Writing is, for many, a serious business – oftentimes literally. Like any other job or skill, writing can be hard on the body and mind. Sitting in a desk chair all day, brow furrowed, leaning in close to the screen, focused so hard you’ve forgotten to blink for a few minutes; all of these are part of the writer’s reality. Likewise, the mental strain is a part of it, too. Feeling foggy, being forgetful, losing track of where you are in your writing, and more are all signs of mental fatigue. Just because your body might feel fine doesn’t mean your brain can keep going – so, put down that pen or stow away that keyboard. It’s time to take a real break.

But caring for yourself as a writer goes beyond the occasional bubblebath or glass of wine. While those moments of respite can certainly help, consistent self-care and attention to mental wellness is key. These five reminders can serve as a great starting point to getting yourself situated in habits that help you keep your energy up and your stress levels down.

Note: this advice comes from a place of general understanding regarding mental health and wellness from us here on the KWL team. Please consult a professional if you need more in-depth and personalized advice!

  • Take a break – a real break

No, we don’t mean get up for 5-10 minutes and then come back to your desk. Taking a break of a day or, ideally, more, can help you feel refreshed when it comes to your writing. Your work will be better for it if you get a full day – or even a week – away from the writing desk. It gives your mind more than a moment to reset, reframe, and return to the matter at hand.

Planning a short day trip to a local park, visiting a friend for a quick chat, or even simply doing a relaxing activity at home are all easy ways to get your mind off of your writing for a brief period of time without totally losing track of the work ahead.

Have a deadline coming up that can’t be missed? Totally understandable. Try to schedule these breaks between major deadlines, and if it can’t be done, make time for it! Resting now will prevent burnout later, which is always a plus.

  • Balance your subject matter

Are you a writer of gritty thrillers or horror? Even if you like gruesome subject matter, you might be surprised by how it can affect you on a subconscious level.

Structure your writing schedule to give you a break from those three chapters of a brutal battle scene you just wrote. Shifting between scenes of action and violence to those lacking it will allow you to activate a different part of your imagination and thought process, giving the part of your brain that creates vampires, werewolves, and banshees a break. You’ll return with a better perspective on how to craft the perfect creature, I’m sure.

Likewise, if you find yourself hampered by historical world-building or a slow-burn romance scene, schedule in some time to spend writing an intense confrontation or steamy encounter between characters. The last thing you want is for your own writing to bore you! Keep up the excitement by switching between subject matter, and you’ll never have to worry about losing that same passion you harboured when you started your story.

  • Distract yourself

Seriously! Distraction is usually spoken of in the negatives when it comes to productivity, but sometimes, when the mind wanders, we find sparks of inspiration down unexpected paths. Don’t always force yourself to refocus or chastise yourself for losing track. If something has come to mind or piqued your interest, follow that train of thought for a while and see where it leads.

Often, the mind wanders when we find ourselves bored, confused, or otherwise unable to fully comprehend what is going on around us. The mind wandering is a sign of innate curiosity and problem-solving; as we are constantly seeking out new stimuli, it makes sense! So if you find yourself feeling stuck, welcome distraction.

  • Gameify your writing process

From our archives, check out our five tips on how to make your writing process feel like a game by Joan Selby. My personal favourite is this one:

“Now we’re talking about a real game. Habitica is a free app that lets you develop healthy productivity habits. You set precise goals, like write for 2 hours in the morning. The app will turn that challenge into a game. Your challenges will be presented as monsters that you’ll have to defeat in order to progress to higher levels. Plus, there’s a social network that adds a competitive and supportive aspect to it.”

  • Set up a schedule – and then don’t stick to it

This may be controversial, but writing schedules can often hinder rather than help. It’s great to have one, but only when it isn’t restrictive. Forcing yourself to sit down and write for two hours a day when you can only manage fifteen minutes isn’t going to help; rather, that immense pressure will make you feel worse. Stick to your schedule as best you can and readjust when necessary.

If you have to hit a deadline, don’t immediately stress about the schedule. See where you can make time and alter dates, maybe even change the deadline altogether if possible. It’s important to prioritize getting the work done, of course, but not if you or the writing suffers due to your schedule. Speaking of games, in the video game industry, an oft-used quote offers the following wisdom: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”

Replace “game” with “novel,” and there you have it. Even the most impatient readers would surely rather wait a little longer for an excellent story than sit with a rushed and inadequate one. Instead of spiralling due to stress, remember this quote and settle into it. I promise that your schedule can wait!

  • Remember that your brain is part of your body

And, like the body, the brain needs rest and fuel. Making sure you get enough to eat and drink and a good night’s sleep are necessary for the brain to function, too. This is, in fact, probably the most important schedule to keep up with. Prioritizing the body’s needs will ultimately result in better writing, faster output, and, ultimately, a more enjoyable time for everyone involved.

How do you take time for yourself as a writer? Leave others some helpful advice below!

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