Writing is a highly emotional endeavor. Whether you’re delving into the mind and hearts of your characters, bringing up difficult experiences for memoir, or exploring motivation and inspiration for nonfiction, writing can take an author on an emotional adventure of shocking extremes. It can be confusing or upsetting for our families, too, who may not understand why we emerge from the writing office in a shell-shocked daze. So it’s fitting to spend the first month of a new year on self-care and emotional rehab. Here’s how to manage the emotional ups and downs of writing:
Create Something Just for Yourself
I think I mentioned my Christmas groundhog story. (I love groundhogs; can’t help it.) Make something that’s only for you, something that makes you smile ’til your cheeks hurt. It doesn’t matter if anyone else gets it, and you may decide not to share it. Working on a little passion project can give you a welcome break. I’ve written a couple of short stories while procrastinating on a bigger, emotionally-draining piece. If you have a deadline on the tough project, set the timer and bribe yourself: do fifteen or twenty minutes of the hard work, then let yourself play with the fun side project.
Try Something New
If you’ve been working on a difficult or exhausting project, especially if you’re in the looooong middle, consider trying something new. Maybe now’s the time to sign up for the ballroom dancing lessons you’ve always wanted to try. You could take a day trip with friends to an interesting locale. If you need to do book research, invite someone you care about to go with you and walk in the footsteps of your subject. Then try something you’ve never tried, whether that means a new dish at a new restaurant, or a new-to-you scenic route home.
Search your memories. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never seem to have the time? Put it on the calendar today.
Shift the Comparison
Writer’s envy is real, and it is sickeningly *strong*. Problems arise when we look at other writers and think, “Why are they doing better than I am?” or “My work is [just as good/better] than theirs. Why aren’t I more successful?”
That type of comparison only leads to jealousy and bitterness. We can’t see another writer’s struggle; all we see are their public victories. We have no context for their successes.
Instead, try visualizing your favorite author. Separate them from their career. Instead, think of how they approach their own work. (You can probably find an online interview of him/her discussing the creative process.) Compare that with how you approach your work. Copy your influences. If an author says he wrote every evening after his kids went to bed, you try it. If he says he writes three pages a day no matter what, give it a go. If she insists word sprints are the game-changer, set your timer and see what happens.
The wonderful thing about comparing yourself to your lofty heroes is realizing that you both have to sit in the chair and wrestle the words. Amateur or expert, it doesn’t matter–we are all writers because we write.
Practice Self Care
Chances are, there’s more at play here than just feelings. Look at your physical well-being. Are you sleeping well enough? If your bedtime and wake-up times are all over the place, with intermittent wake-ups during the night, you may be chronically exhausted. Research how to get better rest, and start taking baby steps toward better sleep *right now*. You’re worthy of rest.
Likewise, you deserve delicious, healthy, food. I know, I know, there’s that line: “Eating healthy is too expensive.” There are ways to make it work. And it’s always possible to eat a little healthier today than we did yesterday. Look up some cheap, healthy recipes on Pinterest and treat yourself to tasty, fresh food. Start with twice a week and feel the difference.
Monitor your stress level. Does a situation have you wound so tightly you can hardly breathe? That affects all aspects of your life. Even if you’re stuck with that situation for the moment, know that it will get better. Practice stress management techniques so your body and mind can heal and weather the storm. Take care of yourself like you would care for someone you love. The world needs you.
Look How Far You’ve Come
Sometimes we get freaked out when it seems like we’re not moving toward our big goal. Here we are again this month, just creeping along. Meanwhile, the novel still isn’t finished, or the manuscript hasn’t been accepted, or the sales are flatlining.
Take a deep breath, turn around and look how far you’ve come. See that tiny speck waaaaay down below? That was your starting point. Yeah, you might not be at the top of the mountain yet, but you’re closer to the peak than you are to the base. Take a moment to appreciate your progress. Think about how different your life is now than it was two or three years ago. Celebrate! The climb might be slow going, but if it was easy, everyone would be up there with you, breathing the thin air. You’re doing it!!
If you’re in the middle of a tedious project, evaluate your emotional well-being. Do you need to rest, refuel, or refocus? Do something this week to give yourself space to recharge your creative batteries.
NOW YOU: In the past, have you struggled with burnout or stress? How do you manage the emotional ups and downs of writing?
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I have recently returned to a three activities I loved in my younger years and it has been a blast: four square, dodgeball, and tennis. I’m seriously convinced that PLAY is very important to people. What I didn’t realize about myself is that I’m kind of competitive, a little bit of a jock. This odd realization (along with my growing athletic competence) has given me confidence. What a surprise! It also provides you with content to write about!
I love that you mentioned considering the successes that are behind you, not just how far you still have to go. Realization of your trail of small but consistent wins can absolutely provide confidence.
I think another way to recharge as a writer, as long as you can do it without experiencing envy, is reading. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s craft book, “On Writing,” his reading list and the amount of time he devotes to daily reading is staggering. Most high level writers I know (or read about in magazines) emphasize the importance of writers being well-read.
So true! (I have On Writing in my TBR pile. I’m due for a re-read 🙂 I got the first edition when I was a young thing; can’t wait to see how it reads differently now! I also love KM Weiland’s books on writing.) And my book club has been wonderful too. There’s something so therapeutic about reading and discussing books with other bibliophiles…