Writers are some of the hardest-working people I know. I don’t mean that in a good way. I see most of them, myself included, forgoing exercise, sleep, and meals in pursuit of their passion.
Since becoming a full-time freelance writer two months ago, I’ve pulled 60+hour weeks spent launching my business, doing freelance writing tasks, and working on personal writing projects. Writing, obviously, takes up most of my time. And while it’s not particularly challenging to me because I’m highly experienced in it, I’ve come to a realization.
Writing is still mentally intensive, especially when it’s your own work.
Worse, we feel an urge to do it, a twisted need to do something that we know will consume and frustrate us. I felt the urge to write tonight, and so here I am, banging out yet another blog. I need to write, but I’m exhausted by my endless hours at the keyboard.
I know it’s not good for my productivity. I know that I’ll be more equipped to get into the flow, or heck, just inspired by new experiences, if I get away from my desk and do other things.
Why, then, is it so hard?
Force yourself to take a break.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Pomodoro technique, in which you toil for 25 minutes (a pomodoro), then force yourself to take a 5-minute break. After four pomodoros, take a 15–30 minute break. I know this sounds disastrous for productivity, but it has the opposite effect. By taking a mental rest, you can recharge your brain and get more done during the pomodoros.
The problem I’ve been wrestling with is whether or not to interrupt a flow for your break. I usually write for 45–60 minutes uninterrupted. Is that my pomodoro length? How can I ensure that I can get back into flow?
Take a creative break
One possible solution is to use your “break” in pursuit of your creativity rather than just browsing Facebook. Call me old-fashioned, but I do a lot of my planning and goal mapping on paper rather than digitally. For one thing, it gets me away from the computer. For another, it puts your brain into a different mode, one of reflection and idea generation rather than “work.” So far, it’s helped me get back into writing while technically counting as a “break” from the task at hand.
Nourish your mind
For goodness’ sake, eat! Not at the computer! It is extremely important to get proper nutrition. Stock up on those omega-3s to boost your mind rather than relying upon caffeine or alcohol (ahem). Drink water, ideally without sugar in it.
Most writers read voraciously, but are you actually reading or are you skimming? Take the time and slow down with a good book rather than manically trying to get through your Safari Reading List. Let your mind become immersed in the words. Let those inspiring alpha waves kick in. It will make you a better writer.
Don’t kick yourself
Recently, I’ve made it a point to submit to some big publications. I spent hours researching how to make the perfect pitch, then another few hours crafting the pitch. I sat on several stories for weeks, then lifted my finger on and off the touchpad at least a dozen times before hitting “send” on those emails. And…nada.
I know I shouldn’t feel too discouraged because I only submitted to a few pubs and thousands of other writers are doing the same. I hadn’t been rejected by enough editors to feel offended. The odds were against me anyway.
Still, I feel like my hard work should have set me apart from the crowd. Were my ideas not unique? Was I a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect? I began to agonize over my drafts. Had I mistyped “public” as “pubic”? Had I made a huge error in logic? Were the editors opposed to the Oxford comma?
I’ve been a full-time writer for years, even before I went freelance. It was always interesting to talk to other writers who were trying to get magazine articles or novels published. They had to fight for it, while I worked with one editor and my work was always accepted because I was a staff writer.
Now, I regularly produce work that isn’t “my best,” simply because I produce too much. It’s impossible for it all to be the best. Still, I feel like my best words have been used up this year. As I write this piece, I’m filled with self-doubt, wondering if you, dear reader, will hate it. I won’t be offended if you do, but I’ll be disappointed in myself for not doing better.
Still, I’ve learned a lesson after two months of intensive writing.
When you write for most of your working hours, you’re bound to dry up at times, and it’s important to trust that the words will return. It’s essential to your mental health to forgive yourself for missteps and let rejection go gently. You didn’t choose to be a writer — you felt a need to put your experience into words and an urge to craft stories from nothing, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
I don’t agree that writers who are struggling need to “just keep writing.” Don’t abuse yourself. Take time to refresh and recharge. Go out there and see the world, then come back and write about it.
The key to self-care for writers is self-forgiveness. We are in an industry filled with rejection, arbitrary rules, mental exhaustion, and clients who think that this is easy.
We must allow ourselves to appreciate our own power. We are writers — we can create something from nothing. All that work deserves a little break and self-love, don’t you think?