Replenishing and renewing yourself–you need this (A love letter)

Let’s start off with a true confession—I stole that phrase about replenishing and renewing in the title from my friend Patty Bechtold, one of the wisest people I know. She had me as a guest on her podcast this week and that was our topic of discussion.

Patty lives in Santa Rosa and I live in Portland and we’ve never met in person. But we talk on the phone every week—long, rambling, deep soul talks. One thing we’ve been talking about a lot lately is how to replenish ourselves after the year that was 2017 and the ongoing rush of news and information that we deal with every single day.  So we decided to do a podcast on it.

But something else happened this week that made me think about replenishing specifically as it applies to writing. And that was this: I finished the rewrite of my novel that my agent has been waiting for since, oh, the end of October.  It wasn’t a huge rewrite—but I made it into one.  I got myself stalled about how to deepen the motivation of my protagonist and then I turned that into a huge freaking deal that paralyzed me for a couple of weeks. Does that sound familiar? I hope not. I wouldn’t wish the pain of being creatively blocked on anyone.

But earlier this week, I finally finished the rewrite and sent it off.  I was home alone at the time, and right after I emailed it I had a bunch of appointments back to back. So there was no big celebration, just a quiet little “yay” and a rush to get ready to head out the door. The next morning, I rose early as usual, got my coffee and went to my desk and….did nothing but mindlessly cruise around the internet.

Because I had nothing to work on.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I have a ton of things to work on—plans for a class I’m teaching this Saturday, a short story I’m in the middle of a first draft on, a novella to rewrite, a new novel with one chapter finished to plunge back into. And the weekly installment of this newsletter.

But it was as if there was a blank wall between me and any of those projects in my brain. I couldn’t focus on any of them.  Could barely even remember what it was I needed to do. My brain had short-circuited. Fried.

I’d gotten a pretty good roll of momentum going as I finished the rewrite. Getting up early every day, making steady progress—and now that the project was done everything collapsed.  It is obvious I need a big dose of replenishment before I launch back into any other big projects.

I’d like to say that I took the next couple of days off, doing whatever I wanted. But I didn’t. Things are crazy right now, with a home remodeling project about to start, a writing retreat in France in six weeks, and a ton of appointments as I start a new treatment for my bum knee.  And that’s on top of working with my wonderful coaching clients, babysitting grands, and having time to spend with my husband.

But I did take a break between appointments yesterday and indulged myself with an hour of knitting.  I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine by the fire after a long, rainy drive home from the knee doctor. And I have a massage scheduled for next week. (Okay, truth is I try to get massages every two weeks—they are excellent for my knee issues.)

More than anything, I believe that replenishment and renewal is an inside job. As in, you have to give yourself permission to do it. Permission to take a day off from the writing and/or social media, permission not to check email or answer the phone, permission to do what will make you happy and light again.

Your writing will thank you for it.

What do you do to replenish and renew yourself? Leave a comment and let me know! I always need ideas.

And don’t forget to listen to the podcast!

 

A Guide to the Care and Tending of Writers, Part Two

So, this week & last, we are on the topic of self care for writers.  I know, wahk (that's the sound of a Buddha_buddhism_religion_581602_hbuzzer). But this is an important subject for you to pay attention to, so that you don't burn out.  So listen up. But first, go read Part One. Because in that ditty, I wrote about how you can tell you're in overwhelm and need to take a break.

But, really?  You need to give yourself a break every day.  You're putting crazy energy out into the world as you write.  Be aware of that and cultivate some time to yourself to get some of that energy back.  And–if you are like me, at first you will have to force yourself to do this. If you're like me, you'll resist.  You'll sit at the computer, certain that the words will come at any minute, sure that the fog of indecision will lift.  But it won't.  

You need to take a freaking break already!

And the one thing I've learned over years of doing this is that if you do these things, create, gasp, a routine of them, your writing will flourish.  So here are some suggestions for incorporating self-care into your life:

1.  Stretch.  I'm working on getting up from the computer every 20 (okay, it is usually more like 40) minutes and doing a couple of simple stretches.  This makes an enormous difference in how I feel at the end of the day.

2.  Artist's Date.  Julia Cameron advocates this in her book, The Artist's Way.  It is something you do alone, and can be as simple as taking your journal to the coffee shop.  Or going to an art gallery. Whatever makes you happy and fills the well. I'm lousy at doing this.  Really lousy.  But when I do, it is mind expanding.

3. Color.  Like in a coloring book, the way you did as a kid.  I'm not kidding, it is really relaxing. There's a whole series of Mandala coloring books you can get if that makes you feel more adult.  Or scribble shapes on a pad of paper and color in the blanks.  Here is a really cool link I found where you can print separate pages out.

4.  Read.  As I've mentioned a time or two before, if you're a writer, you need to read.  Words in, words out.  If I'm putting a lot of words out on the page, I need to pull a lot of them in as well.  And, it is relaxing.

5. Walk.  Get thyself out of the house and into the fresh air.  Carry index cards or your phone to take notes on (I highly recommend Evernote) because you will get ideas that you will want to write down.

6.  Enjoy a hobby. Cook, bake, garden (come to my house and pull some weeds if you like). Knit, crochet, sew.  I used to think that doing creative projects other than writing pulled me away from my writing–but really, it just enhances it.

7.  Get a mani-pedi.  Or just a pedi. Guys, you too.  Hit a salon that has a massage chair and you'll have a relaxing time, while your feet get spiffed up, too.

8.  Get a massage.  I've had the enormous luxury of getting a chiropractic massage weekly (thank you, health insurance) this year.  This is because my body is a bit out of whack.  The massages are helping me physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally.  Well worth it.

9.  Sit under a tree.  When my kids were little, upon occasion we would visit the nearby park and I would let them play while I sat a picnic table and wrote or simply pondered life's issues.  Getting out into nature is soothing in a way nothing else is.

10.  Get outta town.   Okay, so I am fortunate to live in Portland, Oregon, where the ocean is an hour in one direction and the mountains an hour in the other.  But do I avail myself of these delights?  Rarely.  Don't be like me.  Take a day trip.

11.  Meditate.  Or, keep it simple and not so scary and just pause and take some huge deep breaths every so often throughout the day.

12.  Do nothing.  Closely related to #11.  Just sit and do nothing.  Or stand and do nothing.  Or lie down and do nothing.  Wait, better skip that last one, because if you're like me you'll fall asleep. Which actually isn't a bad idea–napping is good, also.  Honestly, think about it–when is the last time you let yourself really do nothing?  I know, ages ago.  Me, too.

What else?  Well, what relaxes you?  What makes you happy?  Make a list–and then indulge yourself once in awhile.  Blame it on me if you must, but do it.  

Do you build time into your day or week for self care?  What's your favorite thing to do?

A Guide to the Care and Tending of Writers, Part One

Let's talk about self care.  Yeah, I know, you'd rather be writing than fussing about some dumb old self care crap.  But here's the point: taking care of yourself will enable you to write more and better. Truly.

An example, taken from my own life: Boracay-beach-paradise-1561148-h

Yesterday, I completed two big projects.  Both are under wraps for the moment, and only one is related to writing, really, but it was an application that necessitated a bunch of thought and filling out.

Today, I'm in full-on fart around mode.  I have a list a mile long to complete–and I'm not doing any of it.  Instead, I'm cruising around the internet, looking at sites I've not checked in on in ages, reading stupid stories about celebrities, wasting time.  

And now, as the day begins to wane, I'm feeling a bit creaky and antsy and unsettled.  How much better it would have been if I'd just said, f$%# it, I took two huge steps yesterday, I'm going to read and knit all day.  In other words, indulge in things I truly enjoy.  Relax after the full-out effort I put in yesterday. In other words, practice self care. 

I don't know why it is so hard to force allow yourself to do this.  Because if you're like me, you'll resist.  You'll sit at the computer, certain that the words will come at any minute, sure that the fog of indecision will lift.  But it won't.  And my day today is a case in point.

(The truth of the matter is, I've had this blog post–which is going to be two parts, by the way–in the works for a couple of weeks.  And it is sheer coincidence synchronicity that my behavior today so aptly proved my own point.)

So, here's the deal: you need to take a freaking break already!

Spoken by the same woman who constantly exhorts you to write every day.  So let's go at this from a slightly different angle, with a handy-dandy list of Possible Signs You Are Burned Out and Need to Replenish:

1.  You have a hard time focusing.  You can't seem to concentrate on the words in front of your face, or you land or a website and wonder why you clicked on it. Then you click on another one and remember why you were on the first one and so you go back there, read for awhile, then head over to the second website.  While your writing file sits open and ignored.  Yeah, that.

2.  You can't connect with the story of your WIP (work in progress).  You remember vaguely that its about…a woman…who does something.  But you can't recall what in the hell it is she does, or the name of any of the other characters or why you wanted to write it in the first place.

3.  Your eyelids get heavy when you open your WIP file, and you don't feel like writing, you feel like sleeping.

4.  The People magazine website is suddenly the most interesting thing you've ever seen.  And you are compelled to read mindless puff articles about people you've never heard of before.

5.  A glass of wine is the thing that you need right now, at this moment, because it is five o'clock somewhere.  And once you take the first sip, it is all downhill from there…

The first three of this list are the most important to heed because they are the most insidious.  You won't ever realize you are doing them until you look back at the end of the day and see that you've accomplished nothing.  Nada.  But even worse, you likely won't identify the root cause of your behavior as needing self care.  No, you will beat yourself up and tell yourself what a lazy ass you are.

How do I know this? Because I do it all the time my friend told me about it.

So, start paying attention.  Take a break.  Figure out some ways that you can do self care that isn't goopy.  How, you ask?  That is the subject of part two of this post, coming right up whenever I can quit procrastinating.

What is your favorite way to waste time?

Photo by The Wandering Angel.