Deciding to write a book is exciting.
But the actual process of writing can be daunting.
Creative work takes time. It is often effortful, and it can exhaust you just as easily as energize you.
It’s also likely that your commitment to becoming an author has been added to a long list of other commitments in your life – your business, family, community, and the other paths you may be on as you live your life with purpose.
It’s critical, then, that in pledging to write a book you also pledge to practice self-care as part of the process.
This means developing practices that fortify you when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ve stumbled up against writer’s block, or negative self-talk is holding you back.
It means making a conscious decision to be kind to and fully support yourself in any given moment.
Below are some suggestions of the ways and “whys” for simple self-care practices to help you move forward with your book or any writing that you’re currently undertaking.
Breath work is one of the most effective and easiest self-care practices to embrace.
The simple act of breathing deeply can energize us, wake us up, calm us down, create clarity of mind, shift our mood and biochemistry, and aids our bodies’ natural detoxification process.
As a writer, you can start each writing session with a simple meditation focused on your breathing.
With mouth closed, breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of three. Hold the breath for three, and exhale for three, with mouth open. Keep your eyes closed throughout so as to maintain an inward focus.
Conscious breathing can also help during moments of anxiety or agitation when the words aren’t coming but the deadline is! An act as simple as taking three deep breathes can recalibrate the body and calm the mind.
Setting boundaries for ourselves is an act of self-care. This can be particularly radical for women. For many of us, there’s a long generational pattern of sharing our resources of time and energy and putting others’ needs first.
Yet, when we consciously set boundaries around our writing time and space we’re teaching others – and ourselves – to take it seriously.
And in doing so, we edge out some of the negative emotions, like guilt, anxiety and frustration, that often occur within us when our attention is turned away from work, family or other constant obligations.
We live in an age of busyness. And it’s easy to feel beset by looming deadlines and a growing task list. In these times, our ability to write well – or write at all – can stall.
But here’s what to do: Slow down when the pressure speeds up.
Take a moment to soothe your racing thoughts and feelings.
Be still. Be kind.
Wellness maven, and founder of Mama Glow, Latham Thomas, calls this “the power of pause.” It’s counter-intuitive to so much that we’ve been taught about “pushing through” challenging times or experiences.
But the truth is, productivity rarely comes from panic.
Studies have shown that, under pressure, the brain jerks into primal fight or flight mode, which is often why people experience a “brain freeze,” or feel their minds go blank when agitated or alarmed.
So pause. Gather yourself unto yourself, and listen to what you intuitively feel you need to do next.
In her best-selling book, Thrive, Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington, highlights the Taoist insight: Rest is prior to motion and stillness is prior to action.
Think on this. It’s a good reminder that sometimes stepping away is when we find the ability to step up.
Connect with others
Helen Keller said, “walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
This is so true.
When we feel wrung out by writing or the lack thereof, it’s often the kind words of others that help us to get our mojo back.
Calling up a friend, or better still, connecting with someone in person, even for a few moments, can fire up positive feelings and get us back on our writing track and feeling good about ourselves.
Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Love 2.0, writes that a warm smile or a friendly word from another, creates something called “positivity resonance” in our brains and bodies.
This involves an amazing synchronization of our biochemistry when we share a positive emotion. Our heart rates start to slow together, we unconsciously begin to mirror each other’s breathing and body language, all of which works to stimulate our friend’s positive emotion in our own brain.
And of course, for many of us, our favorite friends are our favorite books. Returning to a much-loved book – and not always the same one – is how I often nourish and comfort myself.
And not just when I’m battling with my own writing. But when I’m battling with the tests and trials of ordinary life too.
Books inspire. They can reassure and refresh us.
They can show us our cross to bear isn’t so difficult after all.
As Anne Lamott writes: “Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
And they can be, above all, soothing companions during times of conscious self-care.