by Jenna Kalinsky.
The idea of spending time on “self-care” may seem illusive to writers, whose every moment is accounted for in our effort to squeeze the writing in amongst all else. Yet by viewing the very thing that makes us need self-care as the self-care itself, a writer can feel rewarded, whole, and rejuvenated, all while getting our writing done.
Writers have a reputation for being sweat-stained, frustrated, and a little thin in both the sweater elbows and soul. Back in the day, we drank. Now, we jog. I’m sure some people good at time management do both.
Writing is notoriously hard. When Red Smith once famously said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein,” on one hand, lighten up, dude! On the other, he was kind of right. Writers have a long-standing love-hate relationship with writing namely for two reasons:
- it’s an enormous intellectional and emotional challenge
- it requires a lot of time to do well.
Unless you have a high-income-earning partner and/or are far enough along in your career that you can earn a living from your writing, you’ve got to stuff the work between the cracks of everything else: awaken at 5 a.m. before the toddler stirs or thunk down at the computer after a long day of cooking, commuting, and care. Plus, we still need to floss! It never ends!
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The feeling of having to get it done, and to do it well, under pressure, makes the work that much more high stakes and fraught. With that kind of feeling, it can easily become a burden, and that can lead to a writer no longer doing it.
However, by shifting your mindset, viewing your writing through a different lens, and even speaking to it with new language, you can turn your burden into an alleviation, a release, and a joy. This way, the thing that makes you need more self-care than ever becomes the self-care itself.
Start with Mindfulness
Self-care is typically thought of as indulgences we give ourselves that remove us from the burdens of our lives. According to Psychotherapist and OLP instructor Vaishali Patel, all forms of self care—from micro actions to intensive gestures— are equally powerful.
This means that while spa days and vacations are amazing, pausing to stretch, watching a kitten video, or acknowledging having finally sent that email are, too. Ultimately, all it takes to attend to the self in a way that will make you feel better is to be aware you’re caring for yourself in that moment. This mindful acknowledgment that you’re engaging in self-care is already making you feel better and more whole.
The trick is learning how to pause to note the patch of pure blue in the sky, take a deep breath, or celebrate having read a paragraph in a book that blew your mind, knowing that even this tiny amount of mindfulness will recharge you from within.
Indeed, Socrates was on to something when he noted the examined life is worth living.
Viewing Your Writing Through a Different Lens
One of the best examples of re-seeing one’s reality is visual artist Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood. When her son was 18 months old, rather than view him as a barrier to her writing, she decided to use her newfound motherhood to make art because of and inspired by it.
In her manifesto, she states,
“I will undergo this self-imposed artist residency in order to fully experience and explore the fragmented focus, nap-length studio time, limited movement and resources and general upheaval that parenthood brings and allow it to shape the direction of my work, rather than try to work ‘despite it.’”
Hers is a perfect example of what it looks like to embrace her life and make the best kind of lemon aide from an 18-month-old lemon (kidding, children are beautiful. It’s just an expression).
Self-care doesn’t have to be a break from the things we do; self-care can also be the actual doing of the things we do.
When I pause to consider it, I realize that when I write, I am caring for myself. I am paying attention to the needs of my inner landscape, the me inside that requires that conversation with the page. For me, doing what I need to do, giving it its time and protecting that time, is the ultimate gesture of self-care.
Embracing Writing as Self-Care through Language
It’s a tiny shift to go from “have to” to “get to,” but it makes a world of difference.
- Have to is a burden, a stressor, and something that weighs on the heart.
- Get to is an alleviation, a pleasure, a lift from the doldrums, and a celebration of our good fortune.
I don’t have to write. I don’t have to get my 500 words in. I get to.
Positive language changes everything. We can dread having to plant our “bum in the chair” to do the work, or we can celebrate that we are lucky enough to get to have that time to do what gives us so much.
“Self-care is essential for everyone and everything that gives to others. Even machines have self-care; it is called maintenance. We cannot function long term without taking care of ourselves. Without it our health, our relationships, and our self-identity all suffer. Not only that, but we cannot be amazing at what we do if we don’t take superior care of ourselves. So, if we want to go out there and change the world, we NEED to invest time, energy, and resources in nurturing ourselves.”
~ Vaishali Patel
Self-Care as a Gateway to a Happier Life
Every writer knows deep down that they don’t have to write. You could close your laptop and never do it again. You may be called to it, but it’s still a choice, one you make even when it’s hard, even when your “soul is as thin as a playing card” because the benefit truly outweighs the hassle of fitting it in.
“I’ve written on scraps of paper, in hotels on hotel stationery, in automobiles. If it arrives you know. If you know it really has come, then you have to put it down.”
Granted, the squeezing it in is still hard, and respect to every writer out there who finds a way to make it work. Toni Morrison wrote her first novel on the train to and from work, writers the world over awake in the dark, and some even risk personal safety to get the words down.
When you arrive at your time and you pause to recognize that the writing you do is noble, meaningful, and relevant— a gift — you will feel that little bit more cared for and feel calmer, happier, and a better writer. Even, or especially, at five in the morning.
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Thanks so much for this article. Self care is so key. I’ve recently managed to re-frame my thinking around life’s intrusions into my writing process: everything I do feeds into my writing. My time with my aging, fragile parents, with demanding family, with work and friends in crisis – all sustain my writing life. This thinking isn’t always available to me, but when I can click into it, I know I’m living a writing life, and not only in the moments of bum to chair.
Kath, what a beautiful meditation on what self-care can look like for a writer. It’s viewing everything through a lens of compassion and possibility and just letting it come. There’s a lot of trust involved in being a creative, and during times when you are forced to give your attention elsewhere, it’s a comfort to know the ideas and meaning can still enter and bide their time until you can get them to the page. Thank you for sharing this lovely idea-