Writer Self-Care, Part One

A recent discussion online on self-care for scientists in academia (@realscientists and #AcademicSelfCare on Twitter)  prompted this post.   Writers–that is, fiction and nonfiction freelance writers–often have mental/emotional/physical problems that can be helped–if not entirely prevented or cured–by some judicious self-care.  But we can forget that when deadlines are knocking on the door (loudly) or the check doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to.

Here are some important self-care points I’ve learned (and others have shared) for a healthier writing life.

Expect stress.  Then defuse it as much as possible.   All writers have stress relating directly to the nature of a writing life; if you think you will never be rejected, your favorite editor won’t die or lose her/his job, all your readers will love your work, you’ll never have a personal crisis and a deadline coincide…you’re wrong.   Surprise stress is the worst.  Admitting that it’s going to land on you, and having some coping mechanisms in hand will help get you through it.

Know and counter your own internal stressors. Since you need to know some psychology to write good characters, you can use that knowledge for yourself as well.  As much as you can stand (none of us is perfect)  develop healthy coping skills ahead of time–learn to manage your own frustration, anger, resentment, envy, and recognize (perhaps with help) any problems large enough to be diagnosable: depression, ADD, autism spectrum, anger management, OCD, etc.  Writing is tough enough, and will produce enough stress without having to deal with undiagnosed and untreated conditions.  You can still use the insights your personal conditions give you when they’re recognized and treated.   So seek out professional help whenever you think you need it (or wonder if you need it.)

Avoid sick systems. Learn to recognize both unhealthy personal relationships and sick systems (which may manifest in agent/writer relations, editor/writer relations, publisher/editor/writer relations, and avoid them or get out of them.   Here’s a good discussion of how they work: http://issendai.livejournal.com/573443.html.   An abusive parent/spouse/lover/friend/supervisor all use much the same techniques for adding stress to your life while evading it in theirs.   Such relationships suck out your energy and courage–and writing needs both.    So if you get sucked into one, get out as soon as you recognize it.   Since writers now have options for publishing they did not have in the past, there is no reason to put up with a sick system in regard to agents, editors, publishers.  You have options; pick the ones that won’t drive you insane.

Eat real food.  Yes, I know the writer’s four basic food groups are sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine/theobromine.   But do include protein, vitamins, and minerals and you will feel less stressed because your body has what it needs and thus isn’t sending you constant “I’m not happy” signals.    If you can, grow some of what you eat (even a few herbs in little pots.)    Without being a fanatic about it (because, if a writer, you’re probably also a bit of a rebel and unlikely to submit to someone else’s strict rules)  eat real food in as wide a variety as you can afford (and stand.  No, it doesn’t have to be kale.)

Exercise.   Your brain needs it.  It increases cerebral blood flow, which brings nice fresh oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which means you can think better, which means you can write more and get stuck less.   Any exercise is better than none.   If you’re a freelance writer without a day job, you can afford an hour a day at some kind of exercise, and several times a week is better than exercising to injury on one day a week.

Have a life beyond writing.   Have friends, some of whom are not writers/editors/publishers, and do some things with them.  Movies, opera, tennis, sailing, hiking, volunteering in a soup kitchen…anything that connects you to other people and other peoples’ lives and problems.   It will improve your writing, esp. for fiction writers, but it will also add ballast to your life, keeping your ship right side up.   Do something where you are not the deity to your own creation, where you need to cooperate with others (even one other, but a group like a team or a choir has advantages.)

Appreciate. Look for and celebrate (internally, if not externally) all the joy you can get out of doing what you do–both writing and non-writing parts of your life.   I can sit here in soft comfortable clothes and wool socks I knit for myself, typing away at my very own computer, making mistakes nobody knows about because no one’s looking over my shoulder, and though there are multiple deadlines on my calendar, I’m not being hassled every hour about them.  And I can pause to write this–or eat something–or take a pit stop–or go do a few exercises–or put on music I want to hear while writing–whenever I want/need to.  All are de-stressing options.

More later when I take another break.

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