It seems there’s one of those big yellow books full of ideas and explanations for just about every subject under the sun, except one for those who write the books. In case you weren’t aware, all the big yellow books in circulation can be found in one place at their website HERE. While I’ve not actually browsed through every single title available, I have used not just their search function but several random search engines looking for a title geared specifically toward the self-care of writers. I wasn’t looking to purchase such a thing, I was just curious if any such thing existed, because it probably should.
Over the course of my first go-round in the realm of writing and publishing, and during the three year sabbatical I took before resuming my quest for the words a few months ago, I learned something very important.
I learned I needed to learn.
I needed to learn to hone my craft, I needed to learn to have courage and not settle for anything less than fabulous, and I needed to learn from my mistakes.
One of the greatest mistakes I think we as writers can make is that of lack of self-care. We’re so neglectful of ourselves it’s sad really. As social as writing can be with the various media outlets available, the various NaNoWriMo activities available throughout the year, book signings and conferences, it’s also just as solitary. While the “fun” stuff of social media, signing books, and going to conferences basically covers a relatively small percent of our time, the actual writing is much more time-consuming. That’s where we sit solo in our office areas and stare at a white space until we scribble upon that space a few words at a time that we may end up backspacing over several times. With our heads down in concentration, some of us don’t even speak to our spouses except to bid them good-bye in the morning when they go out the door to their day-job and good-night before they wander off to bed without us. That’s a bit on the extreme side, but it happens. I was once guilty of being that intent. Not anymore, however.
A solitary life can lead us down the rabbit hole of isolationism, and that can lead to all sorts of problems.
Social isolation is a growing epidemic — one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. (Cited from this article from the New York Times 12/22/16.)
We can so easily turn into recluses if we’re not careful, and with that reclusion comes sitting at a desk (sometimes never getting out of our pajamas until after noon) for many hours a day, unmoving, and eating out of bags of chips and bowls of candy. That in turn can lead to a plethora of health issues from obesity to diabetes and depression, and let’s not forget about our friend joint pain caused from the repetitive motion of pecking away at a keyboard for hours at a time.
It was in the midst of a health crisis that hit me on the heels of a death in the family a few years ago that had me back on my laurels trying to figure out what to do differently. That was when I took the sabbatical. I honestly saw no other way forward except to take a few steps back.
Self-care is so important to the health of all humans, but for me, as a writer, it’s become more than important. It’s become a priority. I consciously make it a priority because for so long it was something I didn’t even think about if not completely ignored. That in turn led to some serious issues.
During the first few years of my writing career, my husband was an active duty Marine. During the height of the Middle East campaigns, he was gone a total of six years out of nine. Our son grew from a teen to a young adult during this time and was mostly self-sufficient. These circumstances led to me having a lot of time on my hands which I filled with not only writing but all the things that entails these days having to do with self-promotion. I also worked for a press in their promotions department so I was dealing with other writers not in the capacity of a writer-to-writer relationship, which every writer should have, but that of a writer-to-sort-of-publicist relationship. I’m now unsure if the two can be, or should ever be, mixed. Most of my time was spent sitting in a chair behind my computer. What all that boiled down to was eighteen hour days most days, and the six I was supposed to be sleeping were often interrupted with texts coming in from various folks who were in a different time zone, phone calls, and my muse coming up with ideas at the most inopportune moments imaginable. I literally was eating, sleeping, and breathing the industry. There came a time, along with the health crisis, that the publishing life was no longer fun and I spent a lot of time stressed out over what amounted to nothing in the grand scheme of things and crying a lot. The actual writing part, the joy of telling a good story, lost its luster.
Over the last three years, I’ve ruminated over that very thing and pondered where I went wrong and what I could do to recapture the thrill of putting words to paper. There were a couple of areas I knew I needed practically an intervention for before I even entertained the notion of coming back to writing. Two words kept recirculating through my thoughts while I stayed in seclusion from the writing world and all the social platforms and technology to go along with it. Balance and self-care constantly floated to the top of the ponderings, and quite honestly they’re inextricably woven when it comes down to it.
I’m not an expert. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a self-help guru. I’m just Dixie Jackson, southern girl who spins tales and wants a life aside from the chair in front of the screen to boot. Yes, I want my cake and eat it, too, except these days a handful of healthy fat nuts are what I most often reach for. So while I can’t provide advice you can take for gospel and self-care is a very personal thing and should be oriented to each individual and their needs, I can tell you how important self-care is and what I do to ensure I do enough of it. I strive to keep my physical and mental well-being in check and working in sync so I’m a happy, healthy, well-adjusted human who knows when to say no, when to take a risk, and when to step away.
I no longer sit at the screen for hours at a time. I no longer come to “work” in my pajamas. I no longer keep snacks on the desk. If I need an energy boost, I actually get off my arse and go find it. I no longer allow social media to interfere with my writing time. I no longer work for a publisher while trying to be published. I no longer feel stressed about my choices, and I no longer cry—unless my characters make me do so.
Wow! So many don’ts. You might be asking where the dos in my life are. There are actually more of the dos than the don’ts to be honest.
I do set a timer, write for a specific amount of time, and get up from the desk. I do walk, either outside or on a treadmill. I go to the gym a couple of times a week. I foster my other hobbies. I limit my work day to certain hours just like any other occupation in the world does. I eat well and get enough fluids. I go outside the house and live, after all how does a writer write about life if they don’t live it themselves? I make time for my reading because that’s just as important to the writing as writing is in my humble opinion. I do get sufficient rest. I do turn my phone off at 9 p.m. each evening and it doesn’t come back on until 8 a.m. the next day. We put a landline back in our house and the important people in our lives have that number which they know to call in the case of an emergency during the smart phone blackout hours of our day. I smile. I laugh. I breathe a little easier.
I pamper myself. One of my favorite self-care allowances is that of my spa membership. Once a month I visit my massage therapist and I’ve found that hour of indulgence does wonders for me in so many ways not the least of which is relief from my carpal tunnel symptoms. I get the luxury of eucalyptus mist showers there and use of a salt room, not to mention the fabulous products I can pick up and bring home to help me along in between visits. I highly recommend the spa experience!
I’m in charge of the writing these days. It’s not in charge of me. We get along quite splendidly. There is a line in the sand and neither of us cross it.
Take the time, my friends, to self-care. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time to take care of you. Your writing will thank you, as well. Since laying aside the mantle of self-neglect and assuming that of self-care, my word counts per day have risen to numbers I don’t ever remember achieving before. Take a walk, go out for a coffee, hug your spouse, go get a massage, have your nails done…go live.