Monday, October 12, 2009

Taking Care of Yourself

As writers, we are very driven people. Passionate. Some may say obsessive.

I've heard a lot of writers describe the writing process as "writing because I have to" or "the story idea has to come out or it drives me crazy."

We write for hours whenever we can, but most of us also have day jobs. And families. And chores.

How do we deal with all of the passion but at the same time balance it with the stresses of every day living?

I'm currently trying to figure that out.

I've been sick for the past few weeks, and it just got worse last week. I've been having stomach pains, nausea, fatigue, and finally dragged myself to the doctor. The diagnoses? I'm way too stressed out, and it's making me ill. The solution? A acid reducer the size of a hockey puck daily, and learning to relax.

Easier said than done, right? ;) I think every writer deals with the same difficulty in leading a balanced life.

However, an interesting thing happened to me at that appointment. When the doctor was frowning over her clipboard at me and telling me that I seriously need to take a chill pill, I felt a weird calm creeping over me. Okay, well, first I felt a wee bit embarrassed, because heh, I'm giving myself an ulcer (oops), but then I felt calm.

Before, every time I thought "I need to take a night off from writing to recover from my day" or "I should exercise/read for a while/sit quietly and drink tea" I immediately felt guilty. Guilty that I'm not as dedicated as other writers because I already write less often than they do. Guilty that I wasn't getting my novel done more quickly. Guilty that I was being "lazy" if I wanted to relax for a little while. Then, when I finally did crash, I'd just lie in front of the TV like I was in a coma. There was no balance. And I felt like crap.

The doctor telling me I needed to relax was as powerful as a prescription for anti-guilt pills. In that moment, I gave myself permission to relax.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to take a half hour to an hour each day to be quiet and spend some time for myself, drinking tea and reading, reading my Bible, or taking a hot bath. Afterwards, I can write or do chores or whatever, but I have the freedom to spend time taking care of myself.

I also try to look at one beautiful thing a day, eat slowly, and walk slowly. Did you guys know that the leaves are changing right now? :) Have you noticed how absolutely gorgeous that is? I have. I realize that I missed paying attention to these things.

I wanted to write about my experience today, because I'm sure I'm not alone. Do you guys give yourselves permission to relax? Do you balance your time by allowing yourself some room to be still and recharge?

Or do you need to take a look at your schedule today and carve out a half hour for a bubble bath or a walk outside?

Do you take care of yourselves?

How can we be the best artists we can be if we don't take the time to be still once in a while?


Tere Kirkland said...

Glad you're feelin' better! Hey, I still don't know how to balance being a writer, a marketing machine, and a real-life wife and friend and employee. But I do give myself permission not to feel bad if I can't fulfill all those roles at the same time.

Glad to see you back. Next time, tell the ulcer to get lost. ;)

Cole Gibsen said...

Great post, Rebecca.

SJDuvall said...

I can totally and completely relate. I feel guilt all the time. And right now I'm studying for the GREs so things are extra stressful. But I'm slowing down a little. Thanks for sharing, makes me feel better :)

Rebecca Knight said...

Tere--I will tell it to get lost ;). Lol! Thanks for the love!

Thanks, Cole! :)

ElanaJ said...

Wow, I hope you feel better soon. I have found balance. And it came because I found some patience. And it's made all the difference in the world.

melane said...

I've found that the only time I have to relax is after the kids are in bed. That's when I work on my WIP, read, watch T.V., or do whatever else I feel like doing.

B.J. Anderson said...

I hope you feel lots better soon! I had/have this problem as well, and I, too, went to the doctor for it. More sleep, vitamins, and chilling out was my diagnosis. Sigh. So now I try not to drive myself too hard. Glad I'm not the only one!! :D

Valerie Geary said...

Definitely had this exact same feeling a few weeks ago! I think this is a common feeling for newer writers (and probably even aged veterans!). My best friend sat me down one day when I was really struggling and gave me the best piece of advice that I now have posted above my desk: "Maybe you just need to take a break from it every once in a while and remember why you love it, and not feel guilty about that. You can still reach the top of the mountain even if you need to stop and rest at all the shady spots to breathe." Don't forget to enjoy the view as you climb the mountain!!

Lisa and Laura said...

So glad you're feeling better. And I'm always feeling guilty for not writing or not being productive enough. I'm definitely going to try to relax a little. I mean, what's the big rush????

Scott said...

Here's the story I always tell when I read posts like yours . . .

I read an interview with an author who said (the horrors) she did not write every day. She wrote a bit here, a bit there, and sometimes months would pass before she would write again.

You know what? That book that she wrote a bit here, a bit there, and sometimes months passed, was published, as were some follow up books.

There are two camps out there: write everyday and don't need to write everyday. I'm all about the second camp.

Sometimes, life's just too crazy for me to write. There's only so much time in a day. So, I write when I write, and I don't when I don't, and I don't stress about it.

I'm all about taking time to read, to watch tv, to play Bejeweled Blitz, or to stand beneath a maple tree on a crisp autumn day and listen to the popping sounds the leaves make before they fall off the tree.

So, take the time you need, away from writing! Take five minutes to look at this wonderful world around us and take in the beauty that's right before our eyes . . . if we'd just look every now and then.


Rebecca Knight said...

You guys are all so amazing :). I got such a great feeling reading through your comments. For all of you who have been where I am, thank you for your advice! Patience is definitely a good thing.

I think one of my biggest fears is something along the lines of "Eek, I have to accomplish ___ before I turn ___ years old." The point is--who the heck cares? It's just me being impatient w/ myself and with God's plan for my life.

For those who aren't there yet, I've been finding great comfort in the little things, like tea, slipper socks, and playing with my crazy cat. I'm working on contradicting the little voice in my head that is like "You should worry about this because you're not being awesome enough." Honestly, I create my own awesome, and I can do it at whatever pace I please!

Good luck to you all, and thank you so much for the encouragement and stories!

Abby said...

Great post, Becca!! A lot of times writing is my means of relaxing, as long as I'm writing new stuff and not revising. :) I agree that it's good to have time without the pressures of life. Rachelle Gardner did a post about this, I think last week, called Gone Fishin' that touched on the same subject.

Glad you're feeling better! :)

Rebecca Knight said...

I totally read that post from Rachelle, and it's so true :). Thanks, Abby!

Pen said...

Hey Rebecca,
I think we writers do have a habit of being hard on ourselves and when we get obsessed with our work (let's be honest here) we can get impatient with the other things in our lives, like husbands, children and the normal demands of life. Other times when we can't write or don't have the energy for it, we can beat ourselves up about this too. All in all we are often far harder on ourselves than other people who live 'normal' writing-less lives. Writers are not like other people - we are a special breed and we need to learn to let ourselves be what we need to be. If that means reading books for weeks on end or just enjoying our families and doing no writing at all, so be it. This all benefits our writing one way or another anyway. All the best.

Badass Geek said...

Good post, and it's all very true. If we take care of ourselves, everything else will happen in time.

Michelle McLean said...

Glad you are feeling better! I went through the same thing not too long ago. I was finishing up my master's degree, trying to lose weight, working on my brother's websites from home, and had just begun querying my first book (and I was still editing it. I didn't quite know what I was doing yet) :D

So, I'd wake up at 4:30 in the morning so I could get in some writing time, work on homework and my brother's site, and work out before the kids woke up. Then I'd often stay up until midnight writing, doing homework and working.

I lost a ton of weight and got all my work done - but made myself so physically ill in the process it took nearly a month to recover. And my doctor said the same thing yours did :) In fact, he told me if I didn't slow down and get some rest, I'd never get better.

So I did.

And lately, I've stopped writing at night. I don't stay up until midnight anymore (most days). I'm tired at night. I don't want to work on anything. So I vege in front of the tv or read and enjoy some quite time while everyone is asleep.

Giving myself permission to just relax has made my life so much better. I'm not as stressed. I get more sleep, so I'm not as tired, or crabby, or impatient. And I've found that when I do work, I like what I produce much better.

And yes, I still have my moments where I go on all day (and night) writing binges. But I don't do that every day. Most days, if I get some writing done earlier in the day, great! If not, I'll get some done later. I love writing. I'm just not willing to give up my health to do it anymore.