The Importance of Self-Care for Writers

So this week’s post is coming to you a little late thanks to a mild injury delay.

Yesterday, as I was doing something as simple as brushing my hair up into a ponytail, I felt one of my upper rips slip out of place. 

I know, sounds super weird right? If it’s not something you’ve ever done it probably sounds bad. But it’s not as bad as it sounds and yet is still pretty painful. Our upper ribs are in a pretty shallow divot in our spines so it’s pretty easy for them to slip out. If you’ve ever felt the ache of a joint that needs to pop, it’s like that, only you can’t really pop it. Sure you could use a foam roller or twist this way and that to try to crack your back, but that’s not really the same thing as being out of alignment and fixing yourself. You really need a professional for that.

As writers–and office workers–we’re facing a keyboard, hands forward, shoulders rounding, for hours. Yes, we do try to be conscious of posture and we all know to get up from time to time and stretch and walk around, but not everyone is very good about that *cough*.

Even me. I’m married to a personal trainer, I know that back problems run in my family, so I am very conscious of my back and taking care of it and exercising regularly. But once, a couple of years ago, after marathon weeks of writing, I was bent over, pulling something heavy out of my oven and I felt a sharp pain in my upper back. When I stood up, I couldn’t take a full breath without feeling a white hot shot of pain near my shoulder blade. I’d slipped a rib.

It’s easy enough to get fixed, you just go to a professional chiropractor and get adjusted and everything realigned. It’s still gonna be sore for a day or two but you better hope they can see you quick if you ever do it. Sitting around with this isn’t comfy. It feels like someone is pushing on your back and every deep breath is painful so you have to hope you don’t sneeze or yawn. Yeah, you just yawned. When it happens, you want it fixed immediately, even if that’s unreasonable.

You know I participated in NaNo this year and if you’ve been following my posts you know I had taken a long break from writing before that so after NaNo I knew I needed to go in to be adjusted because I could just feel my back tensing, I had some knots I couldn’t work out, and it was just time. 

But I put it off.

And yesterday my rib slipped out doing something so routine and simple.

So I couldn’t sit at my desk to write a post. I couldn’t pour over my outline that I was determined to work on. I swore like a sailor every time I sneezed as I waited for my 3pm appointment. And my chiro tsked tsked me when she felt how knotted and tense my back was. I hadn’t been taking care of myself.

Yes, I get my workouts in. Yes, I watch my posture as I write. But there’s more we need to do. There’s probably more you need to do. We all need to remember that it is both okay and important to take care of ourselves while we’re getting work done and while we’re taking care of others. It’s not selfish (and really, it’s okay to be a little selfish from time to time), it’s vital. You can’t get other things done if even breathing causes you pain. 

So don’t be like me. If you need a break, take it. If you haven’t stretched, go stretch and try to do it every day. If you need a massage, damnit, get one. If you need to be adjusted, go. Just because we sit to work doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll on our bodies.

The Seasonal Writer

trees, autumn, seasons, colors, fall, fall colors, nature
Autumn Tree by Forest Scene, Creative Commons.

I say the word “seasonal” about fifty times a day, but I never really apply it to myself. I work at a restaurant, and I tell every table about our seasonal beer. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I started considering the word.

There are a lot of great writers out there who tell us to write every day. EVERY day. Every DAY. Stephen King writes five days a week. Some advocate seven. To an extent, yeah, writing is habit. But everyone is not the same.

I’m realizing after cranking out two books a year pretty consistently that I am a seasonal writer. I can usually do NaNo and write a whole novel — for me 80-90,000 in that month, or at least about 6 weeks total. And usually in May or June, I write the other.

As much as I’d like to write more than that — if I wrote even 1000 words per day, every day, that’d be three or four large novels a year — I seem to have inadvertently become a seasonal writer. I write best in spring and late autumn. Maybe it’s because I hate summer and like to hole up and edit/hibernate in winter. Maybe it’s because my psyche responds to the seasons of change and likes to join in. Maybe there’s no reason at all. But it seems to be what I do.

The silly thing is, sometimes I feel ashamed that I don’t crank out four or five books a year. It sounds laughable. But because of a friendly manager who accommodates my schedule, I have four days off a week. I feel like I ought to get more done than I do. I think as writers, we all sort of feel like that sometimes. That we’re lazy. The internet doesn’t help; half the memes about writers seem to be about how much time we spend on Twitter or…looking at memes. And Chuck Wendig is right when he says that writers write.

But.

NOT writing for a day (or hell, even a week or a month) doesn’t make your writer badge crumble to rust. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes you go through a stage where ideas are incubating and haven’t quite coalesced into something you can express. And sometimes, your brain just needs a damn break.

The important thing is to discover — often through trial and error — what kind of writer you are. If you’re someone who works best when you write small bits every single day, well. Write your small bits every single day. If you’re someone who writes best in huge, über-productive spurts a few times a year (c’est moi), do that.

Today I’m giving you permission (even though you don’t need my permission) to write the way you write best. Learn yourself and use that knowledge to make your art as best you can. Try out a few things. If you’re feeling burnt out from trying to keep up with everyone around you who seems to be writing 5,000 words a day, take a break. Set a calendar alarm. Go see some elephants. Get out in the world. Come back with fresh eyes and a new experience or two.

You can be whatever kind of writer you need to be. I’m Emmie, and I’m a seasonal writer. And I’m okay.