We love our work. We love writing: the act of creation and the emotional release of finishing an important scene or story. We ignore how hard it is to create and we disregard the mental and physical strain of what we do.
Sometimes we need to check in.
Checking in with yourself is one of the healthiest things you can do as a writer. The healthier you are, the more you can create… and the world needs your words! So what does it mean to check in?
Most of us sit down to write. If you’re very lucky, you might spend several hours writing in a day. Even if you take frequent breaks, that’s a lot of sitting down. Over time, your physical posture settles. As you put more effort into describing your world and its characters, the tension weighs heavily on your body and leads to muscle and joint pain.
Think about your posture as you sit: are you upright or slightly hunched over? Are your feet flat on the floor or elevated? How do you hold your neck and head as you look at the paper or monitor? Checking on your physical position will help you make adjustments and release that tension before it sets up residence between your shoulders.
Don’t forget to stretch! Take a few minutes at least twice an hour to move around. Stand up if you’re able and stretch your legs. Bend down to touch your toes and do a few slow twists to help your lower back. Extend your arms and gently massage your hands—they’ve been doing a lot of work. Finally, try to look over each shoulder. Exercising your neck goes a long way toward avoiding or delaying the desire to collapse at the end of an extended writing session.
Writers have a lot to keep track of: setting and character descriptions, dialogue, relationships… a plot… In addition to our own lives, we also exist as fictional characters in other worlds. It’s exhausting being several people at once! Releasing physical tension helps clear your mind and keeps you focused on your project so you’re not constantly distracted by the stabbing pain just behind your left shoulder blade (you know the one).
Thinking about how much you have to think about as a writer can be overwhelming. Checking on your mental position a few times an hour helps you avoid writer’s block and burnout. I’m a huge fan of puzzles and memory games because they give me something mentally active while relaxing the creative side of my brain for a few minutes. I know, I know… it’s hard to stop when you’re on a roll but also consider how you got there: relaxing your creative side gives your subconscious time to work through a difficult situation.
Maybe your characters have been trying to tell you something for the last three chapters and you’re so worried about a big reveal in the next chapter that you’re not listening. A mental check-in session helps you give yourself time to rest and decreases stress.
Relax! Check the mail, walk around the block, or bask in pictures of scenic vistas or art. Look at something completely unrelated to your project notes. The three-minute journey to pour yourself a glass of water is plenty of time for your subconscious to solve a whole world of problems you might not have realized existed so you can come back refreshed.
Writers feel everything. We’re basically a raw nerve disguised as a human and we process the world differently from non-writers. We see how things could be, if only we had superpowers or what we could change if only we could travel in time. Life is an experience and we’re so excited to be here that we want to experience as much life as many times and in as many ways as we can. For every life event we mark off the invisible list, we pay an emotional tax.
Check on your emotional status: what do you like and dislike about your project? How do you feel about what’s happening around you compared to your characters? Are these emotions similar or different and is that okay?
We put a piece of ourselves into everything we write. Some compartmentalize their feelings so they don’t bleed into the story while others use those emotions as fuel. A physical stretch and a mental rest give you the time and space to process your emotions as well. By regularly considering what you’re feeling, you can teach yourself how to channel these powerful emotions into stronger, more vivid stories.
Checking in with yourself periodically can help you achieve more with each writing session. Being attuned to your physical, mental, and emotional self means easier access to your creative self and better writing results. Are you okay?
About the Author: Theresa Green is a co-founder of The Writer’s Workout, a developmental editor, and a fiction writer. Her passion for the well-crafted sentence and the constant support of the writing community help inspire her to learn more and push the perceived boundaries of genre. Though she prefers writing crime and historical fiction, she views every idea as an opportunity to try something new.