Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

May can be a busy time of the year. For students, it can mean finals, graduations, awards ceremonies, spring performances, wrapping up sports seasons, and possibly moving into or out of a living situation. For parents, it means being there for graduations, awards ceremonies, etc. For writers, well we stress ourselves out enough all year long.

My point is, this time of year can be just as stressful as preparing for Christmas, but without the big family holiday at the end. The start of summer vacation is inherently less stressful than hosting all of your family for a large feast in a clean and perfectly decorated house lest Aunt Edna wield her snarky, side-eye wrath. I have no Aunt Edna, but you know what I mean. May can be just as stressful, but we don’t allow ourselves the same amount of self-care time. We don’t schedule extra time for bubble baths, sneaking baked goods, or even prayer.

But taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, no matter what time of year it is. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t care for anyone else. It means that you need to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.

If you have the time, take a nap. If you have the means, make that doctor appointment. If you have neither time nor means, then do just one simple thing today that brings you joy. Listen to bad (aka really good) music from the 1990s or download a new audiobook from your local library’s app. Whatever. Just remember to put on your oxygen mask.

If you don’t take care of you, who will?

The Value of a DNF

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had DNF’ed several books that week and ended up writing a review on one I revisited instead of something new. Last week, I didn’t write a review because of several more DNFs (and also because my anniversary was in the middle of the week and I chose to forego my review writing time to celebrate).

I’ve put down a lot of books without finishing them lately. At least, it feels like a lot. But this is coming from someone who, until about six months ago, would finish a book no matter what–barring any triggering issues. I always felt like I owed it to myself to see if the book got better. I needed to know for sure how it ended. To DNF was to give up. I’m not a quitter.

I’m still not a quitter, but I do place a little more value on my time. I wrote that post last week about finding a balance. Learning to appreciate a DNF is part of that balance. It took me a while to realize this, but it’s true. When I DNF I’m not giving up. I’m placing more value on my time than on the rest of the book. It might sound harsh, but it isn’t.

To DNF a book is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s an opportunity.

Stick with me here.

As a writer, if someone DNFs my work it tells me something. Immediately, I know that there is an aspect of the story that isn’t working. I may have to ask questions to find out what, but knowing there is an issue is valuable information. The questions I ask will help me understand whether it is a small issue, a much larger one, or something beyond my control (e.g. just not their cup of tea). Whatever it is, it’s something I didn’t know before.

As a reader, if I ask some of those same questions I can learn a little bit more about:

1 – Myself. If it just wasn’t my cup of tea, why did I pick it up in the first place? What drew me to it? Is there a subject matter or style of writing I’m gravitating towards? A trope? A twist? Or, am I overwhelmed and a book that normally would have been fine is a turn off because the subject matter or main character are hitting a little too close to home right now?

2 – Editing. Okay, the book is something I would normally enjoy, so what’s the deal? Perhaps the book is too dialogue heavy. Or perhaps the interactions between characters are stilted. These are things that I might not have noticed as much before or at least been more forgiving of. But now, all I can see is a subpar editing job and it ruins my book experience.

3 – Self-care. My time is valuable. It’s also limited. I’m not going to waste it by making myself read something I don’t like. Especially not when I could be checking something else off my to-do list or getting some sleep. Or reading something that I love. Also, if there is something even remotely triggering, it’s always okay to put it down. I don’t owe the author anything.

4 – Publishers. If there is something glaringly wrong with or offensive in a book, I will look to see who published it. If it was self-published, that author will go on my mental list of writers to avoid. If it was published by a someone else, I’ll be more wary of their offerings going forward, since they didn’t see a big enough problem with the story to refuse to peddle it.

I’m sure given time I could think of other reasons that DNFs can be valuable, but I’ll stop here for now. What are some ways that you find a DNF valuable?

 

Finding a Balance

For most of us, writing is not our primary job. It is something we love and work hard for, but it isn’t what pays our bills. Or cleans the house. Or the other million and one things that make up daily life. For the majority of writers, writing is something we have to make time for before, after, and/or in between the other necessities of life. It can be difficult and daunting.

We give up our nights, weekends, lunch breaks, our children’s naps, anything that will give us a little more time at the keyboard. That doesn’t mean we don’t have families, friends, jobs, hobbies, chores, or special events that we can’t and won’t neglect.

And it doesn’t mean we should neglect ourselves either.

My writing is important to me. It’s a part of who I am. But it is only one part. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Beyond that, I am also someone who loves sports, board games, learning–and teaching–self-defense through mixed martial arts, and volunteering with local groups/organizations of my choice.

If I abandon the other things in life I enjoy, or my other responsibilities, I feel guilty and my writing suffers. If I neglect my writing, I feel guilty and my sense of self-worth suffers. I have to find a balance. It’s not easy. If ever I perfect it, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have to be intent on carving out time for writing and for the other parts of me. Because my experiences fuel my writing. And, frankly, sleep is non-negotiable. I’ve tried.

A lot of writing blogs I’ve read in the last few months have stressed the importance of taking a step back from your work during editing. Walk away from the project for a short while so your eyes are fresh when you come back and you’re more likely to notice things that escaped you before. Use that time in between to do something for yourself. Rent a movie. Run a race. Play a game. Take a long bath. Read something with no intent to critique or edit. Go to the gym. Do whatever it is that helps you feel human again.

You write, so you’re a writer. But it will never be the only thing you are. I’m sure even the overwhelmingly successful authors would say that they are more than their job. Don’t forget to let yourself be more. It’s okay to give yourself a night off once in a while. Your writing will probably be better for it and so will you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated. You don’t have to be superhuman to be a successful writer. Nobody will doubt your dedication if you go on a date with your significant other, go see a sporting event with your kids, or go to bed early. You’re allowed to be human. You’re allowed to be you.

Your writing will still be here when you get back.