One of the first questions I ask my clients who are bogged down, overwhelmed, or stuck is, “How do you take care of yourself?” Most cannot answer. Many have never thought about it. Some think the question is silly or self-indulgent.
If you’re a writer who seldom thinks about self-care, ask yourself this: Would you write better if you felt better? Would increased energy and joy improve your writing? Would a positive outlook boost your creativity? If you answer yes to these questions, then it’s time to think about caring for yourself. If you would like to take better care of yourself but aren’t sure how, here are three suggestions.
1. Celebrate Your Victories.
Celebration is one of the foundations of life. We do it at all joyous events, from the birth of a child to a retirement after a lifetime of work. Why not do it for yourself when something good has happened in your writing life?
Anything you feel good about is something to celebrate. Signing a contract with a publisher calls for celebration, but so does getting a story accepted, finishing a work you’ve struggled over, getting new followers on your blog, or receiving praise from someone you admire.
Find a way to celebrate every time something positive happens. Raise a glass of champagne (or mineral water). Tell your friends. Do a happy dance. Mark the occasion in whatever way you wish. Don’t let your minor victories go unnoticed. They may be small, but they are not unimportant.
2. Own Your Grief
After a series of disappointments in my writing career, I went into a period I can only describe as profound grief. It lasted for months. I cried. I stared into space. I spent a lot of time alone because other people’s company was too much to take. I was just plain sad.
Much of this time, I felt like there was something wrong with me. When I thought about some of the tragedies I’ve seen unfold in other people’s lives, I felt foolish for being so swept up in my disappointment.
It wasn’t until I stopped castigating myself for feeling bad and allowed myself to grieve that I was able to heal. Before I could get better, I had to give myself permission to feel what I was feeling.
When you go through a tough time, own your grief. Don’t tell yourself to “let it go,” and don’t try to convince yourself you shouldn’t be grieving. Acknowledge it, experience it, live through it. Then get up and brush yourself off.
3. Make rewards tangible.
The wall next to my desk is a monument to my successes. There I have posted kind words from editors, acceptance letters, thank you notes from students, the picture taken for a newspaper article about my work, and positive reviews. Included on the wall are the glowing comments Julia Cameron made about my book, Writing as a Sacred Path, and an award I received for my writing ten years ago. My successes are rather minor ones (no National Book Award, no Oscar for Best Screen Play), but they’re mine.
Someone viewing my wall might think I’m a terrible egotist, but it’s actually the opposite. Like most authors, I experience serious bouts of self doubt. I sometimes wonder if I’m just spinning my wheels, and I have to fight feelings of frustration. That is what my wall is for.
My wall isn’t there for other people to see. It’s for me. It’s my way of reminding myself that, even if I haven’t had a bestseller or won a Peabody, I’ve still had some meaningful successes.
Bring your triumphs into the open. Polish them up. Give them some kind of visible, tangible form, even if it’s only a note you write yourself, (“I’ve published ten short stories! Yay!”). Put them where you can see them every day.
Dedicated people in all walks of life find self-care a challenge. “It’s easiest to ignore the self because the only one to whom you’re accountable is you,” writes Stew Friedman in The Harvard Business Review. “Focusing time and attention on yourself is too readily construed as being, well, selfish — and so you’re likely to feel guilty if you do so.” Yet, as Friedman points out, caring for yourself is essential if you want to do the best work you can.
How do you practice self-care? Do you have any unusual or unique methods to share with other writers?