Nancy: Self Care for the Creative Soul

Self-care: the gift that keeps on giving.

Today, I have a good-news/bad-news story to share with you. First the bad news: I almost had a surprise for you, but couldn’t quite pull it off. You see, I’ve actually been working on my long-neglected, hella-frustrating, partially-broken website this past week, and I came sooooo close to being able to do a big reveal of the fully functional site today. Then it turned out I could only get so far without tech support doing something blah blah staging site blah blah DNS I dunno. Anyway, the support people I need don’t work on the weekend, so I’m in a holding pattern until later today (if you’re reading this on Monday).

The good news, in case you didn’t realize it, was actually buried in the description of the bad news: I have been working on my website. And it’s close, really, really close to being functional. Close enough for me to say I might actually be able to finish it without hiring outside help! I should know more by the time I do my next post, so stay tuned.

While I’ve been working on my website, I’ve also been finishing one book, starting the discovery/first draft of a new story, waiting for editor feedback on my novella and novel 1 of the romance series…you get the idea. There aren’t enough hours in the day and there’s always more I could be doing. The risk of burnout and stress meltdowns is high. But I don’t have time for that! So I’ve been trying some things to keep me sane, centered, and creative.

1. Yoga. I’ve done some amount of yoga for years, but only got serious about a three-day-a-week practice a little over a year ago. That’s when I discovered the joy of classes with words like power and intensity in their names. While it might sound like I was just looking for another physical challenge to try (and ok, yes, in the beginning I was), I learned that this type of hard-core yoga does something for me that more reasonable types of yoga do not. It gets me out of my head and into my body. Boy-howdy, does it focus the attention on the body. The classes I take are only 45 minutes to an hour long, but for that period of time, I’m not worried about character arcs or flat scenes or getting emotion on to or off of the page. ‘Book? What book? I have been in Warrior III for 2 uninterrupted minutes!’

Bonus yoga: I recently added morning and break-time sun salutations to my day. I’m still trying to get into the daily habit, because when I spend the first few minutes after getting out of bed doing this gentle yoga stretching sequence, I really do feel better. And this has become my go-to for the times of day when my energy wanes. Next time you think you need a nap, try three sun salutations instead!

2. Meditation. Not only is meditation good for calming thoughts of overwhelm, it’s also good for your health and well-being. It helps you sleep better, lowers blood pressure, and improves concentration. What’s not to like? Well, other than the fact that I’m terrible at it. I’ve tried incorporating a daily practice, switching up times of day I’m doing it, and using guided meditations. I still spend most of my meditative time with my mind wandering.

Recently, though, I did have a bit of a breakthrough. While desperately searching for a short, relaxing meditation to help my insomnia, I stumbled across a 5-minute practice called Breathe (on the Bhuddify app, if you’re interested). All you do is focus on your breath, naming each part of the breath cycle. For example, I focus on ‘beginning’ through the inhale, ‘middle’ at the top of the breath, ‘ending’ through the exhale, and ‘break’ before the next breath. You can do it anywhere, in any position, for as long or as short a time period as you’d like. Even doing it for 5 or 10 breath cycles helps me calm down when I’m really feeling stressed. If you’ve tried meditation and failed like I have (although I’m pretty sure you’re not suppose to think of it as failure), a simple, body-focused mantra might help you, too.

3. Desire. This is another great technique I learned from the lovely and wise Coach of All Things Jen Louden. In my experience, one of the things that is misunderstood by people who don’t write or create in some way is that this is not a daily joy fest. Just like everything in life that is truly worthwhile – love, parenting, abiding friendship, pursuit of knowledge – this thing is damn hard. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. That’s when reconnecting with the desire to do this thing we’ve chosen can save us.

Every creative person I know, whether art is her hobby, career, or next stage in life, has days when it’s all just too much. This can take many forms and be for any number of reasons, but when it happens, running and hiding, giving into a long winters’ nap, maybe even quitting is a real temptation. You know, if your head hurts, stop banging it against the wall. We usually survive these episodes when the drive to create becomes stronger than the instinct to quit. I’ve learned that I can take a short-cut to this stage by remembering what made me choose my current project, what the desire was that led me to write this particular story at this time in my life. Sometimes it’s just a mental exercise. Other times, I pull out a pen and a journal and do a stream-of-consciousness paragraph or a bulleted list of things I still love about the story. The desire is still there, but sometimes I have to go looking for it.

4. Celebration. I mentioned this in my cold-start writing process post, but it bears repeating: take credit for the small stuff, people! Each time I complete a tiny, digestible bite of the elephant that is my overwhelming project du jour, I stop, do a fist pump, and shout out loud, “I did it!” (This only terrified the cats for about the first week. Now they sleep right through it.) When I first started doing this, it was weird and awkward. It’s still weird and awkward. Especially if I’m writing in a coffee shop or the library. But even a tiny fist pump and a whispered I did it are enough to remind me that I am getting shit DONE!

5. Gratitude. This, I’m embarrassed to admit, is a new entry to my ‘keeping it together’ bag of tricks. It’s not that I’ve been ungrateful. I truly am grateful for many things in my life, and I do try to reflect on those things regularly. But I’d never actually written them down. About a month ago, I decided to try a gratitude journal. The idea is to write down three things you’re grateful for every day, never repeating. The first few days are easy, the next few are still reasonably do-able. After that, it gets really tough to find something new to add to the gratitude list. You have to dig deep, get down to the nitty-gritty, really search in every crevice and corner to uncover new things. Which is the point.

While we’re being honest, I also have to admit I’ve skipped more days than I’ve remembered to write in my gratitude journal. But I’m getting better at it, I’m keeping an eye out for gratitude opportunities, and I’m working hard at being truly humbled by and grateful for all the good things, big and small, that happen in my life.

So far, so good. I’m still feeling overwhelmed about a hundred times a day, but by employing one or many of my creative centering techniques, I’m not getting stuck there. And I’m only dreaming about being overcome by a tsunami once or twice a week. That’s totally normal, right? No? How’s by you – overwhelmed, stressed, or exhausted by All the Things? What do you do to cope?

4 thoughts on “Nancy: Self Care for the Creative Soul

  1. I love all these ideas and think I can implement some, others will have to wait and I’m okay with that. I work fulltime and write part time and there already isn’t enough hours in the day. That being said I’d love to do some from of tough Yoga. Perhaps the Hot kind. Not sure.

    I also love the idea of sun salutations. When I get stuck on some writing project, I get tired and want to nap and I feel very guilty for this.

    I also like the part you mentioned about writing what made you pick a project in the first place.

    Thanks so much!
    Catherine Conn

    • I hope some of these will be helpful, Catherine! I (and several of the ladies here) are familiar with the full-time day job, part-time writing gig approach to life. You definitely need some self-care.

      I’ve done hot yoga twice, with the temperature set somewhere in the low 80s F, IIRC. You really can sink deeper into poses and get more out of stretches because your muscles are so warm, but I’d be cautious about going too hot. Then again, I’d rather work out in 60 degree weather than 80 degree weather any day!

  2. In terms of desire, when I get gloomy about my work or want to throw in the towel, I go back and read stuff I’ve written that I’m proud of. Usually my first few chapters, or a later chapter that has some really good stuff happening in it. Sometimes a synopsis or back cover blurb. I also look at the awards I have hanging on my wall (yes, I’ve hung all of them). Or I read comments from a CP that were particularly flattering. Anything to pump up my ego a little bit and remind me that yes, I, too, can be a writer. (The other thing I do is remind myself of the several contests a few years ago in which I traded first/second place finishes with a particular girl who has now got a 5-book deal with SMP, basically telling myself if she can get published, I can get published.)

    As for self-care, I’m a firm believer in napping. I know studies have shown that doing physical activity can help your brain engage longer/better, but the naps usually come after several hours of writing (and before the kids come home) and if I want to avoid being a crabby mommy (or being comatose over dinner), I usually try to catch a quick little snoozer. However, I believe in the power of the subconscious, and because I can never remember my dreams (like, ever), I listen to Georgette Heyer as I’m falling asleep (always a book I’ve listened to several times so I don’t worry about missing plot points) to get my head into the Georgian/Regency period and hope that some of her language/way with words/semi-archaic writing style will come back to inspire me when I sit down to the keyboard again. Basically, I’m going for a two-fer.

    • Oh, I envy your napping skills! I usually can’t fall asleep to nap unless I’m really exhausted, and if I do sleep during the day I pay for it at night (turns out this might be related to my sleep chronotype – maybe I’ll write a post about that one of these days!). Maybe our sleep differences are also why I dream so differently. I remember lots of dreams, and have lucid dreams pretty regularly (where you realize you are dreaming as it’s happening).

      You’re also onto something with listening to things you want to learn or absorb as you’re falling asleep. I recently read a study on the subject, though I can’t remember where. As a lifelong problem sleeper, I go through phases of reading lots of stuff about sleeping and dreaming, so who knows what rabbit hole on the internet I was in when I saw it :-).

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