August tends to be a slow month; school is out, lots of people take time off work and go on holiday or visit family. The weather is usually good (depending on where in the world you are, here in the UK we get equal parts sunshine and rain!) and the days are long and can be as filled with activity and excitement, or as lazy and relaxing as you please. Personally, I like a good mix of the two.
This year, however, I haven’t spent August enjoying the peace and quiet, or going on fun days out with my family and friends. This year, I entered Pitch Wars and have spent the last few weeks polishing my manuscript, submitting it for scrutiny by several potential mentors and anxiously waiting for requests. I’ve been frantically trawling the Pitch Wars hashtags and refreshing my inbox more often than’s healthy, agonising over whether I’ll be picked from the thousands of entries and whisked out of obscurity.
But, with announcement day just a week away, I’m finally starting to calm down and accept my fate. I don’t jump at every email notification or scroll through my private list of mentors’ tweets constantly…anymore. I’ve actually started to take some time for myself, after months of stress with the competition, moving house, my job etc. And it got me thinking: what can writers do to look after themselves and replenish the creative well?
This one’s not for every creative, not all writers can read when they need a break from work, it’s a fundamental part of what we do and switching off the part of our brains that analyses the writing of others and tries to find ways of improving our own craft is nigh on impossible. My tip is to read outside your genre, pick up that new thriller everyone’s been talking about while you’ve been busy writing a historical fantasy, grab a light, summery contemporary to contrast your horror WIP. Try a graphic novel, or a classic you’ve always fancied but never gotten round to.
Read for fun and remember why you enjoy it, if you can’t switch off the analytical part of your brain don’t beat yourself up, use your new experience to feed your creativity for your next project.
Get out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to go far to benefit from the change of scenery. If you can get away for a few days abroad, a city break is a fantastic way to research the setting for that story you’ve been daydreaming about between editing your manuscript. If a staycation is on the cards, why not rent a cottage in a beautiful location or even go camping and spend a few days getting close to nature, reconnecting with your nearest and dearest.
If you can’t stretch to more than an afternoon at a time, try being a tourist in your own town. I’m lucky to live within a short drive of lots of historic towns with castles and cathedrals galore. You might stumble upon inspiration in the quiet corners and cobbled streets, but if not you’ll still learn something new about local history and have fun exploring your own hometown.
A lot of creatives don’t just limit themselves to one outlet, they have a number of skills and talents they enjoy using to express themselves. If you love to draw or paint, knit or sculpt, take some time out of your busy schedule to return to your other artistic passion and get another part of your creative brain whirring for a change.
Try something new, check out local craft classes like photography or flower arrangement, join the Women’s Institute or a choir. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you express your creativity via an outlet other than writing. It can be just for yourself, gifts for your friends, or you might even end up opening an Etsy store and selling your makes. The sky’s the limit!
Rest and relaxation
Do nothing. Enjoy lazy Sundays in bed with a pot of tea and a new Netflix series. Bake a cake or a loaf of bread and eat it warm from the oven. Sit in the garden and feel the sun on your face (which is probably deathly pale from spending so much time indoors at your laptop). Have a glass of wine. Heck, have a whole bottle! Share it with friends and laugh and dance. Fill your days with the small things that bring you joy, wear your favourite outfit and go window shopping or grab a frothy coffee in an independent cafe. Paint your nails, or let your kids paint them. Cuddle your dog (or cat, or guinea pig).
Whatever you do, be truly present. Don’t worry if your mind wanders, but bring it back round to the moment and enjoy where you are, who you’re with and let your senses be filled with the experience. You’ll feel a wave of contentment wash over you, and nothing will go to waste when you next sit down at your laptop, it’ll all be there in the back of your mind, informing your writing and enriching your stories.
Indulge your muse
If you absolutely can’t go without writing for more than a few days, why not open your little book of plot bunnies and write a piece of flash fiction or a short story based on one of your ideas? You can always expand it into a longer piece later, but for now just write whatever comes to mind, get it all out onto the page until you’ve satisfied the craving.
It can be difficult when the thing you enjoy most is also the way you make a living, it becomes a challenge to find other activities to unwind and replenish the creative well, but as long as you don’t let yourself slip back into ‘work mode’ and start thinking about deadlines you can get away with doing your favourite thing just for you. We’re lucky really, not many people love their job so much they can’t stop themselves from doing it during their down time! Just remember to separate the two, writing for work and writing for fun.
I hope you like my tips for self-care and avoiding burn out as a writer, let me know in the comments what you do to relax and recharge your creative batteries!