Self Care and Self Love for Writers

tumblr_nk3m6hN8HU1so358go1_500Lately, I think I’ve been approaching writing the way I used to (unhealthily) approach dieting. Self doubt and self hate are actually very effective motivators and very easy feelings to tap into … but there is definitely a price. If (and by if I mean when) I don’t spend as much time as I planned writing or hit my daily word count I end up thinking things like:

  • Why am I not disciplined enough to just do this?
  • This must mean I don’t really want to be a writer bad enough.
  • I guess I’m not really a good writer, because a good writer wouldn’t be procrastinating like this.

These are definitely not fun ways to feel. But, just like getting mad at yourself for not exercising or eating something you “shouldn’t”, it can push you to be more productive … at least in the moment. 

But when the moment is over, I think it ultimately harms your productivity. Because for me using these kinds of thoughts awaken a horrible inner editor who starts telling me: no one is going to like this chapter – that sentence is horrible – you aren’t as good as everyone in the class – you are getting to do your favorite thing all day so why aren’t you doing it/enjoying it/making the most of this opportunity. 

It’s not like I always feel this way, but it is a spiral. And when I’m in the spiral, sometimes I feel the answer is to be more and more regimented and mean to myself. But this week something happened that totally shook me out of this – thank goodness.

I went to meet a friend to write, feeling stressed because I felt behind on a submission for workshop. I was fully prepared to make myself be serious and really get some good work done. Instead, when my friend asked my how I was doing I basically burst into tears. *Yay for public crying in New York City* We talked for two hours about a lot of non-writing related things that have been stressing me out lately (some that I didn’t even realize were stressing me out).

Drill Sargent Alison was totally ready to beat myself up for wasting the writing time, but then I ended up writing nine and a half pages in the next 24 hours (a personal best for me since coming to New York). What’s more I liked the pages more than anything I’ve written in weeks. I had a lot of fun writing them.

This is not new information, but it does seem like a lesson I have had to and probably will have to learn over and over and over again: SELF CARE AND SELF LOVE ARE IMPORTANT FOR WRITERS.

They are important for everyone, but since writing requires a certain mental state I think they are vital for creating our best work. Yes discipline is important, but sometimes being stuck isn’t the result of being lazy or not caring or writer’s block (which we are told over and over again doesn’t really exist). It could just mean you are too tired or stressed or whatever to get into the right headspace to work.

Dalton Trumbo Writing in the Bathtub
Dalton Trumbo Writing in the Bathtub

So as a reminder to myself and others (and because I don’t want to be the type of person who only blogs about how things are going well) I wanted to write about this week and say sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is take a bath or a 20 minute nap or meet a friend for coffee. Writing is important work. But taking care of ourselves is important work too. Would love to know in the comments if you have favorite treats or rituals that help you.

Okay, now I’m going to get back to writing my next chapter … which right now doesn’t feel like a chore. It feels like something I’m actually really excited about.

8 thoughts on “Self Care and Self Love for Writers

  1. Oh Alison, I SO relate to this, not only in my writing but in my art. I’m glad you came out the other side with the revelation and some really good work.

    The best advice I ever received was from my art mentor. I was going through the self-recriminations about starting a new painting series – procrastination, lack of direction & inspiration, & energy, blah blah blah, and she said: “You have to clear your head, and that is OKAY. In fact, if you don’t do something completely unrelated, then what will you have to paint (or write) about? You have to empty out and then fill up. Take a break … do something unexpected!” I won’t lie to you; the message is easy to forget, especially under deadlines. Write a banner and put it on your computer, your mirror, or your door or wherever you will see it, to remind yourself of your wonderful wisdom when you find yourself in that place again.

    BTW… crying in NYC in public… been there!! I just pretended I was in a movie and somehow it made it actually rather humorous. I started creating a screenplay in my head, maybe starring Meg Ryan; she’s good at crying:)

    PS: Have you read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott? I think there have been very few writers – the greats included – that haven’t had oceans of doubt. You are in good company.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Patrice. I’m glad I’m not alone. I love the idea of pretending I’m Meg Ryan when I’m crying in public – after the orgasm sandwich scene in When Harry Met Sally I bet very little embarrasses her!

      Also I have read “Bird by Bird”, but it is probably time for a reread. Great suggestion!

  2. Ugh, been there, done that! That mental beating-yourself-up spiral is the worst. I’m such a goal-oriented Type A that I always get down on myself for not meeting deadlines or quotas, but that only makes writing feel like a chore as you said, and that’s exactly the opposite of what it should be! I’ve been going through a lot of personal stress as well, so thanks for the reminder to give myself a break! I really needed it!

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