by: Joelle Charbonneau
Being a writer means you have to be an independent worker. You have to self-motivate. You have to be willing to ignore the lure of social media or solitaire on your computer and get work done. While there are lots of people involved in turning a manuscript into a book, a writer works alone to create that book. There is no one sitting next to you that makes you log in your time.
Self-motivation is important as a writer. The best self-motivators feel compelled to sit at their computers every day and log a certain amount of words or pages in. Which is awesome. Deadlines are big time motivators for authors—but often can add stress. At one point I had 5 books under contract to write in 18 months. I am down to the last book on that list. The light is at the end of the tunnel, but while I have met deadlines and gotten the work done, I have not always respected the fact that burning the candle at both ends can have unpleasant results. At the moment, I’m sick. This is round 2 in the last 4 weeks of having this particular cold.
While I might have gotten sick anyway (I mean, I do have a 5 year old running around at home and several voice students who have had colds in the past few weeks.), the lack of sleep schedule I’ve been keeping lately could not have helped. Writers, me especially, often forget that while getting pages done is important, so is taking care of themselves.
So here are a few things that writers need to remember to add to the check list along with all those pages written and words typed. (And yes, I am writing this now because I neglect these things and need a swift kick in the rear.)
- Get enough rest – writers have to write when they have the time. For me, this is often at night after the kid is in bed or during the 2 hours in the morning when he is in school. Too often, I am up until 1a.m. letting my fingers do the walking. My body can handle doing this once in a while, but every night for weeks (or in this case 16 months) mean running myself down. If your body is tired, your mind will be tired, too. Writing tired can mean writing sloppy. Take the time to get some sleep so you don’t have to do twice the amount of work on the editing end.
- Eat well – this is kind of like the sleep thing. Writers have to sit for hours on end in front of the computer which requires energy and stamina. It is easy to say “It’s not like I’m running a marathon” and reach for the bag of potato chips, but remember you are running your own kind of marathon. A novel takes weeks and months to create. You need to keep up your enthusiasm and energy for the project in order to reach THE END. A body fueled only by crap won’t be up to the challenge.
- Read – This one gets me every time. Every writer I know started out as a voracious reader. Before getting published, I used to read between 150-200 books a year. Now I’m lucky if I read 20 or 30, but I make sure to take the time in between projects to read because it reminds me of my passion for the written word. It also keeps me looking at voice, character arcs and pacing in new and interesting ways. Reading will help you remember why you love this business when you are ready to kick the business in the ass.
- Get away from the computer screen – Writers, performers, musicians and artists are inspired by the world around them. In order to find that inspiration, you actually need to get out in the world and roll around in it. Take the time to enjoy family outings, take walks around the neighborhood and experience the world around you in between getting those words on the page. You’ll be a happier person and a better writer for it.
- Give yourself permission to take time off – I’m struggling with this one right now, but I’m working on it. (Especially now that I’m working on the last book I currently have under contract. The end of the tunnel is in sight!) Writers need to write, and when I’m writing a project I write 7 days a week. No one can keep up that pace day in and day out. Take a break between projects to recharge. Take time off on the weekends to regroup. Like any job, you need to take vacations (and this means more than an hour or two here or there) to really get away from work. After a week or a month or even a summer you will better remember and appreciate the reason you write. And don’t we all do better when we are doing something we love?
What kind of things do you need to do to make sure you cope with the stress of work? Did I miss something? I can use all the tips I can get because just like writing a book – no one but you can actually do the work to take care of you.