THE PLACE TO BE FOR ALL YOUR STORY WRITING NEEDS
WRITER SELF-CARE CHECK-UP
This is going to be a rambling monologue on how to cope with the dizzying world of writing - please feel free to skip any and all sections if you're anti-ramble!
We've all heard about the importance of caring for ourself, especially in the tumbling water-mill we call the writing world. It's difficult though, especially when the world is bombarding us with instant information hits every minute.
If writers are superheroes, procrastination and self-doubt are like our kryptonite.
I've been through all the self-help articles in my time, those ones that insist all you need to do to flourish as a person is have a bath, go for a walk and just 'be kind to yourself'. I even almost went down the route of writing these articles during my previous (albeit short) life as a yoga teacher (I don't think I was a very good one in the end!)
Sometimes, no matter how much we reassure ourselves, the good intentions just don't trickle in no matter how many times we hear or say them:
- don't judge yourself based on other people's success
- write in your own time
- don't set ridiculous goals
- enjoy your writing time
- get some distance
At the end of it all, we have that overall expectation and we feel that we're simply not getting there fast enough. Our efforts aren't good enough.
Goal: Get an agent / get published / be famous / have a book to TV show / have the adoration of our readers
Reality: We have to get there first
When we focus on the goal and how we're not there yet, it's easy to become despondent. We have to write the story, edit it, edit it, edit it, rewrite it, edit it, edit it, send it for beta/CP review, edit it, query for a thousand years, shelf it, rewrite it, edit it, query...
It's like trying to hook a rubber duck at the funfair, except the water is on rapid mode, only one duck has a prize and they all look exactly the same. You have unlimited tries, but how many will you do before you give up?
So yeah, this has turned somewhat doom and gloom BUT there is an upside:
Perspective has pretty much all to do with it.
Seems like an easy answer and it is, but it's difficult too. The idea is simple, the human emotions clinging onto the end result and the glory is not.
So how do we do this?
It sounds very twee, but practice focusing on all the positive parts of writing.
An agent may well reject you, but they might have something nice to say in amongst the rejection. They might even give you a golden nugget of feedback, which could be invaluable (but always remember that writing is subjective and that is their educated/experienced opinion - what one agent loves another one hates).
You might be struggling to get any writing time in, but even two minutes talking with your CP or your writing community friends could give you an idea.
When Imposter Syndrome strikes, other writers will know Exactly. How. You. Feel.
If you're finding something difficult, you have so many books, courses and online resources at your fingertips (hellooo, library!)
While there are negative, niggly, self-doubting sides to writing, there are also positive, achieving, supportive friend type sides.
The more we focus on the positives, the better we'll feel about the achievements we do make.
Anecdotally, I remember achieving a lot in early 2020. I got my first ever full request and shortly after the same story was long-listed for a competition. I was so excited I thought I'd be sailing high forever. That glee lasted about a week, maybe a week and a half. I was still proud, but the glamour and limelight had worn off and suddenly it wasn't enough. I needed to hit more achievements, get better at writing, faster, I needed to 'hone my brand' and make more contacts.
In short, I took my amazing achievements and stomped a load of negative holes through them. Apparently this is completely normal behaviour for humans.
Self-care starts with focusing on the positives. Repeat after me:
Rule Number 4: ALWAYS SAVE AND BACK UP YOUR WORK!
Writing a book is HARD - any step you've taken to writing or planning one is AMAZING
Most of the writing community are genuinely lovely people - you have FRIENDS who understand
When you see people on social media talking about their successes, you don't see all the rejections, rewrites and stress that went into getting there - EVERYONE finds it difficult!
Write because you have a story you want to tell, or a character in your head that just won't shut up, and let the accolades come when they're ready.
If you’re getting despondent about all the flashing light achievements of other people on social media, find a suitable distraction until you’re in a better frame of mind (can’t beat a bit of Very Important Research *cough*reading for fun*cough*
The Living (as in the living you lead, not as opposed to the dead...)
Time away is important. I'm one of those people who can sit for about 9 hours straight and keep writing without stopping, but I'm also the type to go days without writing a thing. I have absolutely zero balance unless I have a deadline to plan for.
Even so, I always try to make sure I focus on filling my 'me-meter'. Reverting back to the articles I mentioned before, this could be any number of activities that make me feel better or seem like a treat.
- A walk just for myself rather than necessity of walking the dog (who is so lazy he'll stick his head in a bush for ten minutes then want to go back home)
- Bath with all the smelly lotions and a glass of something nice so I feel all posh and spoiled
- I try to keep looking after myself physically, so stretching when I notice myself hunched over for long periods of time, or just keeping an eye on how much junk I'm consuming and noticing when I'm not sleeping enough.
When you fill your me-meter you're in a stronger state for all the writing you want to do!
I'm not talking about internet connection here (although for writers that's important in terms of keeping up with all the news and ideas!)
I mean your support network. In your life, who supports you?
- It could be your other half taking some of the financial or household burdens so you have time to write.
- It could be that friend who always picks you up when you're crashing, and always tells you you're fantastic and you got this!
- It could be your parents/siblings who constantly batter unsuspecting people with copies of your book or your manuscript, or your kids who tell you that you're an awesome writer and you have a cool job (this is literally the biggest accolade you can get I think from some people!)
There will no doubt be people, often well-meaning, who don't give you the positivity you need. This is close to being unavoidable for everyone.
You'll have people who tell you that it's a tough gig and you'd be safer chasing a more realistic dream. Or they'll assume the industry is impenetrable and you're getting ideas above your station. They'll keep pestering you despite knowing you need time and quiet to write (I think kids can be exempt from this example, as they just love you so much they can't let you go!) Or, they'll flat out tell you that your ideas are awful. They'll pick apart every comma, word and page break without being asked.
That doesn't mean you can't have a good ol' moan about everything and anything, or let other people do the same to you, but if someone is making you feel doubtful or negative about your writing:
a) they probably mean well
b) you don't have to engage with it
You can't avoid these people, but you can learn not to engage them. It might hurt if they're someone really close to you, or someone you interact with every day, but that doesn't mean you have to discuss your writing.
You CAN choose your support network.
Thieves of Time
This is going to be a short one. No more waffle.
We all get 24 hours. Some things that take up our time, our responsibilities for example, can't be changed.
Children, household chores, work, shopping, dog walking, family time - it's all necessary and it all adds up.
I don't know about you but usually I get to the in-between hours and I just want to sit down with food and watch trash, or read a book with some music on. Once I start playing a game on my phone, I can lose hours in one go.
Writing begins to feel a bit like a chore and that brings us onto the half-myth of deadlines.
Often when we give ourselves deadlines, missing them doesn't have any negative impact other than how it makes us feel. There's no specific knock-on effect.
If I have a uni assignment due in five days, I know that I can't miss that deadline or I'll either get a zero mark which will affect my degree.
If I tell myself I'll have two chapters written in five days and I don't write the two chapters, there are no zero marks, no outside results or achievements affected.
It becomes easy to defer, procrastinate and make excuses. Soon, the two chapters aren't written but I have a whole load of missed deadlines that make me feel hopeless.
I'm not for one second saying not to set yourself writing goals and deadlines, but please make them realistic.
'Tomorrow I am going to spend 10 minutes jotting down ideas.'
I kind of think of that like an invitation to a party - I've given myself an activity and the day it's taking place. All I have to do is turn up.
'I'm going to have two chapters written by Friday.'
But when am I going to fit these in? What if I can't actually think of the next bit, or I get writer's block, or something goes wrong and I can't get the time in?
The deadline is not specific enough and the 'or else' is almost implied at the end. A deadline like that makes great stakes for your characters, but you can be a bit kinder with yourself.
So instead of setting the stakes
invite yourself to your next writing party!