Staying on Track: Self-Care for Writers

While I’ve been talking about tips to stay on track during drafting, revising, and querying this month, it’s pretty impossible to stay on track when we’re burned out.

Trust me.

This week, I’ve been down for the count with a head cold. I haven’t had one in the three years since COVID locked us into our houses in 2020 (thanks hand sanitizing stations, mask use the previous two winters in crowded spaces, and some darn good luck), and I am, admittedly, being a total baby about it. To add to my misery, decongestants are off the table for me. So if, say, my husband were to get the same cold, he’d probably have been fine days ago. He’d pop some meds and be trudging along only mildly inconvenienced. Instead, I’m toting around multiple boxes of tissues and slathering my wrecked nose with Aquafor to soothe the over-used skin.

With my head fuzzy and my eyes swimming, I have ignored the pile of revision notes I made after chatting with my very best feedback giver. The creative process has stalled over here.

This has happened to me before. After my father passed, for months I could barely put two words together to make an order at the drive thru for coffee not to mention tap into a creative space.

And this summer when the dishwasher leak wrecked our house and I lost access to my office and sanity in the constant influx of workers, tile removal, nail guns, and drying fans.

It can be big things like this or small things like a busy schedule or complicated project at your day job or a sick kid home from school that derail our creative routines.

The thing is, we can’t create on empty. Refilling the well is paramount to creative work. If we are only pouring words out, we eventually will run dry. As creatives, we need ways to find more words, ideas, images, to keep the work flowing.

First, there is caring for the writer. Make sure you’re taking move breaks, stretching, drinking water, taking screen breaks, and getting plenty of sleep at night. Second, there is protecting your creative time. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb when you are writing to eliminate interruptions. Turn off your wifi to eliminate temptations and use Word or Scrivener’s focus settings. Let your family know you are unavailable for the next thirty minutes, or however long you need/want. Invest in noise cancelling headphones or create a soothing playlist that allows you to block out the other noise.

But there is also writing self-care meant to refill our creative wells. I recently took the leap and booked a writing retreat. This was a big jump for me, but it means several days sequestered away in a beautiful location with fantastic amenities so I can focus on my writing. The fact that I’m intimidated by that much time alone with my work means it is probably long overdue.

Creative self-care doesn’t have to break the bank or require a week’s vacation time. We simply need to engage our creative mind in ways where we aren’t creating. Here are some of the things I do when my own creative well needs refilling:

  • Take in a concert–live music is magic. I am always inspired by artists sharing their creativity and musicians do this live at a concert.
  • Take a walk in a new outdoor space. I love a botanical garden for this purpose. A planned space created by a landscaper or botanist or gardener tells a story through plants. A garden, or any outdoor space, will engage your sense of smell, touch, sight, and sound.
  • Go to an art museum. Wander. Pause when you feel drawn to a particular piece. Bring a notebook and jot down why you stopped. What drew you to this work? How does it make you feel? How would you describe it to someone else? Bonus points for making up a flash story, scene, or poem about what’s happening in the work (there is a Burk Uzzle photo of an abandoned barn I saw in a special exhibit at the NC Museum of Art that still calls to me and one of these days will end up in something I’m writing).
  • Take a cooking class or check out a beautiful cook book from the library and try something new.
  • Play with Play-Doh. It’s tactile with a distinct smell. You probably haven’t played with it since you were a child or had little kids. Imagine if you just had a can on your desk for those screen breaks?
  • Plan a day trip to a new town. Explore shops or museums or restaurants there. Allow yourself to get a little lost.
  • Go to a cemetery. There are a few historic cemeteries within a reasonable driving distance to me. Cemeteries contain so many untold and unfinished stories. You can’t rush through a cemetery. You are forced to slow down and be reverent. Sometimes, simply slowing your mind can invite creativity back in.
  • Take a nap, or a longer break from your work. I know that “write every day” floats in every creative circle, but I disagree. Sometimes, you need to stop and take a break and refill your cup in order to be productive. Forcing it will only result in stilted work on the page you’ll need to fix later anyway. This is not permission to abandon your work, but if you need to take a day or two or a week to do something else, do it.
  • Listen to new-to-you music. I love asking friends for recommendations then listening to new albums or artists I’m not familiar with.
  • Read. When I’m stuck or need a spark, I like to read outside my genre or pick up a poetry book and flip through it, letting randomness guide my experience.
  • Meet up with a writer friend. Grab a cup of coffee or go for a walk together. I am always inspired when I’m talking to other writers. Connection with other creatives is a great way to refill your creative well.

The best gift you can give yourself as a writer is the gift of grace. You are human and you need breaks, both physical and mental. Take them. Take a moment to enjoy the world around you in a new way. It will show up in your work in so many different and wonderful ways.

Take care of yourself, dear writers! And let me know in the comments what you do when you need a little creative self-care.

Featured photo above by Svitlana on Unsplash

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Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer and book coach who helps writers get unstuck so they can reach their writing goals.

3 thoughts on “Staying on Track: Self-Care for Writers

  1. Ironically, especially on the most stressful days, it’s super important to take breaks. Personally, going for a run brings me back on track. Thanks for the post!


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