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Writing and Health

June 13, 2012

When I started this blog, I was in graduate school. I called it Writing at Midnight for two reasons. First, nighttime is when I am most motivated to write. It’s when my creativity starts flowing. Secondly, because the image of the writer scrawling stories by candlelight is an iconic one. Writers are imaginative. We don’t sleep, and when we do, we are haunted by dreams. And everything is stories.

In grad school, I didn’t have a regular schedule. I didn’t have to get up at particular time. I could stay up all night and sleep all day. I could do what I wanted, as long as I got my work done.

Life isn’t like that anymore. I have a full time job. I have a real schedule. Weekdays I work, weekends I have chores to do. I’m a grownup.

As I mentioned previously, I am doing CampNaNoWriMo. I don’t have much to say about that, except that I’m doing well. I expect to break 30k words tonight. And I believe I’m producing a solid first draft. I’m putting a lot of effort into writing this month, and I think it’s paying off.

And yes, I did book a hotel suite to give myself a night of distraction-free writing. I wrote 12k words that night.

But yesterday, I didn’t write a single word for CampNaNo. And I don’t feel guilty.

Because that iconic image of the writer, the sleep deprived writer hunched over a piece of paper scribbling frantically as the flickering candle flame casts strange shadows in the dark room, is not a good one. And it is not a healthy one.

I use to be harsh on my body. I ate poorly. I didn’t exercise. I lived in front of my computer. I stayed up late and spent each day tired. It’s a wonder I wasn’t severely overweight. But lately, I’ve been making a lot of lifestyle changes. I’m trying to be healthier. I’m trying to nurture my body instead of punish it. And it’s changed the way I think about things.

Yesterday, I was tired and sick. I felt horrible. Screw the wordcount. I went to bed.

People always complain about finding time to write. That has never been an issue for me. It’s really easy to make time to right. What I have trouble with is finding energy to write. While I have seen an increase in daily energy since I changed my lifestyle, that doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I am just too tired, or I don’t feel well. If I’m exhausted, it doesn’t matter how much time I have because I’m not going to being doing anything creative.

To all of you people who say, “You must write every day no matter what!” I say, “You’re wrong.” I will write every day that I possibly can, but if I am sick, and I am tired, then forcing myself to write does nothing except exhaust me further. Writing is a profession, and like any profession, you need to be dedicated. But one thing we forget in our society is that health is important, too.

People run themselves ragged for their jobs every day. They push their hardest and then push harder. They work long hours, come home late. They sign away their rights to a lunch break. They get home and have a few hours to figure out dinner and deal with anything they need to deal with in their lives before they can go to bed and do it all over again. As a writer, it’s so easy to lose sense of time writing. As a writer with a full time job, it’s easy to come home after working all day, and then work further, late into the night, on a novel.

Am I saying that spending time on writing is bad? No, of course not. But it should fit into your schedule in a way that in healthy and manageable. Write on your lunch break. Write while you watch TV in the evenings. Write on the bus. Write while you’re waiting for a meeting to start. Wait until the weekend and write from ten to noon every Saturday and Sunday morning. Do it however you can. And if you are not feeling well enough, don’t do it. Let your mind and your body rest if it needs to rest.

You should not have to sacrifice your health for anything. But in our society, it’s often unavoidable. I’m not going to preach to you to change your diet and start exercising and whatnot because that’s your business. But as a writer, I’m asking you to please take care of yourself. You don’t owe anybody anything. Write if you can, when you can, if you can make it work, but don’t run yourself into the ground. Doing that is not a positive thing no matter what masterpiece you produce in the end.


From → General Advice

  1. I couldn’t agree more about taking care of ourselves…now to do a better job of that myself…You’re doing so well with Camp NaNo…love your idea of booking a hotel room to get more writing in…

    • Thanks! It really helped. My word count is slowing down to a crawl lately, though (not including the day I didn’t write because I was sick). I must get motivated again!

  2. Eve permalink

    I too cannot *stand* the chorus of “ZOMG YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY!!1” that’s trotted out by so many How To Write books. I get it, you need to actually sit down and write if you want to be a writer.

    But berating yourself and feeling bad because you miss a day here or there is just, as you point out, plain unhealthy. Not just for the body, but for the head as well.

    As I’m doing June’s Nano too, there really *is* something great about going: “Okay, I can’t write today, but I will catch up by doing X, Y or Z.” And I know even a planned day of not writing is spent thinking about writing. Ah, it all works out in the end. If you’re meant to write, you’ll write.

    Anyway, thanks for liking my blog. I’m delighted to have found yours!

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s surprising how long it took for me to learn this lesson. I’d done NaNoWriMo a few times before. The first time, I had to quit early because the pain of the temporary carpal tunnel it had given me was becoming too much. I can’t believe I hurt my wrists that long for a writing project. I would never do that today.
      I’m learning to not stress if I miss a day for good reasons. And I agree with you, something about having to plan around it is oddly comforting. It makes it all seem more manageable without questioning your dedication.

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