Writing is hard.
What’s even harder is taking care of yourself while doing so. Raise your hand if—consciously or unconsciously—you burnt yourself out while writing a book?
Yeah, I did too. More than once.
The first time was subconscious. The others…it was a choice.
Why would any sane person burn themselves out, you ask? Because humans are competitive creatures!
And…writing was too much of a drug sometimes. It was hard to pull away from.
Now, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Somewhat.
And while I love writing AND my stories still suck me in, I’ve learned to take care of myself first. After all, how can I finish writing a book if I’m exhausted, right?
In our quest for the next novel, next project to be finished, we tend to disregard our health. Even more so our mental health. Believe it or not, that’s important when writing.
Don’t think that because your writing happens at home, in an environment you choose, it’s less stressful on you as a human being.
For one, there’s the emotional aspect of certain scenes.
If you’ve ever been drained after writing a particular scene, you know what I’m talking about.
And second, we all juggle different things on top of writing.
I have a full-time job, two dogs, and a husband.
Others have kids.
Or some juggle more than two jobs!
But the bottom line is: you cannot perform if you don’t take care of your mental health first.
So, how can you do that?
Below are a few things that have helped me deal with the stress of writing, and some are compiled from conversations I’ve had with other writers.
Disclaimer: I’m only speaking from personal experience here and am not a certified professional. If you have any health issues, it’s always best to seek a professional’s advice.
I find one of the main reasons I get burnt out is lack of sleep. I can’t sleep because of incessant character voices in my head. Meditation helps with quieting this down. Some relaxing or Celtic music compilations also tend to help with a peaceful mindset.
Zen Habits has some meditation tricks from beginners if you’re not sure where to start.
If you have a hard time like me getting into it, try a hot bath. Set the mood, light a few candles. Grab your favourite glass of wine/whiskey/whatever. Put on a slow jam or a relaxing soundtrack—or a party mix! Then breathe, and enjoy.
This post has some easy meditation techniques.
Don’t underestimate the power of pampering yourself. On a purely psychological level, this tells you that you value your own self and want the best for yourself.
On a more general level, it takes your attention away from all the stressors in your life and inserts a huge load of positivity.
Pampering doesn’t have to mean shopping. It could be that, but it could also mean an at-home (or in-store) mani-pedi, attending a festival you’ve been dying to go to, or buying a book/movie you’ve been wanting to read/watch forever!
So this one might be a given. I always hear the ‘eat well, and exercise’ motto whenever people talk about physical health.
Mental health also has a strong correlation with physical health. And while I’ve never been a fan of hours at the gym (nor do I have the time for it), that’s not to say it doesn’t work for other people.
What I’ve found helps clear my head and gives me a good workout is hiking.
I got into it last summer, and since it’s harder to do in winter, I supplemented with skating on Rideau Canal.
Still, nothing quite compares with hiking and I believe the main reason for it is that you’re completely removed from the city, technology, and everything that stresses you out.
Depending on the hiking trail you’ve chosen, chances are you’ll end up in the middle of a park or forest, surrounded by trees and nothing but nature. And those hours spent away from everything else…they’re pure gold.
Also, there’s no pressure to ‘hit the level of calories burned’ or ‘spin for an extra 15min’ because all you’re doing is walking. At your own pace, for as long as you want. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, I highly recommend it!
Note: Make sure you bring water and snacks on any hiking trip, and maybe an emergency kit. I didn’t on my first adventure, and regretted it hehe.
Eat the right foods
Ok, this one’s another given. But before you roll your eyes, think about your last meal. It might have been takeaway, or a home cooked meal. Still, my question is: how many times do you eat healthily while writing a book?
Cause, me? I forget to eat, to be honest. Luckily my husband makes sure to remind me, and that keeps me semi-fed.
I don’t forget because I’m a child, but simply because I become so consumed with what I’m writing that I don’t want to take the 30-45 minutes away from a seriously epic scene in order to make food, and another 15-30 minutes to eat it.
In an effort to become healthier, I’ve started blocking time off in my schedule to cook for an entire week. I make myself prepackaged (but home cooked) meals and snacks, and make sure they’re easily accessible when writing. It helps tremendously, and I’ve learned it’s not as impossible as I once thought.
Plus, there’s something therapeutic about cooking! I use AllRecipes and Pinterest for inspiration, and it’s been a blast!
Find another hobby that you enjoy
‘As if I have time for something else!’
I hear you!
No, seriously, I do.
But if all you have is your regular life and your author life, you may end up feeling trapped.
If you don’t, that’s great. But we all have different coping mechanisms, and it’s nice to have other hobbies that you can unleash on.
For me, I love making playlists.
I’m also a pretty decent painter and craft-maker (I used to make jewellery from scratch).
When I feel like I need a break from everything, I start browsing the web for new songs. I’ll also go around asking friends if they need anything made.
Usually I’ll end up designing business cards or logos or banners, sometimes websites. And the time spent on these other hobbies (which are never full-time occupations) takes me away from constant writing/editing and exposes me to new experiences and people.
Block time off—for yourself
Now, the most important thing you can do to ensure good mental health—and I cannot stress this enough!—is to block time off for yourself.
I know it may seem impossible, especially if you have kids. Life is crazy. But an hour or two a week, blocked for yourself, can be a life-saver.
It’s something I’ve only started doing this year, but the change in me has been noticeable from the first week I did it. I was less stressed, less likely to snap at something that went wrong.
And when I mean ‘block time off’, I mean: no social media, no texting, no phones, period…and no people.
Lock yourself in a room if you have to, or go for a walk outside. Park in an empty car park and blast music, or take a road trip by yourself.
Find a good book and hole up under your porch or in a corner of your backyard…
Whatever your idea of ‘inner peace’ is, block time off to find it.
And if you think you can’t do it, set a reminder on your phone. Treat it like any appointment to the doctor, because that’s what this is: a very important way to take care of yourself.
And in the long run, your mind—and body—will thank you!
There are tons of other ways to improve your mental health.
A simple Google search will pull up insane amounts of articles on it.
At the end of the day, you have to take whatever works and use it for yourself. No one else will, so this part is all on you!