Self Care for Authors by Willow Woodford
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Willow Woodford as she shares with us: “Self Care for Authors.” Enjoy!
I can’t believe 2019 is almost over! Shouldn’t it get a speeding ticket?
I don’t know about you, but this year has been very full for me.
I think that’s a consistent theme for authors. Many of us are balancing multiple roles and juggling them never seems to ease up.
In fact, there are times when those balls we have in the air seem to get heavier; work, writing, parenting, life; how do we make it all work and make sure we aren’t burning out?
So How About Self Care?
Especially at the end of the year when many of us want to spend time enjoying the holiday season, relaxing with good food and family, it can be hard to juggle everything that needs to be done. Because life goes on, despite the fact we have too much activity at the end of our time.
An Author’s Paradigm
An author is rarely just an author.
It’s easy to imagine Ernest Hemingway crouched over his desk, or Jane Austen perches on a chair in her parlor, furiously writing away at their manuscripts with little attention to chores, groceries, or work.
In fact, they probably had those or similar concerns, they just aren’t part of the narrative we have for them now.
What do you do? Besides write.
I am a mom, a freelancer, and a graduate student. Often my weekly list looks like this:
- Grocery shopping
- Make dinner the nights I’m home
- Drive the daughter to work (because she can’t — won’t — drive herself)
- Write an article for Writer’s Fun Zone
- Write two articles for Medium
- Work on final project for Strategic Public Relations
- Interview former graduate student for paper
- Do a social media audit for this class
- Go to class Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights
- Oh, and don’t forget to take care of yourself! (self care!)
See how the self care came last?
That’s where the problems begin.
We put our own needs — physical, emotional and mental — last on our to-do list. And then we never get to them.
It’s Not Because We Don’t Care
I believe there are a few misconceptions that lead us to put ourselves last. And it’s not because we don’t love ourselves.
There is a common misconception that writing is easy. That writing a story can be done quickly, in short spurts, leaving the rest of the day open for whatever distraction grabs your attention.
We know the truth.
Now I’m not referring to the rabbit hole that resembles a Google search bar. The “Oh, I need to know how many bones are in a duck’s foot, and I have no idea how I ended up watching videos of ducks being trained to make pie,” searches.
That’s an entirely different topic about ATTENTION.
What I’m talking about is the time investment a book requires.
Whether you are a pantser or a plotter or even a plottser — writing takes time.
You need to get to know your characters, let them tell you their story, and then write it down. And, once it’s written down, you’re not even done. There’s revising, editing, proofing.
And some people think you sit down at the keyboard, tap out a few words, and send it off to the magical publisher in the cloud who will make you famous with it.
It takes time to write something worth reading. And other responsibilities often mean you’re borrowing time from self care to write those words.
Don’t be sad. I have ideas!
First though, I’d like to discuss one other harmful obsession sweeping us into little heaps of exhausted humans, too tired to even sleep properly.
The Productivity Cult
The productivity cult, and yes, I think in many ways it’s a cult, is obsessed with using every moment, every waking breath, to create, learn, or accomplish something. And let’s be honest, sometimes we just need to spend 30 minutes trying to keep the little ones from not starving. Or letting Ms. Pacman eat her little dots up.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read some very helpful productivity suggestions. But when they cross the line into “hacks” you have to stop and ask yourself, “Am I doing this because it makes sense? Or am I trying to squeeze too much into a single day?”
Here is a list of “hacks” I’ve read that make me want to jump in a hole and hide.
- Learn a new subject every week by listening to the audio/visual at 2X speed. 🙂
- Wake up at (insert super early time here.)
- Take a cold shower.
- Delegate the easy things.
- Develop a killer morning routine, and stick to it no matter what.
That last one was made up by someone who didn’t have children. Of any age. But even those of us without children have unexpected problems arise that derail even the best of us.
Maybe it’s the guilt that it seems like we sit home and do nothing?
I mean, we are closed in our offices, or glued to our computers (when we’re writing), and it’s hard to quantify to someone what we’ve done during that time.
Unless you’re in the first draft and you can say, “Oh, I wrote three thousand words today” it’s hard to explain writing to a non-writer.
“I edited three chapters” doesn’t sound hard to the uninitiated.
Without Further Ado: Self Care For Authors
It’s important we understand what self care is, so we can make it a priority.
Self care is different for everyone. Let’s start there. Your glass of wine that helps you wind down will give me a headache for the next twelve hours. But it does fall into a few basic categories.
- Healthy food
- Good sleep habits
- Reading (not for work)
- Downtime, alone and with friends and family
- Other relaxing activities that refill that well of energy and peace inside you
- Walking your dog
The activity is less important than the intention. Self care is anything you do with the intention of feeding your spirit. A replenishment of your inner strength that keeps you intact, sane and able to function in the rest of your world.
And even authors who have loads of other responsibilities and people who depend on them deserve self-care.
In fact, given the emotional turmoil we go through as we chase our characters up trees and throw rocks or arrows or nuclear warheads at them, we might need more self-care than some.
So, I encourage you, as the holiday season descends on us, but the rest of the year also, to make sure you schedule time for yourself. And practice some good self care.
For me, this looks like rules about when I go to sleep. I’m an early riser, and I can function fairly well on only 5 hours of sleep. And it doesn’t matter how late I stay up, I’m up at 6am. So, I have to be purposeful about my bedtime or it catches up with me.
I also make sure I make time for the gym, meditation, and good meals. And I make sure I keep the little man from starving when I can.
Your Turn for Self Care
What’s your favorite self-care activity?
How do you recharge when your battery is so low it’s threatening to shut you down? (Ideally, you won’t let it get this bad, but we all have those moments.)
Do you have regular rules about sleep, eating, or exercise that help you stay invigorated and ready for the next emergency call from one of your children?
“Mom! I forgot! I’m supposed to dress up as a mermaid for school today! Do you have a mermaid tale and wig in your closet?”
How do you do it? Share in the comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Willow Woodford lives in her imagination, because it’s more interesting than the real world. When she isn’t dreaming up new stories, she likes to cook, hike, and cuddle with her chihuahua. She reads voraciously, staying up far too late, and reading anywhere she can; including grocery lines, parking lots, and waiting rooms. Chat and follow Willow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WillowWoodford and on Medium: https://medium.com/@annshannon.