Tag Archive for: self-care

I have been writing every day for over 8 years. When I first started that daily journey, I thought it would be a road to creating a massive daily output. My goal was to write 1,000 words every day. But here we are, 8 years later, and my daily word count for the last month has been around 300 words per day—which suits me just fine. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from daily writing is that you must write at your own pace.

Hypothesis: Writing More & Writing Faster Is Better, Right?

I didn’t have a big picture idea of why I wanted to write 1,000 words every day. I didn’t really know what that would look like or do for my writing life other than allow me to write more books faster.

I knew authors like John Scalzi and Stephen King write over 1,000 words a day and I felt like that was The Bar. If you wanted to be a pro writer, that’s what you need to do. Write 1,000 words every day. (Write more if you can.) But consistency over 1,000 words is the only way to do it.

(That is a lie, if it needs to be said at this point.)

Experiment: Toxic Thinking Discovered

I knew I’d have to work my way up to writing 1,000 words daily, so I started with a low bar. Each year I raised the bar for the minimum number of words I would write daily. After four years I was up to writing at least 250 words every day, with 500 words met most days. You want to know how many days I wrote over 1,000 words that year? 46. My most productive year, I only managed to write over 1K on 71 days. You know what I learned from this? I can’t write 1,000 words every day!

You know what else I learned from this? Over those eight years I’ve written almost two million words. I don’t need to write 1K every day to be productive.

Thinking you must write any specific number of words (or any specific number of days) to be a “real” writer is simply toxic thinking. If you’re fitting writing in when you can, placing writing somewhere in your priority list, and getting writing done, you are a real writer. There are no other caveats that must be met.

Conclusion: Write at Your Own Pace

Every writer has to figure out what works best for them. Some writers write every day. Some writers spend months thinking and planning without writing a word. Some writers spew forth 6,000 words on vibes.

When you write at your own pace, you can find a natural rhythm that allows you to do the work of writing with as little stress as possible. (I do not say no stress, but less stress, because you’re following your natural flow.) Writing as many words as makes sense to you, saving your energy, devoting your time to other priorities, or generally having a life beyond writing is very necessary! Just because many writers find success using a specific method does not mean you’ll find success from that same method. You have to find the pace and process that works for you.

 

I definitely understood this lesson somewhere around year four of my daily-writing journey, but it’s really hit home recently as I very slowly work on drafting my next novel. Other important things are taking my time and energy, which means I can’t put even 250 words into the novel every day. But I’m getting words on the page when I can and every day I can get 500 or even just 250 words written, I know I’m writing at a pace I can manage.

 

 

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This month has been built on seizing opportunities. Which is not a mode I’ve been operating in for some time. My recent modus operandi has been:

  • See opportunity.
  • Want opportunity.
  • Assume I am fit for opportunity.
  • Question all of my qualifications and abilities to fulfill opportunity.
  • Assume someone else wants or needs opportunity more than me or will do better with opportunity.
  • Oops, the time in which I should have replied for opportunity has probably passed, guess I shouldn’t bother.

Some of that downward spiral is about protecting myself—not just from rejection but protecting my time. I am spread fairly thin between all the hats I wear as a writer, editor, and volunteer (and all the things I write, edit, and volunteer for), so passing on opportunities can be a form of self-care and self-preservation.

Photo by Casey James on Unsplash

But passing on those opportunities also means I haven’t been putting myself out there to take on responsibilities I really want. Those responsibilities that, if I had them, I would figure out how to rearrange my plate or scrape away the least tasty responsibilities to make room for the new delicious serving. (I started visualizing mashed potatoes in the middle of writing that and now I’m just hungry.)

But I’ve been feeling a lot better this last month—a lot more positive and a lot more in control of my anxiety and other mental health issues—so I skipped the last three spiraling bullet points and, after I assumed I was fit for an opportunity, I actually went for it!

That means if you’re interested in learning how to write steampunk, cyberpunk, solarpunk, or another punk genre, I’ll be teaching a workshop about it in February 2022. I’ll post more details when registration is available, but it will be a four-week course covering eight punk subgenres to hit topics of worldbuilding, tropes, themes, and conflicts. I’ve been thinking about teaching this workshop for years, so I’m very excited to finally be doing it.

 

 

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When you’re starting out in a writing career, it’s easy to look and see what’s at the top of the mountain. Publication! That goal is easy to see, and the path to that goal is easy to figure out: write a book, get an agent, get published. So, you start walking that path by working on a book.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Writing a book isn’t easy, and you knew it wasn’t easy, and that’s okay. This is the first step to the long-term goal and even this is a long-term goal because it can take a long time to write a book. Or rewrite a book. Or rewrite a book again. (And again.) But that’s okay, it’s all okay, because you knew what you were getting into.

But then you’ve got a book, and it’s good, so you start querying agents. And there’s not a problem with the book, there’s a problem with the timing, specifically in that the market isn’t ripe to support your book. Which means you’ll need to write a different book to get an agent. But you can still do something with this current book because self-publishing is an option.

Now the path up the mountain includes writing a new novel to get an agent and self-publishing a book. You’ll need to write (and rewrite) the next book. You’ll need to learn more about self-publishing, including the technical aspects of putting the files together and marketing a book. But it’s okay, you can do this. You already had an idea for another book and have some resources to tap about self-publishing. You knew the path up the mountain wasn’t necessarily straight and there would be deviations along the way, that’s fine. It’s fine.

But now that you’ve started up the mountain, it’s harder to see the top because you’re on the mountain. The easiest things to see are the path ahead of you and that it’s much farther to the top than it looked from the bottom. The mountain is so tall, and it’s going to take longer to reach the top than you thought it would.

 

This is the analogy I used recently to describe how I was feeling to my therapist. The mountain is just so tall, and right now I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired. Those are hard feelings to manage in a creative career because there is so much pressure to keep creating. I feel like I don’t have time to be overwhelmed or tired, and I have to keep going. If I crawl, I’m still making progress, right?

Ha. I’m fairly certain my therapist doesn’t think that’s the healthiest mind set. She frequently reminds me that I have to make room for self-care, which, for a writer, that includes refueling the creative well and leaving time for my brain to rest and cogitate on new ideas. It might mean not writing for a while, or not writing the thing I’m “supposed” to write. Even though I know this, and even though I repeat these reminders to myself, it’s hard to remember because the mountain is just so tall.

 

 

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My mental health plummeted over the month, so I’ve been concentrating on self-care, including what I can do to diminish the impact of the stressful, productivity-focused, anxiety- and rejection-filled life of being a writer.

Here are a few ways I’ve changed behaviors to be a little kinder to myself:

 

1. Pass, Not Rejection

Whether you’re querying agents, submitting to magazines, or just posting stories and not getting sales or hits, the writer’s life has many opportunities for people to tell you no or to not even look your way.

One thing I’ve done is change all the language in my submission tracking from “rejection” to “pass.” While being kinder to myself mentally—the story wasn’t rejected, they just passed on it—this is also more accurate in a general sense. Often there are reasons beyond the quality of the execution why an agent or editor might pass on a submission (or why a reader doesn’t click “buy”). And often times a pass means “not this time,” not “never,” so changing the language I use to reflect this from “rejected” to “pass” is one simple way to shift my thinking about submissions and come back to myself with a little more kindness about the process.

 

2. Change What Productive Means

If you’ve looked through my goals and blog posts for ten minutes, you’ve probably noticed I’m focused on metrics and productivity. I write every day. I count the number of hours I write. I count the number of words I write daily, monthly, and yearly. It’s hard for me to watch my daily word counts diminish from regularly surpassing 750 words per day to barely scraping 250 words. But does that mean I wasn’t productive?

When my word count is suffering as much as it is now, I turn to other metrics in which to find success. How many hours did I spend this week on writing tasks? If I wasn’t able to put words on the page, was I able to untangle a plot point in an outline? Did I finally name the character in that novel I haven’t finished outlining? What things was I able to achieve because I wasn’t spending all my time putting words on the page or revising those words?

Shifting the focus of what productivity means isn’t always easy, but one way I do it is with a daily goal called “Write something you like.” Maybe I couldn’t write 500 words, and maybe I’m 5,000 words behind my goal for the month, but was I able to write something that made me happy? All right, that’s a win.

 

3. Write Outside

While I’m used to taking writing excursions to coffee shops and bookstores, I forgot how invigorating it is to write outside. Late in the month, I started taking my iPad outside to write on the porch. Using a different tool to write and getting some fresh air helped release me from some of the burdens I felt being trapped indoors and surrounded by my usual work environment. (It doesn’t hurt that writing on the screen porch usually means Boogie will join me, offering either a grounding purr or the diversion of rescuing a lizard from the jaws of cat-death.)

I’ve been finding more focus writing outside, and getting a little sun in my face and wind in my hair certainly doesn’t hurt my mood either.

 

I hope you’re being kind to yourself when you need to. What do you do in your writing life to take care of your mental health?

 

 

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I’m great at meeting metric-based goals, but in meeting those goals I sometimes lose sight of the goals driving those metrics. I can write a specific number of words, but those words don’t always resolve into completed works. I know creatives who struggle with figuring out how to break big goals (like “write a novel”) into smaller, more manageable tasks. And I know other creatives who set goals, get distracted, and when they look up again, the whole year is gone!

In an effort to stay focused, this year I decided to break my goals into smaller, targeted tasks that can each be completed in about a month. These are designed to focus my attention, make progress in specific ways, and measure my overall progress with landmarks.

I provided an overview of the Writer’s Five in my January Write Life post, A Contemplative January, but now I’m coming to you with a resource to facilitate writing and tracking your goals.

 

Resource: Writer’s Five Worksheet

The Writer’s Five Worksheet is a blank sheet for you to write and track your goals for the month. Each goal is based around one verb: read, write, research, release, and relax. Basing the goals around a simple verb already tells you a lot about what your goals will be, thus making them easier to compose.

For each goal, name one specific thing you will do. Make sure it’s something you can accomplish in about a month, so “Write a novel” shouldn’t be on your list, but maybe “Write Chapter 1” will be.

 

Read: Name a specific book you will read.

If you have other reading goals and are a regular reader, I encourage you to select a book (or two) you’ve either been struggling to read or putting off for some reason. One of the books I selected for February was a book I started six months ago and just hadn’t finished. You might also select books you “should” be reading, such as a book published in your genre in the last five years.

Write: Name a specific project and the part of the project you will write.

You might focus on a single chapter or section of your novel, or a specific stage of writing, for example, “Revise short story.” Remember, the task doesn’t have to take a month to finish, but should be small enough to complete within a month.

Research: Name a specific subject to research.

Instead of a subject to research, you might decide to read a nonfiction book about a topic that interests you or a writing craft book. If you do select a subject to research, consider listing what research you’re planning to do this month, for example, “Read wikipedia entries about the Golden Age of Piracy.”

Release: Name a piece of writing you will release or submit.

Releasing writing into the world doesn’t always need to be to a potential publisher. Many of my release goals will be about submitting works-in-progress to critique partners. You might even decide your release goal is to send a chapter or story to me!

Relax: Name one thing you will do for yourself and your self-care.

It can be easy to forget that a rested mind works more efficiently and creatively. Picking one thing to do each month that is just for you and your mental (or physical) health is about letting yourself rest and recharge so you can later tackle all your other goals.

 

Download a Writer’s Five Worksheet for yourself. As you set your goals for the next month, consider what you’ve been avoiding, are struggling with, or need some extra motivation to complete. What is the smallest thing you can do to start working on that project? Maybe that’s your first goal.

If you post your goals on Twitter or Instagram, don’t forget to tag @selfwinding so I can cheer you on.

Want a Writer’s Five Worksheet in another color? A whole rainbow is available to patrons pledging $2 or more per month at my Patreon campaign. As a patron you’ll be able to download Bust-Ass Blue, Gangbusters Green, Productive Peach, Vigorous Violet, Can-Do Cranberry, and Successful Steampunk (spoilers: it’s brown), in addition to Tenacious Teal.

I started this month as many other writers did: considering my goals for the year. The past few years I’ve been in flux as I establish my editorial business, build my Patreon campaign, and write, write, (revise), write with the goal of traditional publishing. Many of the goals I set at the start of previous years have morphed or been entirely discarded because I was too ambitious, didn’t see the steps I needed to take between the start and the end, or life had other plans. (Last year fell into that latter category.)

While I still have a few big picture goals for the year—such as a word count goal (200K) and some habit goals (write 250 words or for 1 hour every day)—I’ve decided to focus on more short-term goals this year. Which is why I now present to you: The Semi-Monthly Writer’s Five.

What is The Semi-Monthly Writer’s Five? It’s five things I should be able to do in about a month that will contribute to my long-term writing goals. I will be centering these goals around the verbs “read,” “write,” “research,” “release,” and “relax.” (Did I stretch to make these all R-sounds? Yes.)

What that means is each month I will make sure to:

  • Read a specific book.
  • Write a specific story.
  • Research a specific topic (which often will actually be reading a different book).
  • Release a piece of writing (whether that’s sending for queries, submissions, or feedback).
  • Relax. No, like, seriously, this is self-care time.

Absolutely none of these goals will be metric based because too often I phone in performance on metric-based goals. Can I write every day? Hell yeah. Can I write something productive every day? *innocent whistling and avoiding eye contact* I need goals that will force me to finish a thing, hence, the Writer’s Five.

When I finish all five things, I set five new goals and I get a cookie. (I mean, the cookie may sometimes be cheesecake or a brownie or a shiny sticker, but you get the idea.)

January/February Writer’s Five:

  1. Read: Read Murder, Magic, & What We Wore and Call Down the Hawk
    I started the month with two books in progress and aimed to finish both. One, because I started it last July and I should actually finish it, and the other because it’s due back to the library.
  2. Write: Revise the Bodyswap Grim Reaper story
    The first draft is done, but I need to go back through to make the story cohesive, deepen the POV, and clarify the motivations of the characters. (I also need to pick which ending I want.)
  3. Research: Read The Invention of Murder
    I’ve been working my way through this dense nonfiction book, but I doubt I’ll finish before it’s due back to the library. This may return to the Writer’s Five later this year. Current goal: read 250 pages.
  4. Release: Send the Bodyswap Grim Reaper story to critique partners
    This goal is obviously contingent on me successfully completing the Write goal, but I can start lining up readers.
  5. Relax: Take a walk
    Even though I now have other exercise equipment, an occasional walk feels like the thing to reconnect me to the surrounding world.

Want to join me in the Writer’s Five? Leave a comment below with the five things you’ll be doing this month-ish. Try to list something you’ll read, write, research, release, and do to relax.

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.