Which would you rather: stay up an hour late so that you can fit in your writing time for the day (because you procrastinated for hours and didn’t write a single word) or go to sleep because you know that you need 8 hours of sleep a day?
That was the dilemma I faced last night. I almost never get enough sleep—although I wouldn’t classify myself as sleep-deprived—but, at the same time, I’m so disappointed in days where I don’t get to continue on my work-in-progress, no matter how much of a slog it may seem.
This morning, that made me realize an important point that maybe us writers don’t pay too much attention to: how do we take care of ourselves as writers? Should self-care triumph over our desire to read and write, or should we emphasize our literary goals first? Or do they even need to be in conflict with one another to begin with?
I would argue the latter.
While it’s unfortunate that I didn’t have the time last night to write my word count quota for the day AND sleep 8 hours, I chose sleep not because I wanted to discount the importance of writing, but because sleep at that time was of even higher importance.
If I don’t get 8 hours of sleep at night, then I’m not going to have the energy to write for long the next day. Whereas if I stayed up late, I might reach my word count, but then I’d be so groggy and tired the next day that there would be no guarantee I’d have the stamina for writing.
Essentially—and this goes for other things besides writing—you could consider a cost/benefit analysis a helpful way of determining what to prioritize.
With that in mind, what are some great ways that you can take care yourself as a writer, assuming that you’re like most other writers and have jobs/school, family/friends, and myriad other day-to-day tasks to consider in your life?
Don’t sacrifice sleep. Yes, you might think it’s okay to shave off an hour of sleep every now and then to reach that word count, but those nights can add up and, worse, throw your body off its sleeping cycle so that when you try to sleep at your regular time, you struggle to do so (this is coming from my personal experience).
Don’t just value sleep, think of sleep as your ally with writing and creativity and general rather than this 8-hour block of wasted time. I’m just speaking for myself here, but my least creative days have been when I’m so exhausted that just thinking hurts my head. A rested mind is an imaginative mind.
Exercise. Not just for the sake of exercising (although you can do that, too) but because energizing your body and mind may be the best thing to help you focus your ideas better, not to mention give you the stamina needed to write, revise, and meet your reading goals.
If you’re into walking, you can take that time to get out of your head and focus on the world around you, which can be a great source of inspiration.
Value social support. I’m a writer, and I also consider myself an introvert. Stereotypically, these two qualities go hand-in-hand. What should not go hand-in-hand is the notion that writers are reclusive, antisocial people who would rather be holed in front of a laptop screen than ever interact with another human.
I’ll be honest and say that like many other introverts, I find that I need time to recharge after a lot of social interactions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value social support. Conversing with others can take your mind off the pressure of your writing projects, and there’s the added bonus that it’ll probably help make your dialogue more realistic (if you’re a good listener). Plus, it’s just a good feeling to know there are people out there who care about you and who won’t think less of you if your writing isn’t going as planned.
Adjust your expectations. Are you setting goals for your writing and reading that just can’t be achieved with the time you have? Or if you do achieve them, they’re coming at the cost of basic day-to-day necessities like sleep or exercise?
Every now and then as a writer, it can be helpful to ask yourself if you’re holding yourself to too high expectations. If you are, then you could get caught in a cycle of disappointment or you’re noticing you’re not doing as well at taking care of yourself as you once were.
I would love to be able to read a book a day. Seriously. But unless there’s a magic way to speed-read that I haven’t yet discovered, that will never happen on the vast majority of days. It’s always ideal to make time for writing and reading rather than trying to find that time in your preexisting schedule, but you might also want to build your goals with that writing and reading around other commitments.
Overall, don’t be afraid to prioritize your basic well-being. You can almost always make-up a missed writing session if you learn good time skills, but it’s hard to make-up a lost night of sleep. The goal here isn’t to achieve some sort of “life/writing balance.” Instead, look at how you can use regular, day-to-day life and self-care to fuel your reading and writing.