A Writer’s Self-Care Guide

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Writers live to write, but they also write to live. The blurred lines between dedication and passion sometimes tangle and end up mired in unhealthy habits, mental illness, and good old fatigue. We must take care of ourselves to write the best (and most) we can. So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions to help you not just survive but thrive.

Daily Gifts

I had a marvelous revelation as I mediated (as my therapist told me to). I owe myself things. They aren’t necessarily big things, but there are some things I owe myself daily. These personal gifts make me a better writer, a better person, and a happier soul. I currently owe myself these four things every single day:

  • A cup of tea
  • Time with my plants
  • A walk
  • 1000 words

Your list can and should look a little different. It may include beating a level on your favorite video game, taking your dog to the park, or pushing yourself through thirty minutes of yoga. The key is giving, not denying or shaming. I didn’t ban distractions (though I probably need to). I gave myself very specific things to enjoy.

I need to work out more often and more aggressively, but I gifted myself a walk. Even if I don’t go to the gym, I still get fresh air, exercise, and a mental boost. Maybe you can give yourself a certain number of jumping jacks, or a fifteen-minute dance break.

As a writer, I needed specific permission to write. I’ve tried vague encouragements before, scrawling WRITE all over my planner, but it hasn’t had the same effect. This is specific, and it’s a manageable goal for my current circumstances. It reminds me that I love to write, that it’s a gift instead of a burden, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Long Sight

Books build up with time. It takes rivers literal ages to carve even a modest canyon. No matter how badly you want to publish today, finish that project tomorrow, or bring a printed copy of your work to your high school reunion, you must recognize the difference between motivating goals and a disconnect with reality. There’s a reason why most people only attempt NaNoWriMo once a year instead of practicing that kind of push every month.

You must understand what you can do (anything!) and the time it will take to finish (often more than you’d like). This doesn’t mean you stop working or give up. Instead, it helps you forgive yourself and take care of today’s needs as you build your masterpiece, one page – or one word – at a time.

A Better Keyboard

Although the physical practicalities of writing aren’t discussed as often as the mystical process itself, there is a very real cost to your body after years of steady writing. My professors told me way back in college that if I pursued writing (professionally or personally), I’d get carpal tunnel by the time I turned thirty. With that birthday looming later this year, I’m afraid I must confirm their dark prophecy. My hands and wrists ache so badly I have to prop them on a small pillow at night so they don’t dangle.

Take care of yourself by investing in tools that support you physically. This may mean buying a plug-in keyboard superior to the one built into your laptop. It may also mean compression gloves to control the ache, an appointment with your doctor, or just a warm cup of tea to cradle.  

You’ll always have sucky days. There’s nothing you can do to stop them, but a good self-care routine will help prepare for them. When the hurricane hits, you may go a few days without power, but if you’ve taken precautions, you’ll have food, water, and a stable home. If you practice self-care as a writer when the bad days come, you may not hit your word count, but you’ll bounce back faster, remember why you love to write, and keep adding words to your project.

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