How do you feel when you sit down to write?
Are you exhausted, eager, hung over, just getting buzzed, or full of dread?
Writing is exercise. It is a mental one, but just as strenuous as a good workout.
I don't train like I used to (no more flipping 800lb truck tires) but I still hit the gym three or four times a week, lifting weights with one friend who wants to bulk up and getting my cardio back in shape with a personal trainer pal, who was also the reason I trained in Japan. We don't punch each other in the face no more, but we hit pads and grapple like it's life or death. He's my oldest friend, and we've always been competitive. Thanks to him watching, I set the gym record for the 135lb prowler push (a dozen twenty yard laps on astroturf) and then broke my own record by seventeen seconds the week after. (2 minutes, 43 seconds, if you give a damn.)
I dread going to the gym sometimes, but I always, always feel better having done it. And it is the same with writing. Dorothy Parker said "I hate writing. I love having written." Well, to feel that love, you have to write. And when we train in the gym we always warm up and recover properly. Writers rarely seem to do this, and have that Crossfit dingbat mentality where pain is gain and we are to be measured by the depths of our suffering, like monks whipping themselves. It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't. You want to keep writing, you need rest and recovery.
If you have kids or a tough job (or like me, two inconsiderate felines) seven hours of sleep can be tough to achieve. I use earplugs when I have to. Your mind needs to rest. Exercise will help, even if it's just a daily walk. A tired mind and an sleepy body begins to feel like you swallowed a neutron star of cosmic dread. So get those hours of sleep in. Put down the iPad, turn off the NetFlix, close the damn book and sleep. Writers from Hemingway on recommended leaving "gas in the tank" and quitting before you're clawing for words, and it has many benefits. You leave the job with a positive mindset, with the reward of a job well done. And you know where to start when you sit down and write again.
Recovery also means you don't have to write every day. If the every day approach works for you, by all means, don't let me tell you otherwise. But don't use guilt and self-deprecation to rob you of a day off when you need one. Jerrold Mundis recommends taking the weekend off if you write full-time. For me this became a bad habit, because some of my best writing time is on weekends, given that I have a full time non-writing job. My favorite time to write is in the evening, after dinner, so this cut me down to four days a week. And then three, if we went out to the pub after the gym and got home late... so when the hell was I writing? I wasn't, and what was supposed to be a 3 month edit stretched out to six. And I felt miserable, like when I skip the gym for a week. Like a lazy slug.
Do you need to warm up? That depends on the writer. I usually "warm up" by putting on music and reading what I wrote or edited the night before, changing little bits here and there. Some writers meditate, stretch, hit the heavy bag, hit the sauce... whatever works. If you can dive right in, by all means, dive. Just make sure you get your rest, physically and mentally, and let yourself reap the rewards of the hard work, by not beating yourself up for not working even harder. As in the gym, it is self-destructive. Personal trainers laugh, because when a customer is seeing results from a steady and safe approach, they often want to do more.
"This isn't killing me, I feel like I could do more!"
"But you're seeing great results."
"But I could see even greater results!"
"And you can hurt yourself, and be out of the game for months..."
So if your method involves mad springs and long bouts of recovery, you might want to rethink that strategy.
I loathe the term "Self-Care" but in a culture that worships working yourself to death, call it whatever you want. I call it recovery. Look at Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I love how honest he is about his diet on set. He looks that good because he eats boiled chicken and rice, and does push-ups and squats until the camera rolls. And when the film wraps, he eats a stack of pancakes and a pizza the same day. He earns that pizza.
Earn yours, and then eat the S.O.B.!