I’ve been writing short stories and novels for years now, and it has been a constant battle to balance my work life with, well, actual life.
There are a few things which bother me about the pursuit of a writing career. For one, there is this never-ending barrage of writing advice which I think can sometimes harm, rather than help; how to write the perfect first line/page/book, how to sell your soul to attract readers, follow these writing rules and if you don’t you’re the worst writer everrrr. Then there is this idea that we writers need to be writing every day. Or, we need to be pumping out at least 2000 words every day. Not only do I disagree this is necessary for cultivating a writing habit, but I think it can lead to stress and burnout. Some writers can work at incredible speeds and I admire them greatly, but I can’t. Not with a full-time job as well! Even if I got paid to write full-time, I wouldn’t spend eight hours writing non-stop. The brain needs a break.
I know too many people who sacrifice their sleep or health to fit writing in. And I understand that struggle, because if you’re a writer with a job you’ve likely written a line or two on your mobile phone from the company bathroom (No? Just me?) or skipped your lunch break to write, or balanced a laptop precariously on public transport.
And this isn’t including all of the responsibilities that come with life. Education. Family. Friends. Incredibly fussy pets. How do you fit it all in? Sacrifices have to be made somewhere. For me, it’s cutting back on my video gaming time. For others, it’s sleep. But cutting back on sleep isn’t the answer.
In my opinion, your health and mental health is the most important part of your life. Yes, even more important than writing. Why? Because you’re not going to write books if you’re dead!
Okay this took a dark turn.
The Body is a Temple for the Mind
But seriously. The body is a temple for the mind. Exercising regularly and eating well will take care of your body, which will in turn take care of your mind. It can’t cure crippling depression, but it can help boost your mood, and regular exercise can help you get away from your keyboard and give you a break from staring at a screen for hours. I’ve struggled with fitness and health, and I know that my absolute best work comes when I’m feeling healthy and happy in myself. I also know that certain foods, such as junk food, can really mess with my mood. Poor sleep, poor diet, and all the achiness and crankiness which comes with it actually does affect my mood. And when I’m feeling tired and grumpy, writing is the last thing I want to do.
So by taking care of myself, I’m actually making it easier to write and wasting less time overall. I’m building up my energy levels instead of relying on caffeine.
Boosting my mood helps my mental health, as does going for a walk in nature. Exercise doesn’t need to mean punishing yourself at the gym. It can be as simple as taking a walk in a park. I find that walks are the perfect accompaniment to writing as a walk can clear your mind and help you work through story ideas whilst also getting some fresh air. Next time you’re stuck with writer’s block, go take a walk – if your pandemic lockdown rules allow you.
Taking care of my health also means I’m less likely to die of a heart attack from stress aged 40. Not dying young means more time to write! You see, I’m doing this not just for myself, but for my books! They need me to be fit and healthy in order to write them. They’re depending on me to give them the best version of myself in order to make the words happen.
So now, to find that writing and life balance, I make sure I go for a walk every day before I start writing to warm up the ‘ol brain, and I take breaks in between if only to stretch my sore back.
I also make sure I get an adequate amount of sleep because rest is also important for the body and aids the recovery of whatever exercise I do.
It might look like time spent walking and sleeping could be spent on words, but in truth, I’ve saved myself time by not being miserable and tired. If I skip the walk, wake up at 4am, and then fall asleep on my desk with a migraine from drinking too much coffee, am I truly being productive? Nope. My words suffer for it.
Do yourself and your health a favour.
Care for it.
And then the words will come.