Friday, May 20, 2022

A Neglected Aspect of the Writer's Life

The last two years with the pandemic and the changes it brought about has forced me to confront one aspect of life as a writer that I've mostly ignored. Every writer I know is careful in the area of craft. We think hard about word choices, sentences, paragraphs, and the arc of the story. We read widely and carefully, learning from our peers and colleagues and sharing our expertise when asked. We support each other as beta readers, at book events, and in online groups. We swap books and share reviews. But there's one area I tend to neglect, and I know I'm not the only one. 


After two years with no place to go but the computer, my shoulders are no longer shaped the way nature intended. Instead of exercise classes or running to catch a train after visiting friends in Boston, I get my exercise holding the dog in check when he wants to lunge after a rabbit. 


I used to meditate twice a day, first thing in the morning, and last thing in the evening before I closed up the house. These days I feel like I'm in a state of suspended fuzziness. I'm not sure my brain is strong enough now to meditate. (I exaggerate, but you get the idea.) The thought of cooking a real meal makes me want to take a nap but after two years I think a lot about where I can go to eat or the best places for ordering in. I still sleep well at night but bad news about Covid or anything else (war in Ukraine) can disrupt that. The pandemic has taken its toll, and like many others I didn't notice until the damage was done. 


Self-care is a very real aspect of doing any job well. Working hard at anything takes a toll, and once the burst of energy has been used up and it's time to rest and refill the well, any one of us may want to take a nap, grab some junk food, and fall onto the sofa for a few hours. This is not self-care.


This spring has been all about getting back into a better way of managing my care as a writer. Walking the dog is an exercise now in deportment, bringing those shoulders up and back, opening up the lungs, and taking longer strides. Instead of sitting at my desk for hours straight, I make a point of getting up and doing odd bits around the house. Meditation can be only ten minutes, and it's still enough to bring the mind home. And taking time for a decent meal pays benefits in many ways.


When I dropped in on a painter friend several years ago I found her lying on her back on the floor of her studio. "My body is a tool for my art," she said. "It needs to be restored now and then."

In the beginning I thought of creative work as something that came out of my head. But that is too simple. I use my imagination, of course, but I use my body also, and not only body memory. Creativity draws on how we feel in the morning and throughout the day, the weather that shifts us one way on the street or another, the taste of food and the fragrances in the air. Ambient noise seeps into a scene, and an idea that was barely linked to an incipient philosophy shows up in a character's monologue. We need good health to be fully in the world, from which we draw our stories and develop our abilities to tell them well. Self-care allows us to feed ourselves, which in turn feeds our work. It feels good to be back on that familiar path. 


  1. Well said, Susan, and something that has occupied my thoughts of late.

  2. Absolutely, Susan. One thing a standing desk helps with is that I move around a lot more. And I always get outside for a brisk walk. Meditation? Only on Sundays with Friends - which is different.

    Glad you are looking to your self care!