The Care and Feeding of the Stressed-Out Writer

Self-Care. The taking care of yourself. When your life becomes stressful, when the writing just isn’t flowing, sometimes you have to step back and take a minute, an hour, a morning, or a day (or longer) just for you.

Basically, self-care is often described as treating yourself with the love and respect you deserve. Often, it’s framed as “the love and respect you would expect from a significant other.” Some people take themselves out on a “self-date” or treat themselves to a retreat, a new purchase, or just a day off set aside for whatever they want.

Regular self-care includes eating well, exercising, sleeping enough, etc. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the self-care that comes into play when you’re overwhelmed and you need a step back.

So, how do I as a writer treat myself with the love and respect I deserve? You might think I read, right? Well, let’s unpack that.

I know as writers we like to read. We read in our genres because that’s what good writers do, that’s how we see what’s been done before, what’s been done well, and what has flopped. We read for research, we read for run and, if we’re really lucky, those two things overlap. I read biographies, books from other countries, diverse YA, and whatever else I can fit into my schedule. I read paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks, and ebooks.

But I don’t read for self-care. I am not going to paint the picture you can all draw up in your heads without even trying because literally every writer that talks about indulging paints this picture. You know the one. Don’t lie to me. The one where the writer in question is curled up on the couch in pajamas with a hot mug of whatever her favorite hot drink is and either a favorite old book or an exciting new book. And, because I’m a woman, there’s probably chocolate involved.

Well, forget chocolate.

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Yeah. I said it.

Forget. Chocolate*

Maybe most of the people who dredge up that cliche actually engage in it–and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t. How do I do self-care? I have options!

I am Active

Exercise makes me feel strong. Feeling strong makes me feel good about myself. Therefore, I usually start off a self-care day with a nice run. There are no hard distance or time goals, no achievements I’m trying to reach. Just me, my dog, and the world at our feet. When it’s not too hot to go hiking, I love occupying a few hours in the early morning on a mountain (and, in Phoenix, we have a plethora of choices given that we’re located in a valley). Some self-care days actually start with driving a couple hours up to Sedona or down south to a special trail–always with my dog, Zoe, in tow.

She comes with kisses.

I Watch Movies Intended For Children 

The whole point of a self-care day is to take a step back and let the world happen without me. Burying myself in a book for a half a day eats up half a day of reflective awareness of the passage of time. I want my day to go slowly–I’m taking the day because life has been happening too fast for awhile. I watch kids’ movies (I’ve seen the Kung Fu Panda trilogy at least four times) because they’re fun, colorful, have great stories, and they let me pass the time without really sucking me in and distracting me too much from my day.

I take a very Zen approach to self-care. I don’t want to be swept up in som
ething, I want to be detached and aware. But, I also want to be entertained and kids’ movies are a great way to achieve both.

And Zootopia just came out on video so I can finally watch something new!
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I Make Myself Feel Pretty

I am a woman living in a Western country, where I am constantly bombarded with messages about how I am too fat, my hair looks terrible, my boobs are too small, and my body fat percentage will always be too high as long as it’s above 0.

I do what I can to regularly feel good about myself but on self-care days, I’m probably feeling extra vulnerable so I go the extra mile. This can come in a variety of methods: Wear a nice outfit, take a bath, get a new moisturizer, put on date-level makeup not just regular casual-level makeup, attempt to make my hair look like something Hermione Granger wouldn’t sport in the first two Harry Potter movies, etc.

I am a beautiful person. I’m sexy. Self-care days may involve reminding myself of that.

I Don’t Always Take the Full Day

Every now and then I really need a break from whatever is stressing me out but I don’t have a whole day to devote to it. If you can take a meal, a bath, an hour, a chapter in a book, a movie, a morning, and evening, or a lunch break to give yourself what you need, that can be better than waiting until you have more time.

Finally…I Forgive Myself

When I’ve reached the point where I need to set aside time just for self-care, I’ve usually messed up… a lot. Maybe I snapped at someone or I didn’t do as well or as much on a project at work, housework at home, or writing. It builds up and it’s not always my fault but stress makes me think it is.

So I have to take a moment and let myself be okay with those mistakes and any goals I didn’t meet. I beat myself up over failure and I hold myself to a very high standard. When I don’t meet that standard, self-judgment just makes a bad situation worse, no matter how unfair.

Everything else I’ve described is often just a tool to get me to a point where I’m ready to forgive myself. Those strategies can be used to untwist the tangled up anxieties and emotions so that I can see the road ahead of me with better clarity.

One last little thing…I have a live-in therapy dog! While Zoe is not an emotional support animal or service animal by any means, her volunteer job is to make people feel better. I have, in the past, noticed her reaction to my stress before I’ve even noticed my own stress! She is stress barometer and stress treatment and I love her. Pro tip: Get yourself a therapy dog.

Free cuddles, anytime. Just so you know.

How do you do self-care? Share your strategies in the comments!


*I prefer mint custard with mint-chocolate candies for my comfort food so I guess don’t forget chocolate completely, just drown it in mint. 

Author: V. Kane

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @ValkyrieWriting or Instagram at books_and_dogs

6 thoughts

  1. I’m an introvert who teaches middle school and has two extrovert children, so self care for me means being quiet and by myself. I really appreciate your point about not wanting to lose your time and awareness in a book. Reading is my favorite, but being mindful is something I need to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

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