Last Saturday, I ran a 50-mile relay with two of my siblings and two close friends. This does NOT mean that I ran 50 miles; I ran two five-mile legs of the relay with a couple of hours to relax in between. As I was reflecting on possible blog post topics for this week, I first thought of the relay as a metaphor for writing–I draft a manuscript, and at various points, I pass the baton to my critique partners or beta readers or agent or editor, and I can take a breath and a break while the manuscript still moves forward.
But then I realized that what I did last Saturday doesn’t just have to be a metaphor for writing. There are valuable, direct lessons from that race that influence all of us as writers, and the overall message is this:
Take care of yourself!
Here are some important aspects of that message, all of which probably seem obvious, but all of which writers have a particular temptation to ignore:
First, and most obviously, EXERCISE! This is extra important for me because I get grumpy when I don’t exercise, in much the same manner that I get grumpy when I go too long without writing time. Physical activity is valuable for all writers, whether this means walking, running, swimming, team sports, dance… Whatever gets your body moving will make you healthier and happier, which will clear your mind and improve your writing.
Second, EAT BETTER! I’m not advocating radical or extreme measures here, but again, you will feel better and think better and write better if the fuel you’re putting the right kind of fuel into your body, and the right amount. (Full disclosure: I eat junk food and drink soda almost every day. But I do make sure to eat more good stuff than bad stuff!)
Third, SLEEP! Our critique group has an ongoing (and hilarious!) Facebook conversation, and one of the things some of our members do sometimes is post the gibberish lines they typed when they fell asleep at the computer. Although they are loads of fun to read (“God only knows what the guardians would do to him if they ever found out about pigs…”), they do illustrate the principle that our best writing doesn’t happen when we’re overly fatigued.
Fourth, BE OUTSIDE IN THE SUNSHINE, BREATHING FRESH AIR! Enough said.
Fifth, SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU HAPPY! Whether you go to lunch with a friend, snuggle up with your kids, go on a date with your significant other, or gab in a car while asphyxiating yourselves with your own relay-induced BO, spending time with people who make you happy is an incredible boost, and one that even the most introverted writer needs on a regular basis.
After all those tips, here’s my final one: ALL THINGS IN MODERATION, INCLUDING MODERATION! There will be times when you sit at your computer, day and night, binge-scarfing chocolate and isolating yourself from the world. And that’s okay–sometimes that’s just what you need during or after your endurance is tested. Sometimes that’s how you take care of yourself, for a little while anyway.
Readers, we love you. So, one more time, take care of yourselves! Your writing will thank you.
What tips do you have for writers to take care of themselves? Which of the above are the most important to you? Which are the hardest and the easiest for you to live by?
(Originally published March 11, 2015)