If you’re a writer, it’s so easy to simply focus on your productivity. You know, the output that gets more words on the page whenever you sit down to write. But as much as productivity is important for writers, so is wellbeing. Without it, all that productivity and output will go to waste as you crash headlong into the burnout abyss.
So what can you do to look after the input as well as the output? Taking time to make your writer’s wellbeing a top priority is a good place to start.
7 ways to improve your wellbeing
As with any new habits, the simpler you can make them the more likely it is you’ll do them on a regular basis. What puts a lot of people off establishing wellbeing habits is the fact they can add even more to your already overwhelming to-do list.
So making small changes – or tweaks – rather than overhauling your whole routine is more likely to be sustainable in the long run.
Let’s look at some of these small changes you might need to focus on.
More and more research has emerged recently on the importance of sleep for wellbeing.
Gone are the days of ‘burning the midnight oil’ when it comes to productivity. But it’s not only feeling ready and raring for a writing session that matters, lack of sleep can impact your overall physical and mental health too.
Research by Dr Matt Walker – and others – has shown the detrimental effect poor sleep can have on our risk of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as inflammation throughout the body.
Moreover, a lack of deep sleep can affect our mental health too – as it’s during deep sleep that the brain undertakes its emotional therapy and repair.
According to the research, the optimum amount of sleep is 7-9 hours a night. You might struggle with this number, particularly as sleep can be disrupted due to small children or menopause. But aiming for as much as you can within this range is ideal.
Small change to try: Start by changing your bedtime by 10-15 minutes and build more hours of sleep from there.
Movement is important for physical health, you already know that. But did you know that it’s also linked to greater creativity?
During a conversation on the Feel Better Live More podcast, neuroscientist Shane O’Mara explained how walking regularly improves memory function, learning and creativity. And building in a practice of taking a short walk before embarking on anything creative can do wonders for the outcome of the session.
But as much as it’s important for the brain, movement is important for your body too. And not just for better cardiovascular and muscle health. Getting up from our writing space regularly is important for keeping our joints and nerves in prime condition too. Take it from someone who has needed three months of physiotherapy to treat a herniated disc in her neck.
Getting up and doing regular stretches throughout the day can really help avoid back/neck/shoulder pain. They don’t have to be for a long period of time either – just one or two minutes a few times a day should keep things ticking over nicely.
Small change to try: Set an alarm on your phone to get up at least once an hour. Stand up and walk around for a bit. Then stand with feet shoulder-width apart and slowly write the letters A, B, C with your head to keep your neck and shoulders from tightening up.
What we eat is just as important for our health as movement is. But for writers, it’s important to eat the right kind of foods to ensure we’re helping cognitive performance and our ability to focus on the task at hand.
In this article from Healthline, the types of food that really boost our energy levels include oily fish, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. But – and this certainly brightened my day – dark chocolate and coffee too.
Everyone knows the food and diet that works best for them – and I’m no nutritionist – but eating as many foods to help keep our brains healthy is certainly a great starting point. Eating a highly-processed and sugar-filled diet means we’ll suffer from the inevitable mid-afternoon slumps and poor quality of sleep.
Small change to try: Look at the foods for brain health and choose one or two you could add to your daily food plans.
We’ve all heard about the importance of drinking lots of water, but what are the benefits for a writer’s wellbeing, other than giving us another excuse to get up when writing gets hard and visit the loo?
Again it comes down to our brains. Keeping our brain hydrated has myriad benefits including:
Better concentration and enhanced short-term memory
Improved focus and decreased mental fatigue – this is especially important when running! Building mental resilience is highly beneficial
Stronger cognitive functioning across the board, including more alertness, less confusion, and even improved learning
But learning to add a water drinking habit to your day can be a challenge – particularly if you’re not used to it. There are apps and trackers to help you if you want extra support. But you can always tag it onto an existing habit – a process known as habit-stacking.
When you get up for regular movement breaks and neck stretches, drink a glass of water too. It’s something I heard WWE Chairwoman, Stephanie McMahon, talk about on the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years ago. Rather than trying to remember to sip water throughout the day, she has one big glass of water at regular intervals instead.
Small change to try: Stack your water habit onto something you already do – if you’re a regular tea/coffee drinker, why not add it to the habit of flicking the kettle on? While the kettle boils, drink your glass of water.
As a writer, we can be our own harshest critics – never quite feeling we’re good enough or worrying what other people think about the work we’re producing.
This is where looking after our mental health is really important. It’s all too easy to let that inner critic take over and start believing those negative thoughts it whispers into your ear. Developing the ‘write’ mindset is such an integral part of being a writer that it pays to take time to nurture it and make it an important part of your daily writing practice.
What might that look like? Well, it could be using daily affirmations about your writing – e.g. I’m a confident and capable writer. Or it might be printing off lovely reviews you’ve received that you can use to silence that inner critic when it rears its head.
Whatever works for you is what’s important here. Never mind what other people are doing, find something that resonates and keeps you moving forward.
Finally, learning to accept that not everyone will love your work goes a long way to keeping your mental wellbeing in check. It’s a harsh reality of being a creative person, but it’s actually pretty liberating to embrace the concept. Being vulnerable and pushing through the ickiness of this truly helps.
Small change to try: When comparisonitis or fear of judgment comes calling in any area of your life, what helps you gain perspective? Is it taking time away from social media? Is it journaling? Using strategies that have worked for you before can easily apply to your writing.
As much as developing good writing habits is imperative to getting your book out into the world, so is finding the time to relax and switch off from writing too. You might find that when you’re in the throes of writing your book, the thought of relaxing is very far from your mind.
But relaxation is such an important part of a writer’s wellbeing that it deserves its own bullet point! Getting a good balance of writing and relaxing will, ironically, improve your writing in the long term. You’re in a better place to work hard when you need to and less likely to burn out. If you never give yourself time away from your manuscript, you may find yourself losing a little love for it… or a lot!
Taking a day or two away can help you gain greater clarity on certain chapters or points you’re trying to make. Doing other creative endeavours can help too – things that establish that all-important ‘flow state’ without the weight of expectation or success.
Small change to try: Build relaxation time into your diary – as well as slotting in writing sessions, pop in some time for rest and relaxation too. You’re more likely to take it if it’s a not-to-miss diary appointment with yourself.
Staying motivated throughout the many months of writing and editing a book can be difficult. At the start, you’re full of natural enthusiasm and eagerness to get the ball rolling. But as time goes on and the challenge of writing a book comes into full swing, your motivation is likely to wane. Which in turn can be counterproductive to your wellbeing.
So how can you keep motivation levels high? Simple things work best. Logging your daily word count is one way to keep yourself enthused – there’s nothing like watching your word count grow on a spreadsheet or a wall calendar. Celebrate the small wins too – when you hit a significant word count milestone, be sure to mark it in some way. Maybe it’s a cup of your favourite coffee or treating yourself to a trip to the nail salon.
If neither of these floats your writing boat, why not try an accountability partner? Sharing your word count with someone and receiving encouragement can keep you going through those weeks when you feel like you’re trudging through the metaphorical swamp.
Small change to try: Find a way to record your word count – a spreadsheet can work wonders as a simple way to see the numbers climb. If not, keep a log somewhere visible – e.g. the fridge – so you’re constantly reminded of how far you’ve come.
So which of these wellbeing habits will you try? You can find more support for your mindset and habits in my latest book, Dare to Write, which takes you through the process of writing your book from start to finish.