What I’m Learning About Self-Care | Writer’s Perspective (Part 1)

The term “self-care” has been on the lips of many for some time, but not as often as since the election of 2016. In the days and months following, many were angry, frustrated, discouraged, depressed even. Self-care was the pathway for many to place those emotions on a shelf.
Putting the election aside, I want to look at self-care from a writer’s perspective. Based on my working and writing life experiences, I’ll share bad choices I made in caring for myself. Over the last 14 months have had time to ruminate over the past and how it played a part in my current situation.

BEFORE THE FALL OF 2016 (AND HERE FALL ISN’T AUTUMN)

Over the past year and almost three months, time on my hands left me rethinking poor choices. While I pondered the struggle I faced in recovering from a fall, I began to wonder just how this had happened to me.

Because of degenerative disc disease, I’ve faced big hurdles including two spinal fusions. There is a history in my family for this particular spinal condition. And it doesn’t help that I have slight scoliosis.

When I retired in 2006, I was ready to put aside the long, 10-hour days sitting behind a desk. I was ready to write my memoir and get on with a simple, stress-free life. What I’ve learned is habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.

[tweetthis]Habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.[/tweetthis]

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

As I thought back over my working life up until 2016, I realized I had severely overstressed my body. I had taken no thought of what long hours sitting at my desk continuously was creating.

Retired 11 years and writing nine of those, my work habits carried over into my writing life. And by then surgeries and scar tissue compounded the bad habits.

Let me explain:

  1. From the start of each day, I sat all day except for restroom breaks and a stop for coffee on my way back to the desk.
  2. Pre-retirement, opportunities to stand came my way. For example, copy projects requiring several minutes needed someone to babysit them. But, we had an in-house copy service. I usually opted for their help because of my heavy workload.
  3. At noon, I rarely left my desk. I packed my lunch at home and ate it at my desk. During that lunch hour, I continued to work while eating.
  4. Until the last five years of my working life, the height of my desk or computer wasn’t adjustable. Secretaries insisted on the ability to raise and lower a section of our desks to provide the option to stand up. Yet, the feature was rarely used. With the pressure of court and other deadlines, we didn’t have time to make the adjustments.
  5. If required to work overtime, it included the dinner hour and on into the evening. This meant more hours of sitting in the same place, same position, and doing the same tasks. I’d already been doing this for the past eight hours.
  6. I loved my job, and I admired and respected the attorney for whom I worked. Always wanting to please my superiors, I never changed my working style over a period of 35 plus years. (This is perhaps a carryover from my childhood attempts at pleasing an abusive mother.)

WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

A lot of things. My spine surgeons, my neurosurgeon, and physical therapists provided recommendations. The choice was mine, and I made the wrong choices. Yet, my spine surgeons also told me that what had failed in my back wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of a condition that was going to happen no matter what. And it did.

As I look back, I regret the damage I may have done to my back. Even though my surgeons directed the fault elsewhere, I still wonder what I might have done. There are certainly elements of self-care I wish I had taken the time to inject into my daily schedule.

On Thursday, March 22nd, I’ll share tips on caring for yourself at the desk and computer

Share your thoughts below on self-care, your own struggles with caring for yourself while writing, and bring any concerns you have to the discussion.

One Word in 2017: Listen

Last week I wrote about three words–past, now, and future— to begin the year 2017. Today I want to share my One Word for 2017–listen.

The word “listen” doesn’t reflect excitement or adventure ahead. So why would someone pick it as their one word for an entire year?

Give a “listen” and find out…

Listening is important in all we do.

Dictionary.com defines listen as follows:

  • to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear
  • to pay attention; heed; obey.
  • to wait attentively for sound.

The word “attend” appears in each of the above definitions in some for or another. Perhaps the word implies the importance of learning because if we pay attention we generally pick up more instruction. Using the ear to give attention to someone or something implies giving our full attention.

WHY THEN would a writer choose the word “Listen?”

Perhaps to learn from others the grander points in the world of writing. Or perhaps the writer is hoping to pick up tips on things essential to publishing a book.

It seems it would be obvious that a writer may also be looking for ways to make his or her name known, and he or she listens for the names of those writers from whom to learn in the classroom, via podcast or video, or some other means.

PERHAPS THE WRITER LOOKS FOR DEEPER MOTIVATION

The hardest thing I try to do is listen to my own heart and mind. Those two places are where I believe everything I feel about my writing is stored. Storage places I can access in the quiet to listen to my personal dreams and desires about writing.

Do you find it hard to listen to your heart and mind as it relates to your writing life?

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT LISTENING TO YOUR HEART’S DREAMS?

Meditation comes close to what I believe is listening to our own thoughts and feelings, much like meditation can bring a person into communication with a higher power. Personally, I have always found it difficult to settle myself into a meditative state of mind. I was raised by a mother who believed we had to be busy 24/7. Settling into a meditative state takes great effort on my part.

The choice of the word “listen” forces me to practice a meditative state of mind in order to hear those things I hold dear about my writing life. If I don’t assume quietness, I will not hear the thoughts and dreams encouraging me to move forward in my writing practice.

In a few days, I will be sharing a post in which I pose a question to all of you about your own writing life. This is a question I have struggled with in 2016, and a question I have come close to answering this question in a way that may surprise you.

These are the kinds of questions I believe we need to spend some time reflecting on early each year to get our writing lives in order. This meditative state will not only help us focus on our dreams, but also on our writing.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Myself from Social Media

Last spring I, along with others, took a Lenten break from social media. When I returned, I wanted to know more about my presence on social media, including my blog. That’s when I turned to Frances Caballo and engaged her to check my social media sites as well as my website.
The results of Frances’s assessment provided good information, both positive and some not so positive. Eager to see what I could do with her suggestions, I moved ahead full tilt. And as reported in this post, I noticed some rising numbers and growth changes.

Frances even provided a schematic or schedule for posting to the social media sites I use. I have worked hard at prescheduling using Buffer and Hoot Suite. Of course, before you start scheduling, there is the step called curation, which also takes time. After curating and prescheduling, I felt an overwhelming strike against my writing time. Not only against my writing time but against my ability to keep up with certain blogs where I believe my community contacts are strong.

As a result, I’ve learned some things about myself. Most of them I already knew; some of them I didn’t realize until now.

Flickr via Sagle
Flickr via Sagle

1. I don’t like numbers, and I dislike counting them even less. I never liked math in any form growing up. I still don’t care for math which leads me to my newest discovery about self: it’s all about numbers. Not only do I not like numbers, I like analyzing and counting them even less.

I have heard all the arguments about numbers of followers, social analytics, and platform building. But I’m not sure I agree totally with their arguments. It seems those who enjoy social media and do well at it, and therefore accumulate the necessary numbers for a proper platform, are number lovers and counters. They enjoy the thrill of the chase. Everyone seems in the big race to see who can get the most followers, friends, likes, shares, and on and on and on. None of this holds any great interest for me.

I want to spend my days writing, not counting and analyzing numbers.

2. I’m an introvert who does not like crowds any better online than at a social gathering. Yes, I am an introvert. I’m happily married to an introvert. The good news is I can make myself “perform” at a social gathering doing the mix and mingle dance, but I don’t like it. My husband says I’m better at this than he is. On social media, the party or gathering includes people who follow you who have no profile info posted, the ones who want to sell you Twitter followers, SEO and marketing experts, software application outlets, and the beat goes on. I equate these to the dinner hour marketing phone calls we receive. I prefer to spend any time I have beyond writing communicating with those writers and readers I’ve come to know blog-to-blog outside the confines and requirements of social media. Lately, I feel I have lost touch with these fellow writers. And yes, spending time with them means I’m safely hidden away in my writing corner at home with my laptop and my kitty.

Dragonfly Coffee House
Dragonfly Coffee House

3. Lest you worry about me socially, I do have a few writing friends I gather with personally here in Portland and workshops I enjoy attending. Through the time social media extracts from my days, I had less time to spend with these people. I quickly learned I preferred being with these few than with the masses on social media. Sometimes it’s over lunch, over coffee, or browsing one of our great bookstores in Portland. We talk writing, share our work, and even give time over to fostering friendship between us. It’s the way I like to do business and friendship.

4. Some of the time I spend on social media detracts from my continuing education in the art of writing, and I consider ongoing education prime to my efforts. With the writing community available to me here and just down I-5 South, I have so many opportunities. It is often difficult to choose which one to take advantage of first. There are multiple Meetup Groups for writers in Portland, as well as Willamette Writers and Oregon Writers Colony, with Indigo Editing and PDX Writers offering workshops and classes, and people like Gigi Rosenberg, author and artist coach, who have found Portland to be the place they want to craft and teach (more about Gigi in #5 below). With all these entities offering so much, how can I spend time on social media and not increase my knowledge of my craft? Personally, I can’t, and I won’t.

5. A short time ago Gigi Rosenberg wrote an eye-opening and inspiring blog post, Be Your Own CEO. This post made an impact on my feelings about how I spend my days. In the post, Gigi talks about one of the assignments she gives when coaching artists. The assignment comes in two parts as you’ll see when reading her post. I decided to work through the assignment, knowing already what the answer would be.  Mine is the same as Gigi’s. And this is what she had to say:

For me, the one thing is to finish this revision of my memoir. Everything else in my life needs to support that one mission. Because I am the CEO of Me, Inc., and what I say, goes. …

Everything else is going to revolve around that one thing I want. Because I want it and I’m the boss of what I want.

Now, I know what you’re saying: That’s pretty selfish. Not really. We all want something, and most often we want it badly. So badly we are willing to do almost anything to get it. Why shouldn’t a writer, musician, artist, aspiring doctor or lawyer, other professionals, star athletes not do the same?

6. None of the above have mentioned my life outside of writing.  In order to cram everything into a 24-hour period with 5-6 hours of sleep each night, I have ignored my husband, necessary work on our small businesses, cleaning our home, cooking at my best level for two meals each day, making proper time for personal devotionals and prayers, forsaken my music participation with my husband, and for the most part have given up my love of needlework (quilting and knitting). Cutting out these things meant I had enough time for social media, the blog, and some of the book. Nothing about that seems quite fair, at least to me. There should be an hour or two each day to enjoy another creative outlet. And I’m going to do just that. Let’s not forget we should all be committed to our health and physical well-being, and I’ll admit I’ve been neglectful of mine of late.

7. The decision is made, and no one can change it. I am going to spend the bulk of my waking hours writing–my memoir, short creative nonfiction, blog posts. Also, I will take back my domestic duties (which I enjoy) and clean my home, do the laundry, and cook decent meals and in good weather help Farmer Meyer with the outdoor work. I intend to make sure nothing is left undone about the two small businesses Bob and I run. Church and daily prayer and devotion will take a greater priority. This is what I want to do, and I choose to do it.

Via QuotesCover
Via QuotesCover

I know there will be naysayers about the time needed for social media. Others will debate whether or not a person has to count numbers or not. Some will argue that I’ll never sell a single book without platform based in a grand social media presence. Even more will disagree with the time I spent on social media providing enough time to pick back up the chores at home and the things I do for others. And there may be some who will find something to say I haven’t even thought about yet.

They are entitled to their opinions. That’s why we choose to do all we can to keep this country free. However, as we used to say when we were kids, “Nobody is the boss of me!”

No, I’m the boss in this office, and I get to choose what priorities I set. I’m also allowed to choose which tasks I don’t need or want to do, especially if I find them hindering my best efforts in my chosen creative outlet, writing.

I hope you’ll find a moment to join in discussion and conversation below.

Five Things No One Tells You Before You Start Writing

5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE
5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE

If you’re a parent, or perhaps you have relatives or friends who are parents, do you ever wonder why no one warns about what parenting entails? If they did, the human race would eventually die off. Simple as that. Deceptive, yes. Helpful, no.

The same may be true of the craft we enjoy–writing. Have you noticed how many things you never knew about writing before you started writing?  There are many, but for purposes of saving time and getting back to our beloved craft, I’ll limit this list to five points.

1. Writing is a solitary activity.

Did anyone tell you this? No? I didn’t think so. No one told me either. I’m not certain why I didn’t realize it myself. Perhaps I had visions of writers gathering in coffee houses or quiet tiny cafes as Hemingway did in his day. But that is not the case. If I’m writing, I’m usually in a “room of her own” with the door closed to keep out the dancing cat who prefers to tap on the keyboard. Or I’m in a room at a local writing house and there alone.

But no one told me it would be like this!

“Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there.” ― Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy

2.  How long it takes to write a book.

No, not a single soul took the time to say, “You know this could take years.” Yes, there are those who have devoted years, sometimes a decade or more, to completing a novel or memoir. It may take you or me that long. We must be committed and/or dedicated to the task at hand to complete this work we’ve started now. It means writing every day, day in and day out.

But no one told me I might spend the rest of my life writing my memoir when I retired in 2006 and undertook this project!

3. It always takes more than one draft.

Who knew? You want to write a book so you sit down and you write. You finish the first draft and think you’re done and ready for an editor. But wait! That’s just your first draft. There’s more!

Many writers tried to tell us this but unfortunately we didn’t find their books until after we started our first project or we chose to ignore their sage wisdom:

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it. ~ Elmore Leonard

If we aspire to come close to any of these illustrious writers, we need to heed their warnings and remember that a first draft isn’t a finished manuscript.

4.  How many drafts you will write, revise, and edit before your manuscript is ready for a professional edit.

Yes, those quoted above tried to tell us there would be multiple drafts. After completing your first draft set it aside for a couple of days. Then go back and read it. Next step is edit, revise, repeat–several times. Whether you print it out or do this on your computer screen matters not. The words are the same. Just edit, revise and repeat. It’s somewhat like doing the laundry–killing your darlings and then cleaning up afterward.

In the days before computers, imagine the numbers of trees killed in an attempt by an author to write one book. Or think what recycling would be like if we were still using typewriters and sheet after sheet of paper. It would be an enormous task to dispose of all that paper today and continue to do our “greenest” to keep the environment healthy. Multiply the number of authors writing today by the number of pages in the average manuscript, and you’re talking billions and billions of reams of paper. At least today, we can do most of that before printing out a copy of our manuscript.

5. You need to build a platform.

No one mentioned carpentry, did they? Nope, never. I don’t care for carpentry. With a hammer and nails, I generally hurt myself. But that’s not what “build a platform” means.

In reality, building a platform is like branding a product you’re going to sell. In this case, you and your book are your product. It involves time spent on social media connecting with other writers and readers, blogging, networking, and more. But you say you just want to write. Well, that’s what most writers want to do. If you want to sell your book, it’s going to take some extra effort out there in the big wide world of social media, or as it’s called in the writing business building a platform.

A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. ~ Jeff Goins, Why Building Your Own Platform Is Essential

There are many other things I learned after the fact. But none of them nor these five above will keep me from enjoying the writing life.

To write each day is pure joy. To find a reader who on reading my words experiences my joy, now that is bliss.

What about your writing life? What things have you learned that you didn’t know before you started writing? Join in a discussion below.

And keep writing!