I think we as writers tend to be an obsessive bunch. We obsess over books, characters, relationships (shipping wars, anyone?). We obsess over reviews, covers, and book bloggers. If you’re an indie author, or at least hoping to be with your upcoming WIP, I think it’s in our nature to get obsessive over things. We throw our whole selves into this business. To survive and thrive, you really need to give a big part of yourself over to the process.
Because of that, I think we’re also all pretty shit at self-care.
I learned that personally a few months ago when I started seeing an occupational therapist for my post-concussion syndrome. I was having a really hard time writing, because I’d burn out so quickly that I kept putting myself in setbacks, which were physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. My OT, who is awesome, suggested I change my routine around: work for a set amount of time until my symptoms start to flare a little, then back off and rest. Do something to alleviate the symptoms and make your brain happy.
It seemed easy. It seemed logical. My first week, however, I hated resting. When I went back to update her on things, I called all my rest activities:
- a waste of time
- “nothing” time
And you know what my rest activities consisted of? Yoga. Gardening. Baking. Meditation. Painting my nails. Reading. Yes, even reading. I felt like if I wasn’t doing something related to work, either freelance or indie, my existence was just a waste of time, and I’d sit around, twiddling my thumbs, until I could get back at it.
Fellow writers. Don’t do this. Self-care is so important in this industry. It’ll keep you from burning out. Because if you burn out and dissolve into a fizzling pile of exhaustion and sadness, your books are DEFINITELY not getting written. So, let’s touch on some self-care basics.
Food and Water
Seems like pretty standard care for, you know, life, but when you get wrapped up in a project, sometimes you forget. Make sure you’re staying hydrated, and not by guzzling 30 coffees a day. Water is your friend. It keeps you healthy. Same goes for food. Munch on snacks that will nourish you and keep you going. I don’t want to be that person who is all, “Let me tell you how to feed yourself, adult human who has been feeding yourself for years!”; I just think that when you’re doing all-day writing sprints or something equally excessive, it pays to make smart choices that will enable your body to keep going for longer.
Unless you have one of those fancy standing writing desks, I’m going to assume you spend all your writing time sitting. While comfortable, it isn’t good for our bodies to sit for hours and hours on end. Office workers see the effects in varicose veins and carpal tunnel and a whole slew of nasty issues that kind of just pop up out of nowhere. Set an alarm, get up and walk around every half hour at least. Get the blood flowing. Get away from your screen and off your butt. I promise it will help keep you feeling good, even if your brain is in middle-of-WIP-slush-mode. I find going for walks with my music pumping is a stellar way to work through annoying plot issues.
If you’re able to just dive into writing thousands of words a day, I salute you. For us mere mortals, it’s a fantastic idea to stretch your wrists, neck, and shoulder area first. Typing is a strenuous activity that can lead to things like carpal tunnel, tendinitis in multiple places, and lots of other soreness issues. The point of stretching before each writing session is that it’s PREVENTATIVE. It’ll help you avoid pain. Seriously. Don’t be reactive to wrist and hand pain. As writers, we need them in order to work. (Because speech-to-text programs suck, and I’ll never change my opinion on that.)
Take a Break
Is your WIP driving you nuts? Do you feel physically ill because you’re so stressed about this whole process? Time to take a break, friend. Take a few days off. Take a week off. A month. Longer, if necessary. Take the time you need to breathe. Work on a different project. Work on one of a million other admin things indie authors should be doing. Don’t work on anything at all.
There’s that quote floating around out there by Ray Bradbury: “You only fail if you stop writing”. Well. Fuck you, bro. Sometimes you need to step away for your mental/emotional/physical health. There’s nothing wrong with that, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
Self-Care Makes You Feel Good
Doing dishes or other household chores is not self-care… Liz. Implementing little self-care bits into your routine will not only help you persevere through all the stress that publishing throws at you, but it’s good for you. Period. So, find what makes you feel good–a guilty pleasure TV show, a chocolate bar, listening to music, knitting, whatever–and start doing it.
Even before my concussion, I was never very good at doing things for me. The concept of self-care has seemed like a foreign one until I was forced to put it into practice for my physical health. I’m not saying you have to do the same amount of self-care that I do right now. I have a damaged, healing brain. It needs a lot of rest activities to get through the day. Just do what you can without throwing your normal schedule for a loop. Sometimes even positive self-talk (“Dear Self: You’re doing a great job!”) is self-care enough.
Since I started focusing on self-care that makes me feel good, I’ve felt like a happier, calmer, more capable human being. My hope is that if you add just a little self-care to your day, focus on showering yourself with the love and attention you deserve, you will too.