Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tips for Living a Somewhat Happier, Healthier Writer's Life

It may not seem like it to outsiders, but the writer's lifestyle can be both physically and mentally hazardous. The writer's life sounds nice, right? "No schedule! No office! No commute!" Everyone wants to work from home. But there are some challenges unique to the writer's lifestyle:

Entire days in front of a computer. (Not unlike an office worker, but maybe even worse, because we tend to work in places that are terrible for your posture and not with fancy ergonomic chairs/keyboards/mice.)

No colleagues, no workmates, no water cooler. I think this suits some people just fine, but for the average-to-social writer, it can be disheartening and lonely.

No boss. Some people thrive in self-driven work environments, and some have a hard time getting anything done without someone breathing down their neck. Many of us even fall in the middle—being self-motivated, but lacking the praise and affirmation from a boss for doing good work.

No office, no time sheet. Incentives to get out of bed in the morning run thin when no one's expecting you.

The uneven nature of a creative occupation. Some days, the muse just isn't there. (Though I've written a number of times on the topic of writer's block and why you shouldn't give it the time of day.) And this fair-weather friend nature of the work can make it tricky just do your job on a day-in, day-out basis.

But as people who think way too much about problems and probably even more about their possible solutions, I know we have answers. So I decided to write for you today a post about:

Tips for Living a Somewhat Happier, Healthier Writer's Life

Okay, okay, so happy and healthy is optimistic and a bit unrealistic, I realize, for people in our line of work. But you'd be amazed at what a difference just a few tiny changes every day can make in your overall mental and physical health. Here are just a couple simple routines I've put through rigorous human trials.

1. Stretch every day.

I know it sounds stupid and obvious, but really, how many of you actually do stretch every day? Or twice a day, even?

Stretching is, at it's simplest, a great way to stay flexible and keep the joints moving; it's also a really fantastic way to warm up and wake up in the morning, when everything is all stiff. But for people like us, who sit hunched over in a chair for significant portions of our waking hours, stretching also provides A) a good break from the routine and an excuse to stand up, and B) floods your body with all kinds of feel-good chemicals!

In addition, certain stretches will help counteract the stress you put on your body by sitting in a chair in front of a computer. I recommend these stretches in particular:

THE PIGEON. This is technically a yoga pose, but you can also just do it as a stretch, and I do. It's great for the tight hip joints you inevitably accrue from hours with your legs bent in a sitting position. (Pro tip: You do NOT have to do the part where you touch your foot or whatever. If you can't, then don't. Just the hip flex is enough most of the time.)

EAGLE ARMS. This one helps immensely with tightness in the upper back and right under the back of your skull—two places you stress a lot by looking down at a laptop. Do this one twice a day, if you can.

2. Get outside, if even for a short period of time.

Personally, I prefer to take my work outside my house completely (to a tea or coffee shop), but I also don't have any dedicated office space in my home—so for most people who do, just taking a walk around the block can be enough "outside" to give you breathing space from your computer and your thoughts. A little jaunt can be just what's needed to jumpstart ideas.

Frankly, though, getting to another place of work, even if it's not an office, can be fantastic for your focus and for your social happiness. Having a barista with whom you've built a rapport gives you a built-in "co-worker," as do the other regulars that start noticing you; the buzz of the coffee shop does a good job of imitating an office, making you feel like you're surrounded by people but not directly bothered by any of them; and it's a good place to meet other writers or freelancers for co-working.

3. Find or make deadlines.

If you don't already have someone imposing deadlines on you, and you find that you have difficulty finishing projects or focusing on them, making up your own deadlines can be immensely helpful. Write them on a calendar, set reminders on your phone, or get your spouse/partner/roommate/best friend to hassle you about meeting them. Or all of the above.

4. Ask someone to hold you accountable.

But don't ask someone you'll feel bitter towards for doing it (such as spouses or parents). Preferably this person is someone who loves you, but can get tough on you, too. Another writer or creative type is great for this role, as they understand what you're going through and will know when to get on your case or back off and let you be a little late delivering.

5. Block off time for writing.

Especially when so many things are demanding our attention (spouses, children, life), it's easy to let writing fall by the wayside as a "I can do this later" activity. Block off time on your calendar specifically for writing every day. Even if all you do is chew your fingers, that's okay. Sit down in front of the computer anyway and stare at the blank page, if you need to.

Tell the other people in your life about this time, and emphasize that it cannot be disturbed; it's sacred time, as sacred as going to church every week or playing Dungeons & Dragons or watching Sunday night football. Eventually, they'll get the picture, and may even check in on you to make sure you're writing or bring you cookies!

6. Set goals for yourself.

I like to write a tiny bit every night about what my goals are for the next day, writing or otherwise, and then I can feel really fantastic about it when I accomplish them.

- Set reasonable goals. Then, when you do meet them, you get that little rush of pleasure for having done it.

- Give yourself proper applause when you get the job done.

- Don't be so hard on yourself. If you do mess around a little or you don't meet your goal, have some compassion for yourself. You're just as important as anyone else, if not more so. Treat yourself with the same love you treat the people you care about most.

Our job is an unpredictable one at best, and sometimes we just don't have the mojo; while other times, the mojo comes in spades. Learn how you work best and embrace it.

And, most of all, remember that you are totally awesome. AND DO THAT SHOULDER STRETCH, YOU.


  1. I'll try out the shoulder stretch. I like going for a walk or a swim before settling down to work. Making plans and small tasks to accomplish every day helps. It's true, we mustn't be too hard on ourselves. No excuses, no mickey-mousing around, but always be kind to self, too.

  2. Great advice. It's so easy to get lost in revising and stay in a chair for hours!