When I started writing – like, seriously committing myself to getting the blasted thing done – I was armed with all the knowledge required to get from point A to point B. I spent hours researching the best times of day to work, how to craft a good hook for chapters, when to start each new draft, and how many words are deemed acceptable for each genre. In fact, I feel quite confident that I could write my own “how to” manifesto for first timers based on all of the tips and tricks I’ve acquired over the last year of my life. It was a wonderful experience, however time-intensive, and I’ve learned a great deal about not only the art of writing, but myself. I am in the debt of helpful authors who go out of their way to explain how lost souls like yours truly can arrive at the end of their manuscript with the hair on their heads intact.
However, the one thing no one thought to share with me was just how beaten up my body and mind would feel after completing the job. Most of the information I received went something like this:
“Write every day without rest, don’t over-think the first draft, and be sure to let someone you trust read through and give you notes before you dream of giving it to an editor. Oh, and once it’s done you’re going to feel wonderful! But don’t wait too long to start the next one.”
That’s a lot of information, right? But what’s missing is the piece that has got me bent out of shape, quite literally. You see, no one told me that after finishing my novel I would feel like someone took a baseball bat to my hips, or that I would feel as though a part of me was painfully exposed to the world. Those wonderfully helpful authors conveniently forget to inform me that I would be exhausted like never before – and I ran cross country! I suspect they knew I would back out of the endeavor if I knew what awaited me at the end. How many of us would do the thing if we knew said thing would make us cry? Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you what you need to know to bounce back from the writing, or any kind of major project, without going mad.
We might have spent years at desks in school, but nothing can prepare you for sitting still for hours on end typing away with your eyes trained on a computer screen. Sure, I used to devote an unhealthy amount of time to chatting on AOL with my internet friends back in the day, but my post-20’s body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. My greatest physical complaints after finishing my book was how badly my back ached and the strain I felt in my wrists and fingers. I even had aches in my hip flexors and calves! It makes sense: your body is bent in one way for a long period of time that is unnatural for it. Your joints long for stretching and your muscles need a break. If I could do anything differently, it would be taking a rest every hour to two hours to stretch. I wouldn’t have needed to invest in massages and pain relief like I do now. Save yourself some money in the long run and go smell some flowers!
Isolation, like fear, is the mind killer.
Thanks to Henry David Thoreau, I thought it was mandatory for a writer, or serious artists (TM), to be cut-off from the world with only coffee and the agony of creation to keep one company. If I were to let people into my writing space surely I would be too distracted to complete my precious book. Well… that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, going to a writing workshop in Sacramento smack-dab in the middle of finishing my final draft was exactly what I needed to keep me going and finish long before I would have on my own. Sometimes people suck, but sometimes people are what we need. By speaking with other writers I learned to put my process in perspective. A bonus: I learned how to take new chances with my writing.
You’re gonna need some TLC at the end.
I used to roll my eyes when people referred to their art as their children. I mean, there’s nothing like a living, breathing, crying, human coming out of you, right? Boy was I shocked when I was hit with a bout of depression that was unlike any previous episode I have hitherto experienced. Now, childbirth and writing are wildly different, but it made me rethink what people mean when they get defensive and protective of their creations. I went from joyous to fearful, then to resigned and grief-stricken. I felt like I had created a new piece of me only to put it into the hands of strangers with the power to destroy what I shared. I had several panic attacks as I inched closer to the final pages, even contemplating deleting the whole thing from my computer. It would be better, the shadow in my mind said, if no one ever got their hands on it. Thankfully, I didn’t listen.
You’re going to be all over the place once you’re done, so take care of your mind and body. Get in to see a therapist or counselor if you can afford it, speak with a beloved confidante, or write in your journal all those thoughts you dare not speak, because doing something of this magnitude is bound to have you discombobulated. You don’t have to fake joy when you might be feeling terror; this is a major step and major steps are difficult on the mind! Whatever you’re feeling, know that it will come in waves and eventually pass.
Trust me, friend, you have earned a few extra hours of sleep and a blank mind. Our culture has a tendency to promote working ourselves to death like it’s an admirable quality, but your trusty aunt LaKase is here to put that misconception to rest. You have the right to put your mind to sleep. I’ve found that when I am immobile and without a pressing project the creativity naturally begins to spark. If you don’t give yourself space to just be a human without a plan you’re going to find yourself riddled with something worse than ulcers. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from the School of Life (my fave channel ever!) and see what you think.
That’s all from me this Monday, kids! Next week I will be back with more information about how to approach the creative process and media that is getting me excited about being a writer. Have a great week and don’t forget to take care of yourself!