The physical side of self care for writers

NaNo-2017-Participant-BadgeWriters all over the world are gearing up for Nanowrimo and everyone’s talking about how you can make the time to write 1,667 words a day, but I’m thinking about something entirely different: how to fit self care in around an intense writing schedule.

I’m the first to admit that I tend to let self care slide when I’m deep into a creative project. I’ll get so caught up in my stories that I forget to eat for extended periods of time, and burning the midnight oil to finish my projects. I struggle with truly relaxing, because I’ve always got one book or another on the brain. And I definitely don’t get enough exercise.

All of this gets worse whenever I have a creative challenge or deadline. And if you’ve ever done Nanowrimo–or any other significant creative challenge–this probably sounds familiar. So today I’d like to talk about how to make time for self care, specifically physical self care, even during your most intense periods of creative productivity.

What do I mean by physical self care?

Physical self care is exactly what it sounds like: taking care of your body. Eating regularly, drinking enough water, exercising, sleeping, all those things that help your body function. All those things that are so easy to forget when you’re spending dozens of hours in fictional worlds. For writers physical self care also includes setting up an ergonomic workspace and doing specific exercises to prevent repetitive strain injuries.

How to fit physical self care around your writing schedule

Whether it’s just for November or you’re hoping to make it stick, you’ve made writing a priority. You’ve cancelled social plans, made deals with loved ones about the housework, abandoned volunteer activities, stocked up on easy-to-cook meals for the month, and maybe even booked some extra time off work.

All of that is great, but writing can’t be your only priority. You need to continue taking care of your health (or start taking care of it, in some cases). If you don’t, by the end of Nanowrimo you’ll feel like crap, and you might well end up with a repetitive strain injury.

Here are five easy ways to fit self care around your newly created writing schedule:

1. Do it at your desk

Self care doesn’t have to mean going for an hour long run. It doesn’t even have to mean leaving your house–or even your desk. There are several self care activities you can perform sitting in front of your computer, including stretches specifically designed to fight repetitive strain injury.

I personally do forty minutes of wrist exercises and twenty minutes of stretching at my desk every single day. For the exercises I use a solid copper ball that weighs about two pounds. I do a series of movements–doing a separate twenty minutes for each wrist–similar to how you’d use a pair of stress balls. This has greatly reduced pain from my repetitive strain injury and helped me build my strength back up.
Here’s the ball in action:

The copper ball itself was a gift, and I have no idea where you can purchase something similar, but a pair of stress balls can have a similar effect. Use them at your desk for at least fifteen minutes with each wrist to maintain strength and flexibility in your wrists and hands.

2. Set a timer for breaks

Part of self care is taking breaks, but it’s easy to forget about them when you’re on a roll–or a tight deadline. Every time you sit down to write, set a timer. When it goes off, take a break. If you’re really on a roll, finish your sentence on paragraph, but make sure you take a break afterwards.

How long you set the timer for is up to you. Many writers I adore use the Pomodoro technique, setting a timer for 25 minutes of work and taking 5 minute breaks between sessions. I find that 25 minutes is rarely enough to make notable progress, so I typically plan my breaks for every 45 minutes. You can set the timer for however long you’re comfortable with, but make sure it’s set for no longer than an hour. Getting up once an hour gets the blood flow moving and helps your body stay healthy so your mind can stay focused.

If you don’t have a regular kitchen timer you can use an online timer for this.

3. Make sure your breaks are valuable

Your breaks from writing shouldn’t see you heading off to social media. They should see you heading away from your computer entirely. It’s important to get away from the screen to prevent eye strain, and typing on social media is still typing. Your body isn’t designed to do it all day long.

When break time hits, get out of your chair and stretch. Walk around the house a couple times, or go for a walk around the block. Just make sure you’re getting some movement into your day. Even five minutes of walking around between writing sessions can make a huge difference in your health.

4. Take it 15 minutes at a time

You may not be able to find a solid hour in your day for a proper workout or a relaxing bath, but you don’t need to. Plenty of self care activities can be done in 15 minutes. I usually do 20 minutes of wrist stretches every day, but I can fit my routine into 15 minutes if I really have to. Same with my copper ball exercises. And a steamy 15 minute shower can be almost as relaxing as an hour long bath.

We can all find 15 minutes in our day for self care. There’s a good chance you can even fit in multiple 15 minute chunks a day, giving you time for both wrist stretches and some actual relaxation.

Really can’t find a spare 15 minutes? Make that 10 minutes, or even 5. Every minute counts when we’re talking about self care.

5. Make self care your reward for hitting your daily writing goal

One thing we talk a lot about during Nanowrimo is rewards. Rewards for hitting your daily word count, your weekly word count, and of course for finishing the overall challenge. Often the rewards we talk about are sugary treats.

Kristen Martin, one of the authors participating in this year’s #ProjectWriteTube event on YouTube, has a different approach: her rewards are self care activities. I love this approach for a couple reasons. First off, it’s an easy way to build self care into your schedule.

Second, it treats self care the way it should be treated: as something awesome you do to appreciate yourself. Self care shouldn’t feel like a drag, and it shouldn’t be something you do purely out of a sense of obligation. It should be something you enjoy. That’s why my FREE self care email course focuses on creating a personalized self care plan based on your favourite activities.

Final Advice

Self care is important all the time, and it becomes even more important when we take on major challenges like Nanowrimo. For more advice on how to take care of yourself during this crazy time, check out Jessi Elliott’s 10 Tips for Self Care During Nanowrimo video. Jessi is another author participating in #ProjectWriteTube, a YouTube collaboration dedicated to helping people kick butt and write all the words. #ProjectWriteTube features a giveaway of TEN books. Enter now, it ends on November first!

Want to create a structured self care plan for Nanowrimo? Sign up for my FREE email course on how to do exactly that!

2 thoughts on “The physical side of self care for writers

  1. The human being wasn’t made to sit in front of a computer all day. Take breaks, eating right can make a huge difference.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    • Post Author dlgunn

      Exactly! And I’ll admit that I talk about this so much because I struggle with it every darn day – it’s so easy to get lost in all the work you have to do and realize 12 hours have passed and you haven’t moved or eaten.

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