You’ve probably had this experience: just sort of, waking up, after eight or nine hours pounding away at a manuscript revision, only to realize you haven’t eaten–or even gotten dressed–since you got out of bed. Working as a serious writer often requires a flexible schedule, a.k.a. the magical ability to function normally on a Peter-Jackson-movie amount of sleep. Pair that with the very action of writing (spending a lot of time in your house, usually alone, hunched over a desk or a countertop or a dining room table for hours at a go) and the result is:
A) Oh, hell, I can’t turn left anymore
B) Why do my knees–AAGH–hurt all the time?
C) Hey. Hey cat. Heyyyy kitty. Come here. Yeah. Yeah? Oooh, yeah, you are so cute. So cute. (fast forward an hour) Aww kitty. Now you’re on my lap covering my keyboard and you are too adorable to move.
So a few months ago, I realized I needed to change my lifestyle a little or I would slowly, steadily, go totally crazy. Here are three of my discoveries.
First, I figured out that I needed to get out of the house more. Talk to people in real life. Sit in different chairs and find excuses to walk around between stretches of hunched-over typing. I missed what it was like to work an office job and have cool people around all the time for providing brief (but important to mental well-being) distractions.
I first discovered co-working when one of my good friends, who is a freelance programmer, moved out to Portland and found he had the same quandary: the need to get out and about and still get his daily work done. I’ve been hooked ever since. Writers make good co-workers, obviously, because they are doing the same thing that you are; but anyone who, essentially, needs to get work done, can be a good partner.
More and more in my writing career I’m discovering that writing doesn’t have to be a lonely pursuit. It can involve the people around you, if you surround yourself with the right people.
The benefit? When you get stuck, you can ask your “co-worker” for a suggestion. When you can’t think of a good synonym–that other writer is invaluable. And sometimes, just having another friendly person present who is also typing away helps you stay focused.
2. Get on your feet.
Another benefit of getting out of the house is spending a little time walking. Your brain needs good circulation to do its tasks well, and good circulation requires a bit of moving around, at least. Take a short walk twice a day, even if it’s just around the block. Get fresh air, get your blood moving again, and you may find your mind clears and that next scene simply writes itself.
Not to mention that the pure action of writing–sitting in front of a computer all day–is not very conducive to getting exercise. Just one or two short walks each day can do wonders for your physical health, and physical health is very important to our mental health and self-image. If you can walk to your place of work (coffee shop, rented office space), that’s even better.
Of course, finding those people to co-work with and finding those places to meet is key. Not every coffee shop is the right coffee shop. Personally I need music at a reasonable volume, plenty of outlets for power adapters, a decent food and drink menu, comfortable seating and very few children. I’ve tried a dozen locations in Portland and have narrowed it down to two or three places I like.
Make a list of the things you look for in a work environment, and try a few locations until you find something that fits.
3. Make social appointments like dental appointments.
Not everyone is like me, I realize; I prefer to have a social engagement every other night, at least, and Sims-style fill my “Social” bar. But even if you aren’t normally that socially active, being social with real humans in real life is very important. Not only for your mental health, but to supplement and sustain your creative engine.
I mean, think about it like this: Who do we spend our days writing about? People. Even if you aren’t directly interacting with people, sometimes just observing people can provide vital fuel for your storytelling.
And we all know what happens to people who sit alone behind their computer keyboards all day:
Make sure you spend at least a few hours each week with people outside your home. By the way, Facebook Messenger does not count.
I was going to have a fourth point about attempting some semblance of a normal-people schedule, but as my friends and family have probably already come to realize–that is total bullshit and writers only do their best work when everyone else is passed out.
Hope these tips are helpful to you, and have a happy, healthy, productive weekend!