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?

Writer’s Tips: Managing Energy For Writing

Last Wednesday, I wrote about time versus energy, how sometimes we complain about lack of time but what we really are missing is energy.  You can read the post here. Power_energy_wind_265065_l

I promised specific tips on how to manage energy, and as if by magic (or ma-gic with a hard g as my daughter used to say when she was little), here they are:

1.  Know Thyself.  My eyes pop open at 6 AM and I'm up and doing my morning ritual soon thereafter.  (Except I will admit to sleeping in a bit this morning, as I was up late watching the coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden last night.  What an amazing year it has been so far.)  I love to get up early and launch into my day.  My friend Robin, on the other hand, stays up late, until 2 or 3 AM, and sleeps late.  If she went against her natural tendencies and tried to get up early, she'd be really cranky.  And if I went against my preferred sleep schedule and stayed up late to work, I'd be fighting drowsiness the whole time.  So figure out your natural rhythms and go with them.

2.  Do What's Most Important First.  Whenever you can, give your best energy–that which comes at the start of your day or work session–to your most important goal.  If it is writing a novel, work on that first.  If it is working on a book proposal, spend some time on that first.  Committing your best energy to your main goal will feed your energy for the rest of the day or work session.  I wrote more about this here.

3.  Move Your Bod.  This comes in two parts:

A.  Throughout the day. Recent studies have shown that if you sit at a desk all day, you're basically unhealthy.  Even if you go exercise after that day of sitting on your ass, you're still unhealthy.  This is an occupational hazard for writers.   So, move throughout the day.  Get up every hour from your desk and walk around the office or house, or stretch.  And, every time you are on the phone walk (if you can) or stand.  I've taken to pacing around the house when I'm on the phone, to the great puzzlement of my pug.

B.  30 minutes a day. Or more.  Exercise is as vital for the brain as it is for the body.  Creativity and walking has long been linked, because when you're out walking, ideas just seem to come.  Ma-gic.  I've been struggling with this lately due to a knee energy, but I've been a walker for years and it is the best.  However, do whatever you love, whether that is swimming or biking or Zumba.

4.  Use Intervals.  Experts are now touting interval training as an efficient way to get optimal exercise in and you can follow this same theory for writing.   Set a timer or agree with yourself that you're going to write for 45 minutes and then go full out for that time.  This means don't look at email or the latest on Twitter.  Just write.  When time is up, take a break for 15 minutes.  This is when you get to look at email, talk to your dog, call your girlfriend.  And then launch in again.

5. Understand Creative Cycles.  Just as the year progresses through the seasons, so too does your creativity progress through stages.  You may be writing full out for four months and then not scribble another word for two weeks.  After I got my MFA, I could barely write for six months.  Two years of intense deadlines had done me in.  It is naturally to have periods of intense activity and times when you are less energetic.  Use the latter for less demanding tasks, like note-taking and so forth.

Those are my best tips for creating and conserving writerly energy.  What are yours?

P.S.–On Saturday, I held my first VIP Day with the amazing Holly Marie St. Pierre, and it was fabulous.  We got at least a month's worth of work (the core of a book proposal)  done in one day!  If you're interested in catapulting your writing to a new level, check out the VIP Day page here.


Photo by kevinzim.


Do You Lack Writing Time or Writing Energy?

Time.       Metal_mechanics_type_221267_l           

It's elusive, isn't it? 

Weird how in the same amount of hours on one day you get a ton done and the next day you fritter it away.

Time is either the writer's friend, or the bane of her existence, more often the latter.  Nearly every client and student I coach struggles with time, and most of the time that struggle is about trying to get enough of it.

But lately the truth of the time conundrum has hit me.

It is not about time, it is about energy.  Or more to the point, a lack thereof.

Case in point: watching TV.  For years, I've been a dedicated non-TV watcher.  One of my favorite rants has been about how much time we all waste watching TV, how brainless it is, yada yada yada.

Enter the ancient sexy elderly pug named Buster, who we rescued from the Humane Society shortly before Christmas. (Alas, his buddy Ally died in March.  Miss that girly.) For you civilians who are not pug owners, pugs are creatures of habit, sort of like your crotchety grandpa who has to have dinner at the same time every night.  Buster has developed a TV-watching habit, fueled by his admiration for Steven Tyler on American Idol

Buster likes to snuggle up on the orange Ikea futon in the family room and watch TV and every evening, he yips and barks if this doesn't happen.

So I have started watching way more TV than I have in years.  Because, you know, I gotta keep the pug happy. And here's the deal:  I kinda like it.  I find it relaxing.  I find myself working harder during the day so that I can watch TV with Buster at night. 

Because the truth of the matter is that by the time I'm done with dinner, my brain is fried anyway.  And I'm no longer good for writing or working on business stuff.  (I know, I know, I could read a book and I often do–last night I tore through If I Stay by Gayle Forman.  I think it is time to admit that some of the best writing these days is for the young adult market.)

Thus, the point of this post: it is not about lack of time, it is about lack of energy. 

Yeah, technically I've got time in the evenings to work on my novel.  But I don't have the mental energy.  And that's the real issue we have to face.

I've got a few suggestions, but this post has already gone on way longer than I intended, so I'll take up the topic again next week.

How do you gather and maintain energy for writing?

In the meantime, come back on Friday, when I'll feature a guest post by Erica Nelson, author of Happiness Quotations.  See you then!

Photo by clix.