Self-care is on a lot of lips (and a lot of memes) these days. Open up any social media or Pinterest “inspirational” account, and you’re bound to see “self-care is not selfish” and “take care of yourself” messages. But self-care means different things to different people, and it can look different depending on your lifestyle or line of work. Here’s a list of ideas for self-care for writers.
1. See your work as work.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. When enough people tell you you’re “wasting time on the computer,” you start to believe it. Especially if you have a few lean months where you write your heart out, not to see the money until a couple of months later.
This is pretty common for those of us who write for magazines, where you could write an article that earns you $1,200, but you don’t see that money ’till a good two months after you’ve poured your heart and soul into it. It’s probably even more true for bloggers, who often put in a good 1-2 years of hard work before seeing the big bucks.
But you have to remember this: you’re running a small business. Stories of “overnight successes” do not exist. The majority of these stories worked in the shadows for months, often years with no recognition, until finally their hard work paid off, and it only looks like they’ve invested no time in getting to where they are today.
Many people will discourage you from starting or working on a business, because they’ve forgotten that several major corporations started as small businesses. And that while not many small businesses see success, it’s the ones who ignore the naysayers and continue to devote their time to their businesses who ultimately have sustainable work and earnings from their efforts.
Believing the naysayers has a detrimental effect on your health, so as hard as it may be, block out their negativity and believe that your work is work—because it is. And once you’ve shifted that mind frame, surround yourself with the people who support you in your business endeavours. This simple but often difficult act can do wonders for your well-being.
2. Surround yourself with supportive people; walk away from negative ones
Self-care for writers means more than bubble baths and self-massage (though those things are nice, too). Self-care for writers means surrounding yourself with people who believe in your work and who want to see you succeed.
Even when people who love you are simply trying to save you from heartbreak by trying to wake you up to the “reality” that very few writers are successful, they may not realize they’re in fact doing more harm than good. Don’t get angry with them; simply see that they can’t be your support system, and surround yourself with those who can be.
You can join a writer’s group locally, or a supportive group on Facebook, or create your own writing accountability group, where you can encourage other people and get encouragement as well.
Spend more time with people who love your writing. When you clicked “publish” on your first blog post, or when you published your first book, or when you had your first piece published by an online outlet, who were the people congratulating you, telling you they enjoyed your writing, or saying they wanted to see more of it?
Seek those people out and tell them when you’ve published something new. Stop trying to “prove yourself” to the non-believers. Those who believe you can be successful need no proof, and those who need proof don’t deserve it.
Chances are, those who believe “writing is not work” will continue to think this way even after you’re making a steady income from your writing (read: there are people in my life who passive-aggressively told me I was “wasting time on the computer” when I was making $2,000 per month on a 10-hour work week). These people will never change their minds, so dismiss their opinions. They don’t matter.
For many of us, “letting things roll off our backs” isn’t that easy, but we have to learn. And we have to learn to surround ourselves and spend time with those who love us for who we are and for what we love to do. Because it’s by speaking to these people and hearing their loving words that we’ll be encouraged to continue to pursue our writing goals and ultimately see a steady income from our writing.
Don’t completely dismiss those who criticize you, though. In fact, you’ll only grow as a writer if you can develop the thick skin it takes to be rejected over and over again, and to grow from those rejections.
Here’s how to tell if you should listen to those who criticize your writing: are they giving you specific suggestions on how to improve your writing for publication? If not, their opinion is useless. If yes, listen attentively, analyze the suggestions logically, and follow the advice if it seems useful.
3. Don’t sit on your arse all day
Writing is pretty inactive work. Sitting on your behind all day can have serious detrimental effects on your health. No, I’m not about to make a blanket statement about “sitting being the new smoking,” because that statement makes no sense, for one, and isn’t helpful, for two.
But I will say, as a former Registered Kinesiologist, that the human body isn’t made for staying in the same position for hours on end. We are made to move. So move.
No, you don’t need a standing desk. What you need is to change positions frequently. If that means you invest in a sit-stand desk, sure, but you could also just use something like the Pomodoro Technique and take short walk/stand/stretch/mini-workout breaks every 25 minutes.
The important thing is to stay active even as you’re on a roll with your writing. If you can’t leave your desk because your brain will completely forget what you’re doing, then at least get up and continue writing in a different position once in a while. Changing positions is always a good thing 😉
4. Budget for your health
Self-care does cost money sometimes.
Massage therapy is not a luxury, especially when you live with chronic pain. So I set aside money for seeing an RMT each month. While it doesn’t cure me, it certainly provides temporary relief. And temporary relief is better than no relief.
For me, it’s massage therapy; for you, it might be something else. Make sure you put time in your schedule and money in your budget for taking care of your health, be it for taking medications, going for a walk, attending a gym, or seeing an RMT. If you have chronic illnesses, this becomes even more important.
5. Self-care for writers is self-care for readers
Set aside time in your schedule to do some reading, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. Reading is an important activity for writers: it gives you new ideas, helps you study writing techniques, and provides a good break.
It’s not completely impossible to be a writer if you don’t enjoy reading, but you’ll definitely be a better writer if you devote time to studying the craft. And it’s hard to do that without doing some kind of reading.
6. Don’t forget your loved ones
I love writing and I devote a lot of my time to keeping up my blogs, writing my freelance assignments, and working on my (to be announced!) books. But my chosen family has always been, is, and always will be my priority.
I have been with my husband for 17 years, and a relationship this long doesn’t come without some sacrifices (on both parts). I have three children, and when they’re older, I want them to remember me as someone who always had time for them, not as a “busy mom” who always put work first.
So the other day, when I had done everything I had to do to put the kids to bed and I finally sat down to write, I didn’t think twice about closing the computer and forgetting writing that night, when my 4-year-old came in with a fever, crying, and needed me to snuggle her and help her feel protected and taken care of.
Does putting my family first mean I’ll never be a successful writer, because I choose my family over my writing every time? No, it doesn’t. It means I make a sacrifice, wake up a little earlier the next day, stay up a little late on another. I still get my writing done, but it looks different for me than it would for someone with no one to take care of but themselves. And that’s OK.
7. But don’t forget yourself, either.
While I always put my children and husband first, I also show them a healthy life means taking care of myself, too.
So I do take time to go on walks alone, and I do take weekends off by myself to do mundane things (much to the horror of some older people in my life), and I do hide in library corners with my work while my husband plays with the kids in the children’s area.
8. Have a hobby.
And no, your writing doesn’t count, especially if your writing is your work (and it is). A hobby outside of writing, even if you only work on it 5 minutes a day, can help you clear your mind and take a mental health break.
9. Self-care for writers who don’t fit the writer stereotype
For some reason, people think all writers are introvert, loner types. And while that might be true for many writers, we come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. I am not by any means an introvert; neither am I loner, though after having three kids, I have come to appreciate daily alone time. But alone time for a whole day doesn’t work for me.
Because I’m an extrovert and get energized by crowds and people, I make sure there’s time in my day to spend time with others. That has taken many forms over the years, from paying for a co-working space where I could see people while I worked, to attending community events, to going to amusement parks on my weekends off. If you’re an extroverted writer, be sure you make time to be with people at least once a week (preferably more often, though).
10. Take frequent breaks.
No matter how much you love writing, sitting on your behind all day can wear you down, which is why so many writers get a little over-distracted by shiny online things.
Instead of trying to fight the distractions, plan for them. I’m a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which means I work for 25 focused minutes and then take a 5-minute break, but you can use whatever time frame works for you.
What are some things you do for self-care as a writer?