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Our topic this week is care and feeding of the author.
Chuck Wendig wrote a blogpost this week that addressed this issue from an interesting standpoint. “Sharp Rock, Soft Pillow: The Balance of Self-Care and Tough Love.” To quote him in part:
“There is a phenomenon, and I speak from experience on this one, where self-care crosses a line, and goes from being a kindness to yourself to being an unkindness to the art. Art can be propulsive, climactic, conflicting — both to us and to the audience. And making art is by its nature opposite to self-care at stages. You may find it comforting to create a thing, but in that creation there is inevitably frustration, and once it’s exposed to the world, ha ha ha…”
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I don’t write at the grand, complex level he does, not even close, but I think he’s put his finger on one challenge all writers face. The self-care is very important because if things work out well you can literally write for your entire life, right up to the last second, but you have to take care of your mind and body (and hope there aren’t any genetic gotchas lurking – we have a few in my family). Since becoming a full time author I’ve found that my limit for a daily word count is somewhere around 4K. I think once I did 5K. The trouble is, if I spend that much time at the keyboard, there are physical repercussions, to my hands, my back, my eyes…and I do have an ergonomically correct set up, I use eye drops and yellow tint glasses, a wrist brace…I mean, I’ve put a lot of effort into making this a good place to sit and write. But I just cannot do long stints of typing any more. My usual day is somewhere between 1K-2.5K, written in short stints over the course of the entire day.
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I’m in several author groups on Facebook where people regularly talk about how they have to write 20K words by sundown to make their contract deadline or their pre-order deadline or whatever and I cringe. I feel the stress sweeping over me just thinking about the situation and I shake my head. I know that works for some people. And others can get huge word counts day in and day out 365 days a year. Well, more power to them but that’s not in the cards for me.
I also agree with his point, as I understood it, that self-care can turn into not writing if taken too far. We authors can be good at procrastination (the research! The social media!) and sometimes we do have to push ourselves to put the rear end in the chair and WRITE. I always remind myself whatever other fun thing I’m doing besides writing isn’t going to pay the rent so I’d better get words on paper.
However, I have to listen to what my body is telling me. As I’ve gotten older physically (I stay at a certain age in my head LOL) and some of the things that run in my family have caught up to me, I’ve had to accept that as stubborn and self-reliant and “just push through and get it done” as I am at my Irish core, I’ll increasingly be out of commission afterward. So I must ask myself, is this a real deadline? Do I really have to do whatever this is in such big chunks?
I’ve learned to take a break every 25 minutes and be on my feet doing something, whether it’s playing with Jake the Cat or folding laundry. I utilize a To Do List to manage my stress and that feeling of being overwhelmed by All The Things at once…I take a short nap daily. I have a flexible publishing schedule (the joys of being self-published) and I build in extra time for unexpected delays. I try to stay two book covers ‘ahead’ from my wonderful cover artist, Fiona Jayde. I eat right and often. I drink 80 ounces of water a day. I try to walk as many steps a day as I can but I’ve accepted the physical limitation there as well. Sure I can do 10,000 steps. Once. Then I’ll be in bed for a week. So I set goals that work for me. So that’s my end of the situation.
I live alone with Jake the Cat so no one has to tiptoe around Writer Me but if there was someone else under my roof, a few suggestions for happy co-existence:
Don’t ask me how it’s going. Don’t offer me plot ideas. Don’t ask me to write a certain character. Don’t tell me about bad reviews. Don’t suggest I try outlining or any other tool or technique. (I have my own methods that work for me.) Don’t compare my books/writing to anyone else’s. Don’t comment on whether I wrote a lot of words today or 10 words today. Don’t critique my book covers. Don’t offer promo ideas. Don’t ask me to write your story. Don’t ask me where I got my ideas or say, “You should write XYZ because it’s hot right now.” Don’t interrupt me while I’m writing. (Unless there’s a fire or blood.)
Do I sound like a curmudgeon? Well maybe to some extent. I’m very self-protective over my writing and of the soft creature-writer living inside my well-developed hard exterior.
Now sometimes I will discuss any or all of those topics, but only with other authors who understand my genre and the issues we all face (promo, visibility, etc.) and only if I’m in the mood and only to the extent I feel comfortable. One of my daughters is also a USA Today Best Selling author and she and I have really good discussions at times about these types of things.
So IF you ever find yourself living under my roof, Jake the Cat will avoid you like the plague for a few days until he suddenly decides he likes you and if I’m hard at work at my laptop, please feel free to just pass by like a ship in the night. If I’m not at the keyboard, let’s talk about the weather or the NFL game of the week or the latest episode of a good TV show, but don’t bring up my books unless I do it first.
And harmony will reign.
P.S. Didja see my new release? WINTER SOLSTICE DREAM, a holiday fantasy romance with a Cinderella-ish plot...