Writing and self-care don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. There are quite a few writers who’ve gone mad while penning the next great American novel (you know who you are). That’s not to speak of the many who’ve drowned their genius with liquid intoxicant. No doubt about it— writers aren’t known to take care of themselves.
But just because you’re a writer, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to a life of depression, isolation, or psychosis. While self-care may not tackle all of your demons, it can certainly get rid of some. Here are a few tips that will help you improve the quality of your life.
Give Yourself Grace as a Writer
Every writer I know is hard on themselves, and that includes me. Most of us are insatiable perfectionists who strive to elevate the art of writing. We write and then criticize ourselves for failing to meet our own impossible standards of perfection. But, because writing is in our blood, we plod on anyway. Then, once we finally build up the courage to share our writing with others, we turn their feedback into an estimation of our self-worth.
We have to stop doing that.
The first step to self-care is to give yourself grace as a writer. Grace to make mistakes. Grace to not impress every reader. And, just as important as the first two, grace to take breaks when you need them. Don’t allow your own perfectionism to hold you hostage.
Stop Caring What Others Think
Focusing on what other people think about you is not good for your self-esteem. Let’s be honest: People can be fickle. Sometimes, they love you. Other times, they hate you. That’s just the way it goes. You can’t spend your life chasing behind favorable opinions. That’s the surest way to self-defeat and destruct, and it can’t be good for your health.
Shift the way you think. Instead of writing something and hoping others like it (and you), consider your writing as your unique way to communicate ideas to others. Not everyone is going to agree with your ideas, and they don’t have to. It doesn’t matter if they do. What matters is that you have contributed to humanity in a way that’s meaningful to you.
That shift in thinking will help you protect yourself from unnecessary criticism. Once you realize that what you have to say (and how you say it) is just as valid as anyone else’s opinion, you’ll stop judging yourself so harshly. And you won’t let others do it, either. This attitude adjustment will help you feel more at peace with yourself and your readers and critiquers.
Take Frequent Breaks
Breaks are a necessity. We’re all guilty of spending hour after hour huddled in front of a glowing computer screen as life marches on outside our windows.
While it may sound like the height of productivity, working overtime will eventually lead to burnout. No matter how much you love writing now, if you spend hours of your free time feverishly pecking away at the keyboard, you won’t love it for long. You’ll train yourself to hate it.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to avoid burnout, and it’s free. You can take frequent breaks.
I’m not talking about taking a luxury vacation to the South of France, although that would be nice. Taking breaks can mean a five-minute coffee break away from the computer or a brisk 10-minute walk around the block on a sunny afternoon.
Breaks should happen at least once an hour while you’re writing and not last longer than 20 minutes for maximum effectiveness. This gives your brain an opportunity to relax and reset, which fuels both creativity and productivity. Isn’t it ironic that you’ll be more productive by working less?
Read Just to Read
When’s the last time that you picked up a book just to enjoy the adventure?
While writers are usually voracious readers, not all of that reading is for pleasure. This is especially true when you’re planning a book and you are in research mode, or even when you’re reading an article like this. Of course, it all counts as reading, but it’s reading for work.
However, as a wordsmith who appreciates the lyrical quality of well-written prose, you should take the opportunity to read good books that nurture your soul. Set a time each day to read for pleasure, even if you have to borrow from your writing time. Good literature can inspire you to become a better writer, but that’s not why you should read it.
Read it to become a better person.
Stay on a Schedule
One way to preserve your sanity is to create a writing routine and stick to it. You’ll lose your mind waiting for inspiration to arrive (psst… it’s always late). You have to start writing and eventually inspiration will catch up.
Even if writing is your hobby, remember to treat it as a job if you’re serious about it.
Start by figuring out when you should start writing. For some of us, it’s before daybreak, for others, it’s after sunset, and for others still (me included), it’s late afternoon. When are you most productive as a writer?
Next, decide how long you should write. If you’re dealing with a day job and a host of other responsibilities, you may only be able to dedicate one hour to writing. If you work as a full-time writer, you may be able to clock in from 8 AM to 5 PM. There is no “one size fits all” answer here. You know your abilities the best. But whatever time you can devote to writing, stick to it and make it a part of your daily schedule.
Choose Eating Habits
We couldn’t get through a post about self-care and preservation without rummaging through your refrigerator.
What you eat feeds your body and your soul. If you eat unhealthy foods, it’ll stunt your ability to write. I know there have been brilliant writers who lived off of whiskey and peanuts, but imagine how much greater they could’ve been if they had a balanced diet.
Care for yourself by eating healthy foods throughout the day on a predictable schedule. Schedule breaks to eat throughout your day, preferably every two hours. When you eat, reach for foods that are high in protein, which will nourish your brain as you conjure up fantastic tales. Munching on protein-rich snacks, like almonds, peanut butter, and chia seeds, will help you avoid the inevitable sugar crashes that come from binging on sweet treats like chocolate bars.
Also, increase your intake of water to stay hydrated.
Get Your Exercise
Writing isn’t exactly the most energetic task. It’s common to glance at your clock and realize that you’ve been frozen in the same position for the last three hours. Your butt’s asleep. Your eyes are crossing. And the bathroom’s calling.
But all of that sitting is not good for your health. Do something every day to raise your heart rate. As mentioned in the break section above, a quick walk around the neighborhood is a good way to get the blood flowing. But on rainy days, you can feel the burn inside. Take a 10-minute break to alternate between squats, jumping jacks, and jogging in place. It may not get you a six pack, but it will help you take care of yourself.
There’s only one you and we need you. Take care of yourself so that you can live a healthy and productive life.