Self-Care while Writing

Self-care is important on a personal level. Everyone needs different types of self-care, including writers. But when you hear the word, do you think bubble baths, face masks, a glass of wine and a soppy movie? Sure, that can be it if that’s what you need. But self-care is so much more than pampering yourself, especially if you have a mental illness — anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. Self-care is learning coping mechanisms. Self-care not cancelling your next therapy appointment because you had an episode with hallucinations again and you’re ashamed of it. Self-care is forcing yourself to get up and shower when you’re too depressed to do anything.

Ultimately, self-care is so much more than what most people think. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s something I wanted to talk about, because mental health and self-care are for everyone. Everyone has mental health. And, as a writer living with severe mental illness, I find it’s important to take care of yourself during the writing process, especially if you’re writing a novel. They can take months, even years, to finish. And I find they can be quite consuming (especially when I’m manic and writing over 5,000 words in a day for several days in a row).

Even when I’m not manic, I find that when I slog over a manuscript for days on end without doing anything else other than sleep, I start to lose focus and clarity. But over the years, as I’ve learned to refine my writing process, I’ve also learned to care for myself and my mental health so I can continue to knock out word after word, sentence after sentence. Here are a few tips to help you do the same if you find you need to care for yourself:

  1. Learn to step away from your manuscript if you feel drained.
    Hyperfocusing on your manuscript will only burn you out and drain you of your creativity. You might end up getting stuck with writer’s block, feeling nothing but frustration. Step away for a few days to help you clear your head. Sometimes, when you narrow in on one thing (practically obsessing over it), frustration and depression can quickly take over.
  2. Make sure to take small breaks to eat, rest, take care of other chores, etc.
    Sometimes, we get so “in the groove” that we forget about what’s going on around us. Whether it’s to eat a meal or snack, to walk the dog, or to simply clean up your home a bit, be sure to get up and move around if you’ve been working on your manuscript for hours at a time.
  3. Don’t forget about other hobbies.
    Having other hobbies is another way to help you step away from your work, as well as help you destress when you’re frustrated with your own writing. Whether you’re into knitting, doodling in a planner, or any other pastime, enjoying a hobby for a few hours per week has actually been said to reduce the risk of depression.
  4. Take a walk.
    And not in a “Get outta my sight!” kind of way. Exercise is great for reducing stress and clearing your head, even if it’s a quick 10-minute walk. You can even do a short, 7-minute workout routine according to WebMD.
  5. Focus on the positive.
    Feeling down about your work, like you’re no good at it or your manuscript is a pile of garbage? Stop and find the good things. Find a passage that you feel is written well and read it a few times, or find other parts of your work that you enjoy. Recharge your outlook to a more positive view, and don’t be so hard on yourself.

Remember that everyone is different, and everyone has different needs for their mental well-being. These are simply things I’ve learned over the years as a writer. Do what you need in order to take care of yourself, and don’t forget: Mental health matters.

When Enough Is Enough for Your Novel

At what point is your novel is done? Completed? Finished? How many revisions and edits are enough? Basically, when is enough, enough?

I recently reread my own self-pubbed novel, The Days Without You, and damnit if I didn’t find another error—a missing word. Even though it was a teeny, tiny preposition that my eyes almost glossed right over, all I could think was, “Well, damn.” Fortunately, I didn’t find any others. But there are still things I consider changing. Long to change. It’s not that I didn’t pour over revisions and edits, round after round, to make my manuscript perfect. I put my heart and soul into revisions, trying to make every scene perfect and meaningful, adding something to the story, taking parts out. I never truly felt like my story was complete. Grueling, it was. But it does beg the question: How do you know when you’re done with revisions?

There are writers out there who will revise a novel for years. I, myself, spent years on The Days Without You. Let me just tell you this: You’ll probably never be fully satisfied with your manuscript, especially if you’re looking into self-publishing. At some point, you have to put it down for good and tell yourself it’s finished, even if you’re concerned about one thing or another. And let me tell you something else: That it’s perfectly fine. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Let me tell you something else: You thought that at some point you’d reach that ultimate dream that is a manuscript without needing a single change? You were wrong. A comma here, a semicolon there. You might think, “Maybe I should have changed this or that.”

Like previously mentioned, you need to make the decision to stop making those minute edits and changes. Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to making edits or revisions to your story:

Is this edit/revision adding anything to my story’s characterization, plot, etc.?
If the changes you are making alter the manuscript’s plot, characters, character goals, or other major pieces of your story (especially in a major way), you’re probably not done yet with revisions. Work through your characterization, any plot holes or any parts that drag or don’t add anything to the overall story.

Am I looking at my manuscript with fresh eyes?
I believe it’s important to put a manuscript to the side, leaving it untouched, for some time. Whether that’s just a week or several months for you, it’s crucial to be fresh and new again when rereading a story. You’ll be better prepared to find the parts of your novel that need revising or—as much as we hate to admit it sometimes—major rewrites or removal, in some cases. Once you’ve written the first draft, take time to work on other things or hobbies and set your manuscript aside for some time.

Am I simply tinkering or fiddling with my manuscript?
If you’re at the point when you find that you’re only making tiny changes or alterations, it’s probably time to say, “I’m DONE, mother{insert callous, crude, derogatory word that I won’t put here}!” and start looking for professional editors or proofreaders if you’re going the self-pub route, or start researching agents if you’re going the traditional route.

The time comes when you’re not making your book better; you’re only making it different. Still doubting yourself? Find some beta readers and get feedback.

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

Leonardo da Vinci