Intentional Rest vs. Shadow Comforts (You’re a Writer, You Need Rest, Dammit)

Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. Not fun, in any universe. But it also went well and wasn’t that big of a deal. Minimal pain that could be easily controlled with Ibuprofen, very little swelling. I could eat as soon as the lidoicaine wore off, albeit slowly and carefully.

After the extraction, I texted my husband to say it was over and everything had gone well. He wrote back and told me to rest a little. Of course I will, I wrote back.

Hahahahaha. Because that’s really the last thing I had on my mind. I had manuscripts to read for a meeting that night and a column to write and submit to The Writing Cooperative on Medium. So yeah, I didn’t really end up resting.

But here’s the deal: I should have. Because instead of taking the time to relax with a book and maybe nod off for a while, I fought tiredness and distraction all afternoon. And for me tiredness and distraction comes in the form of what Jen Loudon calls shadow comforts. As in, scanning the digital front page of the New York Times for interesting articles. Reading an article in a favorite knitting blog. Checking in on the day’s news. Looking one more time to see if anybody has emailed me. And then remembering I was in the middle of writing an article.

Clearly, going down the internet rabbit hole is a huge shadow comfort for me. Today, even though I’m pretty much all over the tooth thing, I took the opposite tack. I was feeling a little sleepy after lunch so I repaired to my bed to read (I’m trying to finish Book #4 in the Maisie Dobbs series–Messenger of Truth) and also to doze for a bit. I came back to my office totally refreshed and ready to dive into the work–which I’ve been doing, without distraction for a couple of hours now.

There’s a whole thing going around in the writing community these days about how we should write fast and produce a ton. That’s all well and good–I actually like writing fast (with lots of time for editing built in after). But I am here to suggest that writing fast happens much more easily with a clear mind. And these days we are hammered with information from all angles. The statistics on how much information we process a day compared to even a few years ago are astounding. (This article has some stats that will blow your mind–and it is already a couple of years old.)

Yet we are trained culturally to be strong, to kick ass, to keep going, to feel the burn. Resting is seen as a weakness. One should only admit to being tired in the same breath as exclaiming how busy one is. I’m not immune to this and I bet you aren’t, either. While reading is one of my favorite ways to relax, its gotten so that I do most of it at night, right before bed. That’s because I feel guilty reading during the day. I’m not alone–this article by Austin Kleon quotes the director Paul Thomas Anderson:

“I still have trouble reading a book during the day because it somehow feels indulging… You know, like oh, my – this is so naughty. I’m actually reading at 10 o’clock in the morning. I think it’s just your upbringing – something about like you got to go to work, and you’ve got to – and move on. And still even – this is how I make my living. I still feel guilty. 10 o’clock, I mean – and it’s – but I’ve sunken into the pleasure of it – to think, my God, I’ve got my life in a way where I can read a book in the middle of the day.”

Can you related to that? I sure can. But, besides the fact that reading is a huge part of a writer’s job description, you also need to relax. So give yourself a break and get some rest. Intentional rest. Read, or meditate, or take a little snooze.

I’d love to hear about how you intentionally rest.

And please feel free to sign up for my weekly love letter–the link is on the right.

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Your Priorities As A Writer

What are your priorities as a writer? Do you have a firm sense of them? Knowing what comes first in your career and life can help you take hold of your time management.

Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash

I started thinking about this after reading an article in the May 2018 issue of the Romance Writers Report, the magazine of the Romance Writers of America. It was written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who, as many of you may know, is a very prolific writer. Bear in mind that her priorities as a writer might be different than yours–but that’s the point. You need to figure out what works for you. (Also note that these priorities are for indie writers. She seems to take a somewhat dim view of traditionally published writers.)

Here are her priorities:

#1–Self-Care (getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well)

#2–Spend Time With Loved Ones

#3–Writing New Words

#4–Publish New Words

#5–Whatever Keep You Healthy and Happy

So…she lumps marketing, if it makes you happy, into #5. I should think a traditionally published author might want to substitute marketing for publishing new words in #4. And then, of course, there are those of us who teach and coach or, gasp, have a day job. That has to fit in there somewhere, too. Right?

But I feel like these guidelines are an excellent starting point for a discussion you might want to have with yourself, your spouse, or your family.  Think about it. Roll it around in your mind, talk about it. You don’t have to figure it all out at once. But I do think it is good to have a firm grasp of your priorities so you can pull yourself back when you deviate from them.

Don’t cringe at the words self-care. It is just about eating right, exercising, and sleeping enough, which are baseline activities that will do more for your writing than just about anything.  And maybe you are an extreme introvert who doesn’t give a rip about any damned loved ones, in which case you can knock that priority out.  But I do try my best to take care of myself, and I do love my loved ones, so I am pretty good with her outline up to #3, but after that I’d diverge, adding:

#4–Paid Work


#6–Things that Make Me Happy and Healthy

In truth, I’m pretty good about the latter, given that much of what makes me happy is spending time with loved ones. And going to France every year, from where I just returned.  Honestly, what tends to get shoved aside when things get overwhelming is my own personal writing–and I know I am not alone in that.

How about you? Do you have priorities firmly planted in your mind, or maybe even written down somewhere? Care to share them? I’d love to hear what they are in the comments.

(If you want to read more about this topic from Kristine, go to her site and search for “burnout” or “sustainability.”)