Writing and self-care

Life gets rough sometimes. That’s true no matter what type of job you have–something in the arts or something in science; something in the public sector or something in the private sector; something that pays a lot or something that pays very little.

People talk about self-care a lot lately. While some of them may be close to rolling their eyes when they hear or speak the phrase, I don’t think that makes talking about it any less important. Especially if you’ve had a hard time prioritizing it in the past.

As someone who’s trying to build a writing career while working full time (and, you know, spending time with family, having some sort of a social life, sleeping, those sorts of things), I’ve definitely fallen into that category at times. Then, of course, I burn out. I lose a significant chunk of my energy and motivation, and a lot of areas in my life suffer for it. During those times, writing somehow tends to be both a stress-inducer and something I long for.

That last sentence is what I want to talk to you about today–the relationship I’ve found exists between writing and self-care. While I’ll talk about what I’ve experienced or found works best, I’m hoping that that others can take something away from it.

When self-care means writing

Writing means different things for different people. For some, it’s purely an act sought out for entertainment. For others, it’s a way of relieving stress or working out feelings. For most, I think, it’s a bit of both.

I fall into that last category. Exactly what writing does for me often depends on two things: what I’m writing and what sort of frame of mind I’m in at the time.

Times when I’m feeling stressed, or sad, or anxious, or any number of other things, I pull out my journal. I can get my feelings out better, or figure out a problem more effectively, if I write everything out. Whereas if I try to sort it out only in my head, I end up going in circles. Which, of course, leads to worse feelings.

That said, sometimes I sort my feelings or problems out by transferring them to a character. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Whether we do it consciously or not, I think writers sometimes find that the only way to really address what they’re dealing with is to drop a character into that particular, or a similar, situation. It provides a bit of distance from the feelings or problem, which I find can be quite useful. It lets me look at it all more objectively.

What happens, though, when writing isn’t helping? What if it’s making things worse?

When self-care means no writing

As much as I love to write, I won’t hesitate to admit that it can be frustrating. Maybe the words don’t want to come. Or maybe they’re there, but I don’t have time to write them down. Or maybe I’ve been staring at the same page for ages and I just can’t figure out how to make it better. Or maybe a thousand other possible situations–just take your pick.

That’s when writing has stopped being an act of self-care. That’s when it’s become potentially dangerous to my level of stress, or to my mood, or to my self-esteem. That’s when I need to take a step back.

At this point, I turn to other self-care methods. I have my favourites–everyone does–but they all involve the same thing: I don’t write for a while. It might be for a few hours, or it might be for a few days, or it might be for longer. I’ve learned that I need to let it take however long it needs before I can fall back into my usual rhythm.

So, now I’d like to hear a bit about your relationship with writing. Do you find it’s a form of self-care? The opposite? Or some melding of both?

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