Self-Care for the Overextended Writer

A writer’s life is about more than just writing. It’s life, and life comes with non-writing-related joys, stressors, and time-suckers like work and family obligations, chores, errands, and the need for downtime. Balancing the writing life with work, family, and everyday adulting can sometimes feel like you’re walking a thin, precarious tightrope without a safety net—especially when your schedule is stretched to the breaking point. So I’ve put together a list of a few of my favorite basic self-care tips for the overextended writer as a mini road map for how to survive when you’re facing down a never-ending list of to-dos.

Make a Routine That Works for You (And Stick to it!) 

Some of life’s recurring tasks (laundry, filling up the gas tank, trips to the grocery store) work best if you put them on auto pilot. If Thursday night is laundry night, you run less risk of drowning in a heap of dirty clothes that’s been building for three weeks while searching for something—anything!—clean to wear. If you make it a habit to fill up your tank every Friday on your way home from work, chances are you won’t find yourself stranded on the side of the road, miles from the nearest gas station, with no fuel on a Tuesday during rush hour. And a scheduled weekly stock-up trip to the supermarket insures against food emergencies that leave you ordering pizza again because you kept putting off making that grocery run. Once you’ve set a routine that works for you and put life’s recurring errands and chores on auto pilot, you free up brain power to focus on less mundane tasks (like writing!)

Know Yourself (And be Honest About it!)

I’m an introvert. To recharge, I need lots of quiet time by myself. So if a last-minute social invitation comes up and I’m not feeling it, I’m not afraid to make my excuses and bow out. My extroverted friends might not understand how spending the evening alone with Netflix could be more fun than a night on the town, but that’s okay. I know I need that time alone to be my best self, and it doesn’t do anyone any good for me to pretend otherwise.

Prioritize (And Put Yourself First!)

Chances are you aren’t getting anything on your to-do list checked off if you’re too sick, exhausted, or emotionally drained to even start. So when you’re setting your priorities and goals—for the short term and the long term—don’t be afraid to put your physical and mental health at the top of the list. Different people have different needs, but for me, this is all about getting enough sleep. I will give up television, time with friends, even writing time to make sure I get at least eight hours of sleep every night, because when I’m not getting a full night’s rest, I’m not operating at my best. Similarly, I will never work through my lunch hour without stopping to eat (even if that means eating at my desk.) These may seem like basic things (and they are), but in today’s hectic world, people often half-brag, half-complain about skimping (or missing out entirely) on what seems like basic self-care. I refuse to wear this brand of sacrifice as a badge of honor. This goes back to knowing myself and how I function best. I can’t function well, even in the short term, without regular meals and a good night’s sleep, so those essentials are non-negotiable, no matter how crazy busy life gets.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up 

I’ve always been a bit of an anxious overachiever, ever since I was a child. When I started stressing about a looming test or school project deadline, my mom always repeated the same mantra: “Do the best you can, and don’t worry about it.” Doing the best I could came naturally to me, but the not worrying part . . . not so much.

As an adult, I’ve discovered being a thin-skinned overachiever isn’t necessarily the best attribute for someone hoping to break into an industry where strangers judge the work of your heart and rejection is par for the course. Everyone has different tips on how to deal with the disappointment and rejection that inevitably come with the writing life, but for me, the bottom line is this: Don’t beat yourself up. As a writer, my job is to put my best effort out there and not worry about what I can’t control. Easier said than done, I know, but I’ve found it helps to surround myself with other writers (both in person and online) who can relate to what I’m going through and help me see whatever it is I’m beating myself up over from a different perspective. Which leads me to my last point . . .

Find People Who Can Relate

The writing life has a unique set of joys and stressors it’s almost impossible for a non-writer to fully understand. To keep your sanity on this crazy ride (and have more fun along the way!), find people who can relate to your goals and your journey. Brenda Drake’s #PitchWars is fabulous writing community and a great way to start connecting with other writers online. There are also wonderful organizations for writers of different genres, such as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), Romance Writers of America (RWA), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I also found some fantastic in-person writing buddies by attending a writer’s conference in my hometown. Not only do our monthly writing get-togethers help me prioritize writing time on my calendar, the in-person comradery with people who understand what I’m going through helps me keep things in perspective.

Question:

What are some of your coping strategies for dealing with the demands of work / writing / family / adulting?

Leah Collum

Leah Collum is a women’s fiction writer represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. When not writing, she stays busy advising and teaching a diverse group of college students from around the world. A native Texan, she loves traveling (especially to Europe!) and has earned degrees in English and French. Follow her on Twitter: @leahcollum.

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