June 20, 2019
Writing never happens in a vacuum.
It's always something we're throwing into the stewpot of life, hoping that the writing isn't overwhelmed by the other ingredients. But in order for that to work successfully, we need balance. Without that, writers can become worn out, overwhelmed, and defeated. In fact, one frequent suggestion as a cure for writer's block is time away, time to refuel and revive. Because writing is both a technical pursuit and a creative pursuit, it is possible to lean on technique and skill even when your creative side is exhausted and craving a break.
We can ignore the exhaustion, but the results are not good. Exhaustion cannot be cured by more hard work. And smart writers remember that they exist inside a body that needs care too.
So how do writers refuel without derailing a writing life? We do it by adding a new ingredient into our life stew: self-care. The keys to self-care for writers all involve time: taking time to relax, taking time to reload, and taking time for physical needs.
Take Time to Relax
Many writers are cramming writing into a life that is jam-packed with family demands, work demands (as few writers can write full-time), and community demands. The number of people writing because they have tons of spare time and nothing else to do with that spare time is incredibly small. So writing is being shoe-horned into a life that was probably overly stressful to begin with.
Many of us simply aren't very good at relaxing, and some of us have been made to see relaxation as something to feel guilty about. But the reality is that exhaustion is simply not a good state in which to produce. Exhausted people have more trouble parenting, working, and taking part in society. Exhausted people rarely produce the best writing and have trouble handling the daunting tasks of marketing and the discomfort of rejection. Overall, we need to rethink our view on relaxing. It shouldn't be a "reward" for having been killing ourselves physically and mentally until all the tasks are "done." Because the tasks will never be done. Instead, relaxing needs to be part of normal life, so that the times when we aren't relaxing will be more productive and creative.
Plus, factoring in time for relaxing with a good book will actually fuel creativity. Relaxation can put us in new and unique situations that will then fuel future writing. For example, if you've never been to a spa, but then go to one, you may leave with a potential essay percolating. You will definitely leave with a better sense of how to write a scene that takes place inside a spa. If you spend a relaxing hour viewing the exhibits at a museum, you will also expose yourself to a wealth of story starter possibilities. And the more we put these relaxation periods into our normal schedules, the more opportunities we will have for creative sparks.
Take Time to Reload
One of the best self-care things you can give yourself is an immersive writing experience to shut out all the other demands and focus on only the writing, thus giving yourself a mini-vacation from the rest of life. Now among types of immersive writing experiences, a wonderful example is attending a workshop or conference that includes speakers and workshops. (If you are looking for a great conference to merge with a vacation, this one is in Kauai, Hawaii! Click here and use coupon code IFW20 for 20% off.) Or you might prefer an immersive writing experience that’s more open-ended, like a writing retreat away from home that has no structure or classes, but includes lots of time by yourself writing in a new place. The very newness and focus of a writing retreat can open new creative wells, and refresh your mind. If that is also too expensive, you may need to get creative. Honestly, a writing retreat can be as simple as taking a few days away from home at the house of a relative who is away on vacation, giving you a chance for some alone time without the expense of a hotel or inn. The key really is the time alone mixed with the change of location.
Now, sometimes our life demands are so big that change of location isn't really available. In a case like that, maybe you need a chance to barricade yourself alone at home and simply enjoy a good writing podcast, or webinar, or even a cool YouTube video on writing while the rest of the family leaves you alone. Or maybe you're one of those folks who can slip away from home now and then, but not long enough for a several day writing retreat. You only get a few hours. Then a coffee shop outing might be in order, where you can carry a laptop (or even a good book or writing notebook) and take advantage of the time away from life, even when it's only short. If you built regular periods away into your schedule, even if they are short, you'll get nearly as much benefit as taking a longer, multi-day retreat. When we remove ourselves from the other demands of our very busy lives, we end up restored, inspired, and better able to face all that life have when we return.
Take Time for Physical Needs
Writing is one of those activities that isn't overly good for our bodies. We're usually sitting. We may be staring at a computer screen. Or we may be hunched over a notebook with a pen. In any case, most of that isn't really good for our bodies in the long term. There is a reason writers often fight physical problems.
For full-time writers (and really for anyone with a busy life), physical self-care is important. Whenever possible, eating real food instead of overly-processed junk will improve our wellness and make our minds work better. Daily physical activity tailored to your specific capability can help unblock your creative stream (one of the best cures for writer's block can be a good long walk) as well as helping your body bounce back from those hours of sitting and typing. And careful design of your writing space to offer the least physical damage (for example, some people find they benefit from standing instead of sitting while typing) can help relieve the chronic pain many writers suffer with.
Overall, taking care of yourself is simply smart. It not only means you get to live a longer and healthier life, it also means you'll be better at all the tasks of your life (including writing). For those reasons, self-care for writers is far more than indulgent, it's productive.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.