Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Hey Writer, Take Care of You

Sometimes when I’m not quite awake, or not quite asleep, I hear the tentative knock on the locked guest room door and the small voice seeping through: “Mom? Can I ask you something?” I try to rewrite the memory, to answer her and be a decent human, but then I recall how it actually went down and suddenly feel like I can never sleep again.

Sometimes when I’m feeling fat because I haven’t exercised in a little while, I look at my food tracking notes from that year and realize that at one point I knew by memory how many calories were in an ounce of vodka. I count the hours, the days, I existed on nothing but coffee and tinned nuts. I lost some weight, yeah, but at what cost?

Writers aren’t always good to ourselves. Left to our own devices, we have a bad tendency to put deadlines and the desires of strangers above our own health, mental health, and the needs of people who love us. Like, for real love us.

So hey, writers, we need to stop that. Seriously, right now. Think about those self-imposed rules--“no, kids, you can’t talk to me unless the house is burning down” or “I can’t eat birthday cake until I turn in this manuscript” or “I’ll take a day off after I hit this deadline” or “the flu is kicking my ass, but I’ma get those 3k words in today” or my personal fave, “I’ll do Thanksgiving with the family next year, when I won’t have a deadline.” Do those sacrifices...make things better? Really? Are the sales an adequate return on the investment? Are the reviews? If they are, is that balance sheet okay with you? Are you okay with who you’ve become?

Here’s the thing: the world is not going to take care of you. It’s not going to feed you. It’s not even going to feed your soul. Readers, contracts, awards, sales, and bestseller lists don’t care about you. They’ll keep taking as long as you keep giving, so please. Stop.

Take care of you. You can write the thing and live a life without your life becoming the thing.

I like to play a game called What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Here’s a scenario:

I write zero words for, let's say, a month. What’s the worst that could happen?

I could miss deadlines.
I could disappoint that reader who was kind enough to send a note saying they liked my story but who I’ve never met.
That reader could forget about me and my stories and move on to the next book.
All readers could.
My sales could go away.
I could lose contracts.
My editor could cut me loose.
I could lose my agent.
I could have to start over in another genre.
Change my name.
Re-learn everything.
Eat a lot of ramen.
Consider a part-time job.
Pick my own kids up at school.
Make dinner for my own family instead of eating out or ordering in.
Celebrate the important days.
Go to my kid’s concert.
Write only when I want to, when I can, when it doesn’t hurt.
Actually enjoy the writing.
Fall in love with words again.
Forget about the readers who have forgotten about me.
And when that voice asks, “Mom, can I ask you something?”

Now? I unlock the door and answer her. And if that’s the worst that can happen, I am so okay with my choices. Better than okay, honestly.

This is how I take care of me.