J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

Self-Care for Writers

Writing can be an odd career. We can go from leisurely writing as we feel like it to stressed under an impossible deadline. We might be in waiting mode after we query or submit, or we might be trying to do All. The. Things. before a release date.

Those variations mean that we can struggle to get into non-writing habits and routines. When we suffer from writer’s block, our home might be spotless, as we use cleaning to procrastinate. Other times, we might run out of food and clean dishes, as cleaning falls by the wayside.

Deadlines, writing grooves, inspirations, and just plain stubbornness can all play havoc with our schedules. Most writers I know have forgotten to eat occasionally when they get into writing mode.

Showers, sleep, and exercise can all become optional. And doctors’ appointments? *pshaw* We’re not going to leave the house unless it’s on fire or an emergency room visit is required.

Yet many of those choices can affect our health. So every once in a while, we need to step back and analyze our self-care habits and routines—especially when we have time between the chaos. *smile*

Self-Care Tip #1: Schedule in Downtime

Last year, I had four releases, and that destroyed my ability to get anything else done. And then I finished up 2015 with NaNoWriMo and headed straight into another deadline because…glutton for punishment?

(Yes, this is another one of those posts that I’m writing to try to make myself listen to my own advice. *grin*)

As we’re planning our writing schedule—whether that’s time for drafting, querying, or our future book releases—we should schedule in downtime. Downtime helps us find our balance again between writing projects.

Downtime might mean that we binge-watch our favorite shows to refill our creative well. It might mean that we un-bury our desk or our house from a deadline mess. Or it might mean that we catch up on doctors’ appointments that we’ve been putting off.

If we don’t take the time to find our balance between projects, the bad habits we picked up during our chaos dig in and become our new “normal.”

  • Staying up too late? That’s just our new bedtime.
  • Slacking off on exercise? Eh, it’s not that important, right?
  • Grabbing junk food when we’re hungry? Maybe we’ll get to the store next week.

Downtime of at least a day or a week can be our opportunity to pick up our good habits again. We can remind ourselves what our normal is supposed to be.

Last year, my only “downtime” was a vacation where I still worked on editing and cover art (not to mention got sick) and a few days around the holidays. In other words, none of those times were “normal” either, so I never had a chance to pick up good habits again.

Self-Care Tip #2: Don’t Let Symptoms Get Too Bad

An occasional delayed meal won’t cause starvation. A deadline that interrupts our exercise for a week isn’t the end of the world. And a lack of sleep one night a week won’t hurt us too much.

But once that time crunch is over, we need to reset ourselves. If we never return to our good habits for eating, exercise, sleep, or other self-care issues, our health will deteriorate.

I’ve been running on 4-6 hours of sleep for most of the past 6+ months. I also spent most of that time limping because I thought I had a broken toe that would eventually heal on its own. Etc., etc.

Together, my months-long (year-long?) bad habits caused more problems. Lack of sleep led to eye strain that pushed me into needing a prescription. And my foot injury, which I discovered was actually nerve damage when I finally went to a doctor, prevented me from exercising for an unhealthy number of months.

My eye symptoms have become so bad that I’ve had to stay mostly offline for the last several weeks. Believe me, there’s nothing like a few health problems to force you to re-prioritize. *smile*

(If you’ve noticed that I’ve been slower about replying to comments or email, it’s because I’ve only been able to read my computer screen a couple of hours a day. Not good for my line of work, especially as I still have that post-NaNo deadline to worry about. *sigh* Sorry!)

I finally went to the eye doctor, and it turns out I can’t see near, far, or middledistance. Huh. No wonder I felt like I couldn’t see anything. It’s because I can’t. *head slap*

Often, when it comes to our health, if we neglect a small problem, it can turn into a bigger problem. So even though I still have a deadline hanging over my head, I’ve been forcing myself to go to all the doctors’ appointments I’ve been putting off for far too long.

Self-Care Tip #3: Take an Inventory from Head to Toe

Whenever we get downtime, or at least non-crunch time, we can take an inventory of our health to see where we need to reset ourselves, return to our good habits, or catch up on issues.

Sleep:

  • Are we getting enough sleep?
  • Do we need to adjust our schedule?
  • Can we fit in naps?
  • Do we struggle to fall asleep and need to change our habits to include relaxing, non-computer-or-other-devices activities before bed?

Eyes:

  • Do our eyes feel strained?
  • Should we try a Pomodoro-type of schedule, where we give our eyes an occasional break from looking at a screen and focus on the distance for a few minutes?
  • Should we look into getting computer glasses for that arms-length middle distance of our computer monitors?

Brain:

  • Do we need to take a creativity-break to replenish our creative well?
  • If we’ve been editing for too long, can we switch to drafting (or vice versa)?
  • Are we using positive reinforcement and celebrating our accomplishments before diving into the next project?

Stress Level:

  • Should we practice relaxation (deep-breathing or meditation) techniques?
  • Can we make adjustments to our schedule for more downtime or to delay our next deadlines?
  • Do we need to call in help?
  • Are there any non-writing to-do lists hanging over our head that we should take care of while we have a chance (cleaning, house projects, appointments, etc.)?

Diet:

  • Are we eating healthy foods (or do we need to restock the kitchen)?
  • Are we drinking enough water to keep our eyes moist while looking at screens?
  • Do we have healthy snacks at our writing desk?
  • Can we get on a regular eating schedule (and maybe cut out the snacks)?
  • Do we need to cut back on sugar or caffeine from our long-hours habits?

Posture:

  • Have we been slouching or hunching over during our high-intensity work?
  • Can we adjust our writing environment for better posture?
  • Should we look into a different chair or desk for better ergonomics?
  • Can we integrate stretches into our writing day to prevent poor posture?

Wrists:

  • Do our hands or wrists feel weak, sore, or overworked?
  • Can we add wrist exercises into our habits?
  • Do we need to trim our nails to prevent keyboarding at odd angles?

Body:

  • Are there any symptoms we should check into?
  • Can we start up a healthy exercise routine?
  • Are there around-the-house projects like gardening that we can use to become more active?
  • Can we at least find some sitting exercises to do at our desk?
  • Should we spend some time outside to soak up Vitamin D?

Mental Attitude:

  • Are we suffering from burnout?
  • Do we need to reach out to our support system or the writing community for encouragement?
  • Are there negative people/situations or nagging annoyances we should avoid, fix, or eliminate?

If we’re not sure what we need, we could take a quiz to check what issues we might be facing. Once we have a better handle on why we’re feeling physically, mentally, or emotionally bad, we might know what we need to do to fix the problem.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

If we’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that physiological needs (air, sleep, food, water, etc.) must be met before we can concentrate on higher needs. Next comes our general health and well-being, followed by the emotional needs of support and respect.

The writing process is a high-level need, psychologically speaking, as creativity falls under self-actualization. We write as part of a desire to reach our potential and expand our accomplishments in the world.

So to be the best writer we can be, we have to make sure we’re not neglecting those lower-level needs. Self-care is necessary if we want to continue writing and not be blocked by issues at those lower levels. Self-care isn’t about being too “soft.” Self-care merely helps us continue along the path we want for our life by eliminating obstacles in our way. *smile*

Do you struggle with the finding the right balance of work and self-care? Do your writing goals interfere with maintaining your physical or mental health? Have you ever neglected to take care of yourself? Did you fix the problem, and if so, how? Can you think of other self-care tips?