Last week I asked the question: Should a Freelance Writer Push Through or Take a Break? That got me to thinking about self-care in general for freelance writers.
What is self-care?
The term, self-care, is on the verge of overuse – or maybe it’s already a boring cliche. It’s an important concept regardless. The idea is we need to take care of ourselves if we’re to be happy and successful and of service to our fellows. It serves to counter the notion that we must overwork ourselves to achieve whatever. There is also the truly awful idea that self-care is actually selfishness when it turns out to be just the opposite.
Think about it. You obviously do a better job when you’ve eaten well, gotten a decent night’s sleep and had some time off to re-create yourself. That’s true self-care.
Here are 10 ways to take care of yourself well:
Stand up and stretch
We writers tend to spend our workdays in front of a computer. While computers do make our writing easier in many ways, they also can make us extra tired, feel like we’re going blind, and lead to creakiness and crankiness.
The best way to counter the problems the screen and keyboard will cause is to stand up and stretch – at least every two hours, and every hour is better. Standing and stretching not only helps you unkink what’s gotten kinked, but it forces your eyes away from the screen and gives you a chance to breathe more deeply.
Self-care includes ergonomics
Ergonomics, the science that “…deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely,” is worth spending some time understanding.
Writers are mostly concerned with sitting at the computer, using the keyboard, and staring at a screen. Ergonomics and the Freelance Writer has a chart that gives you some idea of how it all works – and the article gives some of my real-world experience.
Yes, it will take some money to get yourself set up correctly and comfortably. You won’t have to spend a fortune, but investing in your ergonomic health will pay dividends literally for a life time.
Consider your lighting
I am apparently more sensitive to poor lighting than many. I was a freshman in highschool when an optometrist realized my headaches were probably coming from fluorescent lighting. I’ve since realized there’s a ton of research indicating that fluorescents are anything but good for us. Unfortunately, LEDs aren’t necessarily a good solution.
My solution certainly won’t work for everyone, but I find working in natural light to be about the best. I’m also experimenting with screen filters and yellow lenses… I’ll write about those another time.
Reduce your email
Email has become the bane of our existence, yet we can’t do without it. One thing that helps is to rigorously unsubscribe. I used to filter email, and then I recognized that with few exceptions I never actually looked at the email I filtered. So I unsubscribe. Find ways you can reduce the load on your inbox so you spend less time at the screen.
Time your writing every now and again
Knowing how long it really takes you to do a piece of writing is self-care because it stops you from fooling yourself. I regularly time myself using Toggl, a free and super easy time tracking tool.
Tracking the time it takes you to complete a writing project let’s you charge properly for your writing and alerts you to problem areas like goofing off.
Raise your rates
Raising your rates may actually increase your income and reduce the amount of work you’re doing. If you’re finding you have too much work to do on a fairly consistent basis, raise your rates. You will probably lose a client or two, but that can be a real blessing if you’re working too much.
Don’t work weekends
I think self-care almost mandates not working at least two days a week. Typically that’s not working on the weekend, but it doesn’t have to be those two days. Creativity requires time for our mind to rest and be free to come up with new ideas.
Take a real vacation
My personal definition for a real vacation is several days in a different location, not including business conferences. Business conferences, while helpful and maybe refreshing, are just a way to do work someplace else.
Two weeks is really a minimum per year; four or six or even eight makes a whole lot of sense.
Yes, real vacations do cost some money and you’ve got to train your clients to expect and accept your disappearance from time-to-time. Try it and see how refreshed you are as a result.
Take an art break
I love taking half a day and visiting an art museum in town. Somehow moving from the written word to visual expression restores my soul. Besides it feels a bit like skipping a class or some other minor illicit activity.
If art isn’t your thing, find something you can occasionally go see – a movie, a model train display, whatever.
Getting out and walking for 20 minutes or an hour on a daily basis or every other day basis does wonders for both your body and your soul. At least it works that way for me. Since I write in the morning I tend to walk in the afternoons and even early evening. Find a time, grab a walking partner to help keep you motivated. Consider getting a dog. Pets can also be a wonderful form of self-care.
There you have it. A short and totally incomplete list of the ways freelance writers can really take care of themselves.
What would you add to this list?
Write well and often,