Is writing taking over your life? Is your health suffering?
We’ve all seen the stereotypical writer archetype who’s rarely seen, lives on a diet of candy bars and booze, and looks like they reek of BO and dirty clothes. While this is an extreme (like all stereotypes), it’s actually common for authors to fall into some unhealthy routine of too much work and not enough, well, everything else.
And the worst part is they know it’s not healthy, but finding balance between work, deadlines, and personal wellbeing isn’t easy for many people.
Working from home, like a majority of writers do, only further blurs the lines. If all time is spent where you work and most time is spent working, it can be tough to find downtime or time spent not writing, thinking of writing, or guilting yourself for not writing. Don’t fall into this trap!
Charlii is here with tips, ideas, and thoughts on how you can strike a balance between work, rest, and relaxation so you can increase productivity, avoid burnout, and keep your mind and body healthy. You owe it to yourself to look after your wellbeing, so keep reading.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. None of this is intended to diagnose or treat any illness. All this advice is simply intended to help writers live their healthiest lives in a profession that glamorizes unhealthy behaviors.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re writing like crazy, the words are flowing, you’re making headway on this novel… and you realize you’ve been in front of the computer for most of the day. You missed that shower, you haven’t eaten much, and your whole body has phased out into some unfeeling realm and your feet suddenly start tingling like you’ve angered an army of needle-wielding mice who’re poking you to get even for the lack of crumbs you’ve been dropping for them.
The life of a writer is often romanticized as someone who doesn’t care for themselves while trapped behind a typewriter or screen, surrounded by candy bar wrappers, an ever-present cup of booze at hand, wild hair, tired eyes, and a smell you can see without getting close.
And while that might be true (binge writing isn’t uncommon!), this can still take a toll on your physical and mental health. And while I’d never tell someone to miss a deadline when you could crunch and get it done, if you’re having more binge days than not, if you’re not eating, if you’re not showering or moving around, exercising, drinking water, or otherwise taking care of yourself, it’s not just your physical health that’ll suffer.
Your mental health will suffer too. And over time, abusing your body like that can lead to serious issues and death, not to mention the host of mental issues that can be triggered by a lack of self-care.
You’re important. So make sure you are your own priority!
Water, movement, sleep, and writing
This is really important. If you can swap the booze for water, you’re already making a good change. And while I’m starting with the most extreme example (maybe you already drink enough water, but did you know that a huge chunk of the population doesn’t? And many of them think they do!), I want to make sure I reach everyone with this article.
Without enough water, your cognitive health will decline. This is a big deal—how can you write your best words if your brain isn’t functioning properly? Plus, dehydration can have a host of physical and mental effects including sluggishness, exhaustion, inability to think clearly, and overall decreased function. Water is really important, so keep some at hand all day and make a mental note to drink regularly. While it might be tempting to gulp a lot of water during breaks, it’s really better to drink throughout the day rather than in bursts.
Now let’s talk about movement. Writing is generally a sedentary activity. We sit and write. Often, we sit with bad posture, slumped shoulders, putting strain on our necks and backs. This is bad! Make sure you’re getting up, stretching, moving, and shaking out the tightness in your muscles. And with all that water you’re drinking, the perfect time to do those stretches is on those many bathroom breaks you’re going to have to take! Even if you just stretch, shrug your shoulders, roll your neck, and reach for the ceiling, you’re giving your body some much needed love and attention. You’re making yourself less prone to injury, stress and strain. If you can throw in a quick workout for each break, even better! Your muscles, bones, and even your waistline will thank you!
Sleep is an important and under-discussed topic. Without a good night’s sleep, you’re going to see an all-around health decline. And while staying up late to crunch a deadline once in a while isn’t undoable, if you’re often missing sleep, you’re putting yourself at risk for all kinds of health concerns and troubles. Make sure you’re getting a solid seven to eight hours a night as often as possible. You’re irreplaceable, so act like it!
When to get help
If you’ve been stuck in a rut, feeling miserable either physically or mentally, then it might be time to reach out and get help. Don’t think that it’s a sign of weakness to reach out and get help from a medical professional. Both your physical and mental health are very important, and seeing a medical doctor for your body is just as important as seeing a mental health professional when things aren’t going well.
Spending a lot of time writing can be healthy. Writing is an excellent catharsis and is a way that many people find comfort and cope with trauma. But like everything else, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. So even if you use writing as a coping tool, make sure you’re not neglecting other parts of your life.
Writing and family time
Make sure you’re spending time with family! Whether you’re a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, an aunt or uncle, whatever familial ties you have, make sure you’re nurturing those relationships. You never know when you’ll see or talk to someone for the last time, so make it count. You don’t want to be in a place where you’re looking back at life, wishing you’d reached out more, done more things with those you love, or simply wishing you’d called more often.
Family time is very important for our wellbeing, keeping us grounded, and boosting our joy. Taking time with those you love increases your sense of wellness and helps avoid burnout. Taking a break to be around those you love doing something that makes you happy is very powerful, so make sure you schedule regular downtime!
Time off or burn out
This is the curse of really any job, writing included. If you spend too much time working, you’ll eventually burn out. This means you’ll lose all motivation to work, you’ll feel crappy, your brain will rebel and refuse to put words to paper, and you’ll find yourself stuck in a rut of staring at blank pages, hating everything you write, or struggling to accomplish any task. This is when many authors go into their “anything but write” stage where they’d rather clean the whole house—even the gross areas that never get cleaned (I’m looking at you, behind the oven, dirty dryer vent, or that unspeakable space under the fridge where kids love to kick whatever food they dropped and leave it there to grow, evolve, and become sentient before moving under their beds to haunt their nightmares) in an effort to, well, do anything but write.
If you want to avoid this eventuality (who needs a clean house anyway?), then make sure you’re getting downtime. Downtime is whatever you need it to be that’s not writing, working, or thinking about writing or working.
Downtime should be spent doing something you love. Playing video games if that’s your thing, or hiking, time in nature, watching a movie, going on a date with your significant other, whatever you love doing and can feasibly do—do that.
Taking downtime will save you a lot of pain and stress later, so schedule it in!
Last minute thoughts and tips
You only get one body, so take care of it!
Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest. Look after your mental health with time spent doing things you love, doing nothing at all, taking a break, and keeping your stress levels low.
Taking care of yourself has a profound effect on your wellbeing and your productivity. If you’re not stressed, if you’re well rested, if your body isn’t running on fumes and you’re hydrated, you’ll work better, smarter, and faster. And that’s a recipe for success, so don’t skip these all-important steps!
Your friends and family will thank you, your body will thank you, your brain will thank you, and your fans, the people you’re writing for, will thank you because you’ll be giving them better quality, more exciting, faster work. So even if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones or your fans.
You are important, loved, and invaluable.
Maybe it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
Nobody is going to take care of you better than you. So prioritize your health. Make sure that you hit those deadlines, but if you need to ask for an extension, do so. You’d be surprised at how kind and understanding most people are.
And even if they’re not, well, work comes and goes. Your health and wellbeing are here to stay. So be kind to you. When in doubt, imagine a friend asking for advice. Whatever advice you’d give them about your situation… take that advice. It’s easy to expect too much from yourself, or to be hard on yourself, but it’s not good for you.
So go rest.
Take some time to relax.
Recharge your body, mind, and soul.
Then rise like the Phoenix you are and conquer the world.
Or at least, conquer this book.
Visualize your story with the timeline tool. See plot points, events, and other story details represented graphically to showcase patterns and relationships as well as the overarching storyline.