows what kinds of magic could result.

What are your self-care tools how do you use them? Would love to hear and thanks for sharing.

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