Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Self Care is an Important Part of Being an Author

As a professional blogger, RPG designer, and author, I spend a lot of time in front of my laptop cranking out content. Because of how sedentary this job is, it also means I spend at least a few days a week going to the gym, undoing the damage sitting around does to my waistline. However, sometime last week I increased my weight, and tweaked something in my lower back. Nothing torn, nothing sprained, but there was a discomfort that wouldn't go away. So I worked around it, which meant that I had to lower the weight on some of my other lifts, and skip a few others entirely in order to give myself time to heal.

Which I did, in case any of my readers were concerned for my well-being.

Everything is back to normal... of course, none of this is my blood.
However, while I was working around this temporary injury, I started thinking about the similarities between weightlifting and writing. It's a comparison I've used before, but I've never stepped back to appreciate how much mental effort is required in both of them. And, more importantly, that pushing yourself to write can sometimes be just as dumb as trying to increase your weight when your body is at less than full capacity.

It's Okay To Take It Easy (When You Need To)

Writing is, in many ways, like working out. Your success is a combination of your natural strength, your dedication, and your routine. Just like how you have to stick to your regimen in order to keep your body fit, you need to write every day if you're going to produce books, blogs, etc. on a regular basis.

It is still possible to sprain your brain, though. And you need to be able to recognize when you're getting to that point.

It's okay to put the weight down if you're feeling the strain.
When you're exercising, you get to know your body. One of the sensations you learn to feel for is the difference between your muscles hurting because you're working them (and getting sore), and your muscles hurting because they're getting close to injury. It might take a few accidents, and a little bit of recuperation on the couch, but you learn to judge those sensations quite accurately.

The same thing happens when you're writing.

If you're jamming away on the keyboard, but you're not making the sort of progress you want, then stop. Take a deep breath, and back away from the project for a moment. Get some perspective, and analyze what's going wrong. Is the problem with the project, perhaps in the form of a plot twist that isn't working the way you want, or that the dialogue isn't coming out the way you like? If it's a manuscript issue, then get some water, slap some chalk on your hands, and once you've had a small breather, come back at it while maintaining good form.

But what if the problem is you? Not that you're punching above your weight class with your current project, but that you're coming at it with a hand tied behind your back. For example, did you get a good night's sleep? Have you eaten recently? Did you use up all your energy cranking out work that was on deadline, so your mental biceps are like noodles? Are you currently under a lot of stress because of an argument with a family member, or did you just get back from a convention, and haven't had time to decompress?

In those situations, you need to know your limits. If you told yourself you were going to do 1,000 words, but you're struggling to get there, there's no shame in hitting save with 500 words, and then tending to yourself. If your routine says one thing, but you feel that limit coming up in your mental muscles, put the project down. It will be there tomorrow.

Most importantly, do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You have to do the work to finish the book, the same way you have to sweat in order to get the physique you want, but you will do neither of these things if you push until you burn out.

It Gets Easier

The thing that can be hard to remember is that the longer you do this, the easier it gets. Plot problems that would have cracked your teeth when you first started will be solved in a brief moment of reflection. Dialogue that would have made you sweat bullets will flow like water from an open tap. Because you gain skill the longer you do something. And, while skill by itself is impressive, it's important to remember that if you are alert, energized, and awake, you'll be better able to wield that skill.

Hopefully some folks found this week's installment on The Craft of Writing helpful. If you're one of those folks who'd like to keep this blog going, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar? $1 per month is a big help, and it gets you some sweet swag to boot. Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

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