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Writers Are Really Bad At This.
Hey - you there. Yeah, you, the writer who hasn’t had a full glass of water in five days and who is probably growing a hump between their shoulders as we speak.
How are you feeling? When’s the last time you asked yourself that question? I’m willing to bet all $5 of my latest royalty payment that it’s been way too long. Consider me the creepy, disembodied voice of your writing. I’m worried about you - I’m worried about me! Because, as it happens, I depend on your survival (and mental health) for my existence.
Writers, am I right (write)? We are filled with the loftiest intentions, possessed by the noblest values. We are creators! And maybe that’s why we often lose touch with our own selves somewhere within the process of creating, recreating, and building stories out of thin air.
We’re magicians, sorcerers! Like, actual ones. Even better than Harry Potter and his suspiciously self-focused storyline. The thing is, our magic doesn’t arrive in neat little packages. It’s alive, and it has to be grown from good soil.
I’m here to remind you to spread some lovely manure on that sh*t and keep your supply going (and safe from those DEA drones the feds invested in).
It Starts With The Good Ol’ Check-In.
Once a day, twice a day, every Thursday, every 25th of the month... You should be checking in with yourself frequently.
You know those people who only contact you when they’ve joined a new MLM scheme for selling essential oils? Don’t be that person to yourself.
When you’re only responding to your needs due to a sense of urgency - you literally can’t ignore them anymore - you are moving closer and closer towards a crisis. Crises can produce creative results in the short term, but man, is it a bad long-term investment.
We’re living in a world that is built on stress. And no, I’m not just talking about the nightmare that is 2020. Our whole economy, and therefore all the areas of our individual lives (thanks, capitalism), are fueled by urgency.
A lot of the time it’s disguised by terms like “productivity” or “efficiency,” but you’ve got to learn to see through that cheap fake mustache and bowler hat. What you’re truly looking at is the idea of “use yourself, use your time, and use your life to produce, produce, produce - and never stop.”
That sounds pretty insane, right? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, especially for writers and other creatives? Our work is supposed to enhance our selves, time, and lives. And yet most of us have fallen for that dollar-store disguise, hook, line, and sinker.
We’ve accepted that our value is in what we produce - and that assumption is simply wrong.
Check-ins are your way of taking the red pill and ripping the mustache right off of Mr. Produce-Your-Life-Away’s stupid, asshole face. Cue the satisfying kshhhhh noise of adhesive tearing away from face-skin at 300 miles per hour.
You should be routinely assessing the what, why, how, and For Whom of your actions as an artist. It’s the only way you’ll stay above water and keep your magic supply sustainable (okay, this really sounds like a drug metaphor).
What is the deeper purpose of what you’re writing? Who is it for? Why are you writing it? How are you writing it? I.e. are you using the time, energy, and emotion that’s actually meant for your work, or are you stealing it from other needs and building up a debt you can’t afford to pay back?
Check in when you wake up. Check in when you sit down at your desk. Check in mid-sentence, mid-citation, mid-chapter. Check in while you edit and just before your work goes live! Check in at every point of your creative process so that it stays creative; check in so that it stays alive.
And for God’s sake, drink some water, you moron.
Schedule That Sh**.
Oh, yes, we’re back to that subject again. Scheduling. Planning. Organizing things. What can I say? I love to torment you all.
Still, I am serious about this one, vital thing. Schedule your self care. Look, I bolded and italicized it (just so you know I mean business).
Let me explain something to you, my sorely-neglected creative darlings - self care isn’t something you always want to do. It’s not all oatmeal face masks and bubble baths, because that’s not actually nourishing the deeper self. It isn’t the loamy, high-grade cow poop your magic garden needs.
Self care can be difficult, like any habit you’ve got to build up over time. You’re going to have to make yourself get up and go for a 15 minute walk. You’ll have to force yourself to close that laptop and put that phone on silent before 10pm. Boo hoo, y’all - life is so hard.
A lot of self care really is hard, though - mostly because the opposite of self care can be really sneaky. I warned you about those bowler hat, guys. Totally incognito. Finishing an arbitrary word count sounds like reaching goals when you’re focused on it, but the thing that’s usually missing is context.
Say it with me. C O N T E X T. Is the word count causing you to only get 5 hours of poor-quality sleep and making you miserable to try and socialize with? Then it ain’t good goal-setting, sweetheart. Yeah, you’re a writer, but I call BS on the idea that this means you give up everything else that makes you who you are.
Life is not linear. It’s usually not very circular, either. It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that change and shift around on their own every day. Some of those pieces are things like rest, healing, inner work, and outer-life maintenance.
Scheduling is how you sit down and take stock of how your puzzle fits together at any given time. Sometimes you’ll look after going weeks (or years) without checking in and find that the puzzle is all over the place. That means you need to dedicate some serious time to putting it back together.
Moving forward, scheduling the pieces that keep the whole thing intact (think of self care as the frame) is how you prevent that kind of mess from happening in the first place. With a good, solidly built schedule, you’ll shift from crisis management to simple maintenance, which leaves a heck of a lot more time and energy for the things you are most passionate about - such as your writing.
Time isn’t just hours or minutes or weeks - you, as an artist, also need to learn to measure time in energy. How much is each minute, hour, and month taking out of you? Do you have enough energy to dedicate to them, or are you once borrowing against a high interest loan?
As Stephen Covey says in one of his best books, First Things First, you need to go from an urgency mindset to an importance mindset. Life is lived through what’s important to you, not what’s urgently demanding your time and attention at every second. Most urgency is just background chatter, when you really look at it.
By putting self care activities in your planner, to-do list, or phone reminders, you are effectively saving up energy for your work. Hell, it’s more like investing, because your returns can be exponential.
So, schedule that ‘end of workday’ and ‘time to turn off laptop’ hour. Schedule your ‘drink 8 oz of water’ times and your ‘rest my eyes for 2 minutes’ times. Your writing, and your whole life, will thank you.
Self Care is a System of Whens.
Building on that last point, I’m going to tell you something I’ve noticed about us artists (writers, especially and specifically). We are what the self-help folks call time blind.
The term itself is a contradiction in many ways, because time blind people are actually ruled by the time they shove to the very back of their awareness. Raise your hand if you are only peripherally aware of time’s passage while producing work! Keep your hand up if you often have the sense that your whole day has ‘slipped away’ because you were so focused on that production!
Culturally, this phenomenon is often celebrated. “You’re so hardworking, so focused, so productive and prolific.” Plenty of writers start to wear time blindness as a badge of honor - but they still end up feeling empty, depleted, and disheartened eventually.
You live within a vast network of whens. They’re supposed to work like this: when you are tired, you rest. When you are lonely, you socialize. When you are restless, you find an outlet for how you’re feeling.
Here’s how it often ends up going for time blind creatives: when they are tired, they produce. When they are lonely, they produce. When they are depressed, unhealthy, lost, confused, etc...they produce.
Hmmmm, something’s wrong with this picture. If you’re using up every available when for production, you are destroying yourself. You’re putting poison all over your magic garden, and then you’re inviting the DEA task-force to come on in and light it up like a Christmas tree! Not cool, dude. Not cool.
Be wiser with your whens. Be aware of them. Reflect on the when you are currently occupying and respond to it properly, and with love. Whens are sensitive little creatures, and they wither when you give them the wrong kind of fertilizer. Imagine them as cute little baby succulents all lined up in a row - you don’t want to murder them, do you?
So, give them what they need. Sometimes they will need you to create, maybe a lot of the time! But they’ll need other things at other times, and you have to be attuned to those needs.
When you care for your whens, they grow bushels and bushels of magic for you.
The Conclusion - Self Care Is An Endurance Sport.
As creative people, writers can’t afford to constantly put out fires all the time when it comes to nurturing themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. We exist within a very demanding field, and that field needs to be watered and properly sustained.
Self Care is the way you bring out the best in what you create. It’s how you go from a production machine to a source of true art, no matter the type of writing you do.
Magic happens when you give it balance and experience to live on, and if you want to reach even the barest edges of your potential, you can’t afford to starve it by neglecting self care's important place in your life.
I hope this post has reminded you of the important things in your day-to-day, and if you have any more self care tips to add - comment them for us!
Go enjoy that matcha exfoliating mask, you crazy kids. I’ll see you next time.