Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 3, 2023

Writers: Are you taking care of yourself?

by Sarah (Sally) Hamer

self care checklist - handwriting on a napkin with a cup of coffee, healthy lifestyle, habits and personal development concepts

Writers are notorious for spending a lot of time alone, sitting too long in front of a computer, not socializing, and just not taking care of their health. These habits often get even worse during November because of NaNoWriMo. Are you one of those folks? Why? There are ways to make self-care much easier.

Self-care seems to be a buzz-word lately—when you search for that word, you get six billion hits. I don’t see this as a negative, because I believe that each of us has our own definition of exactly what self-care means. I also believe that most people think it’s only physical. It’s true, the physical side of caring for ourselves is extremely important. But it’s not the only thing we need to address when finding a pathway to be a happy, healthy, productive, and successful writer.

Here are some tips!

1. Do start with the physical first.

It really is the easiest. But a big problem is that every one of us is different. What do YOU need to do to keep your body in tip-top shape?

  • It might be to set timers to remind yourself to walk away from the computer and chair at least once an hour.
  • Maybe a ten-minute recuperative walk around the house—and, yes, you can stop for a cuppa if you want—can make all the difference in how you feel.
  • You might do best with coffee, but drinking lots of water helps flush toxins out of the body from sitting too long and you can certainly have the coffee too.
  • I like to use stretches to keep me from getting stiff. There are lots of good ones on YouTube, some you can even do sitting in a chair.

Eating is also important. Heavy foods make me sleepy so, when I’m on a deadline, I try to stick with salads and soup. But you may need the carbs bread or pasta contains to jump-start your brain. Whatever works best for you is what you should do, as long as you feed your body. I also believe you should plan time for a walk or some fun.

I know it can be hard when you are already trying to carve time out of your day to write, but doing something physical often helps my brain to work through whatever snag I’ve come up against. So, throwing a load of clothes into the washer or starting supper helps that amazing plot idea to step up and find its way to the front of my brain where I can write it down.

And, last but not least, a good night’s sleep is an amazing way to upgrade your brain. A nap isn’t bad either.

2. Next is the mental side of self-care, also known as not losing your mind!

Writing can be lonely and exhausting. So, instead of hours by yourself, create opportunities to get away from that darned computer.

Call a friend, go to lunch with other writers, do something special with the family.

Give your brain time to refresh with something else. I think of my brain as just another muscle and I try to exercise it in different ways and with other people as much as I can. There are hundreds of writing groups out there, with thousands and thousands of writers, many of whom would like a friend to talk to.

One of the best ways I know to find writing friends is to take a class, whether online or in person.

I teach both at a local university and online and I often see students “pair off” in a writing relationship. There are dozens of other ways, I’m sure, and I suggest you find one if possible.

This does NOT mean you have to critique for someone else, if that isn’t your goal. But just having someone else who also has voices in their head is wonderful. Remember, those voices are probably just the characters arguing—and only a writer can understand that voices don’t mean you’re crazy!—but having someone to laugh about it with and pulling yourself out of the process for a little while can help a story to solve itself.

3. Last but absolutely not least is your spiritual health.

Creative people are infamous for allowing their art to suck their soul away. Having a good relationship with yourself makes all the difference. How does that work? By being kind to you. Some people set unreachable goals and then beat themselves up. Some are afraid, whether of success or failure, and don’t ever finish a book. Some don’t ever believe they are good enough to succeed. Deep inward searches can help to uncover things that might be stopping you from achieving your goal. I suggest journaling—just a form of writing!—and digging into the things that hold you back. No one ever has to read what you write in a journal, and it is an amazing tool.

Another thing that can suck our soul away is letting others tell us, sometimes in ugly ways, who we are or how we write.

Today’s world of anonymous internet allows people to harm without real consequences and that by itself sucks. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between constructive criticism and just downright meanness, but there is definitely one there. Ignore the hate. Listen to suggestions—after all, we can all improve our craft—but write your own story. Remember why you write in the first place. Honor your creativeness and allow life to inspire you.

A good, solid balance between writing and your physical, mental, and spiritual health can not only save you from fatigue, writer’s block, and broken relationships, it allows your creativity to flow.

What are some things you like to do for self-care? Is there something effective you do that didn't make my list? And for the NaNo crowd, does your self-care change during NaNoWriMo? Please share down in the comments section!

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About Sarah

Sarah Sally Hamer

Sarah (Sally) Hamer, B.S., MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories and has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals. A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at www.margielawson.com. Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors.

Her current project is a Self-Care for Writers Symposium with numerous other writers coming up in March 2024. For more information, email her at info@mindpotential.org or visit the website www.mindpotential.org.

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10 comments on “Writers: Are you taking care of yourself?”

  1. All good advice, Sally. My writers' critique group has been a lifesaver for me. I wouldn't have improved so much as a writer without them, and might not be still writing at all. And the other kinds of self care you mention are important, too.

  2. You, dear Teacher, are right on target! I was diagnosed in 2018 with Parkinson's. I thought I needed a new keyboard because the letters K, R,and N were sticking. Turns out it wasn't the keyboard; it was my fingers! I attend the Davis Phinney Foundation and the American Parkinson Foundation vertual group meetings regularly. What a releaf! Yes. I switch to dictation when needed. (I taught Middle School for 35 years, which might explain the tremor!) Teaching was a 35-year VACATION of JOY!

  3. Yes. All three of the "parts" of us need attention. I thought I was doing this poorly until your post led me to break down what I'm down.

    I was isolated in all three parts by circumstances beyond my control including the pandemic for a long time. I can't express how that slowly beat me down. Fortunately, I have friends (writing and others) who kept reaching out to me. Now I make a point of making at least one connection each week. Sometimes that's a lunch out with a friend, sometimes it's a phone call, and other times it's a zoom call. It's amazing how much my mood is affected when I miss one of those connections.

    I'm taking care of my physical side by doing yard work and remodeling my house. I also bought a sit-stand desk. That's been life changing.

    As for spiritual, I'm a long-term journal writer. I can't recommend journaling enough.

    In general, I feel 100 times better than I did a couple of years ago.

    I guess I'm doing pretty well these day. Thank you for reminding me of all this during a very busy month.

  4. All three of these got a workout this year as I fought cancer (and won!). The physical side of life got the most attention in 2023. It will be nice to add more focus to those other areas of care in 2024. 🙂

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