Have you been stuck at the literary coalface for sometime? Are you in need of writer self-care?
This fabulous guest post from author Abi Yardimci is for you.
If you’ve not checked out Abi’s books than I strongly suggest you do. Her books are funny, enchanting and carry several inspirational life lessons.
Over to you, Abi.
Five Self-Care Secrets That Make me a Better Writer . . .
Anyone who knows me will tell you that they have heard me bang on about the importance of self-care on many occasions.
It only took me forty-two years to reach the conclusion that without self-care we simply cannot be what we need to be in the world. Whether that’s a friend, a lover, a parent, a sibling, a dreamer, a go-getter, a tea-drinker, a Doritos-devourer or all of the above, without caring for ourselves even a teensy bit, none of those things will have much longevity.
(And let’s face it, who doesn’t want longevity when it comes to Doritos?)
I won’t bore you with the many, many self-care strategies I have developed over the years. There are too many of them to count now. And it’s different strokes for different folks, isn’t it? One person’s scented candle collection is another person’s hell on earth.
I’m not here to tell you how to spend your precious time but I would definitely promote the avid noticing of where one gets one’s thrills. If it makes you feel good then it could improve EVERYTHING if you make it a priority. No guilt. No excuses. Just do it.
And I’m living proof. It wasn’t until I started taking notice of what made my soul sing that I started doing what I’ve always secretly wanted to do: write.
So here are my top five self-care secrets that I know, from years of experimenting, make me a better writer (and a better person too):
I’ve always loved a good yarn but after my English Literature A level five squillion years ago, I kind of forgot to make reading a regular thing. However, once I had kids and started reading with them (the absolute pinnacle of my social calendar was reading ‘Room On The Broom’ to two maniacal children), I was pleasantly pummelled by the memory of the value of reading.
These days I always have a book on the go. I am practically a walking book club and am constantly asking people I meet what they’re reading, why they’re reading it, how it made them feel and what they’re going to read next.
I guess it makes sense that reading of its own accord would make me a better writer. As I turn each page I’m unconsciously learning about style and syntax and story structure and characterisation. But more than that . . . with my self-care goggles on I am also a.) resting my body, b.) feeding my mind, c.) unfurling my imagination, d.) retreating away from the pressures of the outside world, e.) learning new stuff, f.) taking a break from social media, g.) ignoring the kids . . . well, I think you get the idea, yes?
I know, predictable, right? I’m not apologising though, as I honestly couldn’t list my self-care routines without mentioning yoga. And before you all imagine me manipulating my toned, peachy body into a headstand, please take a chill pill.
I am most definitely NOT in the yoga for the crazy postures and the washboard tummy (neither have yet occurred). I am in the yoga for the slow-down, the daily re-introduction to my breath, the switching-off of the mental barrage and the switching-on of the connection to my body (oh look! I actually have one).
I have a favourite You-Tuber who I follow avidly and she helps me find the humour and the humility of yoga. I take her cue to make it my own. I ignore all glossy-magazine-type images of how yoga should look, and instead celebrate the messy heap of limbs that I am. Finally away from the intense headspace of being a writer, through yoga I experience space and joy and peace and flow and length and strength and sometimes, just sometimes, I get the most kick-ass ideas for my books. Now if that’s not worth twenty minutes out of my day then I don’t know what is.
As I write this, we are in Lockdown #3 here in the UK. Life has rarely seemed bleaker for so many people. We are told, no, lectured, from all angles about what we should and shouldn’t be doing for our mental and physical health (as well as everybody else’s). It is exhausting. The first time round, we were in the throes of spring and the balmier weather made everything seem more possible. Now we’re caught in the clutches of winter. Our mornings and evenings are drenched in inky blackness and our daytimes rarely struggle free from the grasp of ever-present grey. We’ve never needed colour more than we do right now.
And that, my dear friends, is why I like to experiment with ‘mental’ hair colours (my sons’ description, not mine), with vibrant nail varnishes, with clashing tones of loungewear. If my hair is flamingo pink when I glimpse myself in the bronzed reflection of the oven door as I cook fish fingers for the bazillionth time, then all feels better with the world. If my fingers nimbly flash blue and silver as I type this blog post, there’s more of a smile in my soul. If my friend gapes at the orange and purple slouchy spectacle she sees before her as she drops off some banana bread at my doorstep, then aren’t we all the better for it?
I had a writing lecturer at university who once berated me for using the word ‘colourful’ in a story I’d written. “What do you even mean by that?” He asked, clearly vexed. “You have to give us the colours, describe the colours, feel the colours.” Skip forwards a few years and one of my kids’ five-year-old friends gawped at my ocean-coloured hair and asked me why I made my hair that way. “For fun!” I happily replied.
And I meant it. Colour is fun. And colour evokes so many things, feelings and memories. I’m all for the colour.
Sometimes, for me, self-care is about being on my own and withdrawing into my own little sphere of comfort (cue all the books, yoga and hair-dyeing). But quite often, it is also about having a walk with a friend, sharing a pizza or giggling about mutual parenting incompetencies.
This one is currently hard on account of the Lockdown #3 I mentioned above. We’re all connecting in completely new and not entirely welcome ways at the moment. And we’re missing the silent, wild relief of a hug, the comforting rush from a tight hand-hold, the hearty and reassuring thud of a pat on the shoulder.
If there’s one thing I have noticed about my writing getting steadily better, it’s that the more connections I make, the more potential it has. There’s no way I could experiment with the rhythms of language, or multiple story perspectives or quite simply the dreams and motivations of my characters were I not able to spend time with actual people. Because it’s actual people that make a story happen, isn’t it? – people that write it, people that become it, people that enhance it, people that devour it and people that share it. Next time I feel like ignoring all the people in all the world I would do well to remember that.
5.) Not Writing
There’s something that often goes straight to the top of the self-care list. When I’m stuck or bored or frustrated or just plain knackered I have to admit one thing to myself . . . it’s time to stop writing. Just like you’d take breaks from any kind of work so that burn-out doesn’t occur, stopping writing is important.
I once took myself off on a self-made writing retreat. My kids were young and I was really pissed off that I had no time for writing so I announced to my husband that I had pilfered a cottage in Scotland for the weekend and I was taking the chocolate Hobnobs so that writing could take over my being. I had to write a tricky few chapters of my Life Is Yours trilogy and it certainly wasn’t going to get done in a house that favoured potty-training over clever metaphors.
Anyway, it didn’t go as planned. Because it turns out that isolating oneself in the remote wilderness of the Scottish borders, miles from any shop that might be able to replenish the chocolate Hobnobs, does not the best writer make. It was all just a bit too much.
So for my sanity, my social skills, my confidence and yes, for my writing, I know now that it is a good idea to step away from the laptop. It is very rare anyway, that I get genius story ideas whilst sitting in front of a screen. That’s the position I need to be in to tease them out and craft them, but not to witness them come forth. For that I might need to lose myself in a good book, a crappy attempt at warrior pose, a particularly intense application of flamingo hair dye or a heart-felt guffaw with a friend. Or maybe none of those. Therein lies the fun.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top five self-care secrets. What are yours? Will you tell?
Thank you Lucy for inviting me to write for your blog. I’ve really enjoyed it and was delighted that you asked me. Let’s do it again soon!
Abigail’s first two novels, Life Is Yours and Destiny Is Yours, which are part of the #LifeIsYoursTrilogy are available NOW on Amazon.
You can also sign up to be on her Readers List AND bag yourself a FREE hidden prologue to the Life Is Yours Trilogy at http://www.abigailyardimci.com
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