You know how there are some people in your life that you really, truly ADMIRE? My friend and writing group compatriot Jackie (www.jackieleasommers.com) is one of those people. Each month when our group meets, Jackie emails us beautiful word documents full of ideas and people and story. She has made writing a practice, and turned her practice into art. She’s also learned a lot about the necessity of self-care in her creative process, and I’m really happy to share her ideas on the subject with you today.
I love to write. That love is one of the biggest pieces of my identity, and I feel so deep-seated in the will of God when I write that I experience an overwhelming peace in addition to the excitement I have over the joy of creation. I’ve been writing nearly my whole life, chasing the dream of publication, enlisting the help of Rachel and the other members of our writing critique group, shelling out hard-earned dollars to attend workshops and conferences and to elicit the help of professionals, and it all paid off when my debut novel Truest sold in a pre-empt in November 2013.
It’s a dream come true, really: a two-book contract with HarperCollins, one of the world’s largest publishing companies. I was speechless when my agent called to tell me the good news, delighted when my new editor at Katherine Tegen Books gushed about my characters. I was thrilled to share my news with friends, family, co-workers, blog readers. My life was sunbeams and rainbows and kittens.
For a few days.
Reality set in quickly. First, I dove into writing the second book, finding the experience unrecognizably different from the writing of Truest. I started floundering, terrified that I was a one-trick pony who would never write another decent paragraph. The self-doubt poured into my life so quickly that I was drowning before I had barely recognized what was happening. I had four almost panic attacks in three months, and the fear of the future and the fear of failure were deep. Then came the first round of revisions to Truest, the first set a harrowing six weeks of intense brainstorming and rewriting that would utterly exhaust me as if I’d run a marathon without training for it first. All of this was changing something profound about my identity: I wasn’t enjoying writing anymore.
When I recognized that, it understandably concerned me. I knew I had to find some solid ground again so that I could turn my anxiety-ridden pursuits back into a treasured vocation.
Here was my self-care prescription:
- Psychiatrist. I made an immediate appointment with my psychiatrist. I explained the stress and panic I’d been feeling and asked for something to combat those chemical reactions in my body.
- Reminders. I read and re-read my First Draft Manifesto, to remind myself that writing is hard.
- Oils. I started using essential oils. In particular, I began using (and grew to love) Valor, a blend of essential oils that is like natural “courage in a bottle.”
- Mentoring. I scheduled a coffee date with my undergraduate writing mentor and let her fill my head and heart with wisdom about the writing life. I also wrote crazed emails to my writing group, and let their replies work like a balm to my heart.
- Therapy. I met with a therapist, and though I only went once, he made the brutal observation that I had to cut something out of my life, so I removed my email address (temporarily) from my website. This made a bigger difference than you might guess.
- Encouragement and prayer. I created a private, invisible “Jackie’s Team” group on Facebook, and populated it with people who would pray for me and the books I was writing.
- Rest. I allowed myself many, many naps—and even made a point to schedule them into my hectic writing schedule.
- Prioritization. I limited my social time to a very small, intimate group of friends and was very up-front with others that I wouldn’t be able to hang out for the time being.
- FutureMe.org.On this site, you can send emails to your future self, and it’s a calming way that I could effectively reach out to a future where I was not as stressed as I currently was.
Thus I was kept afloat. Or, better put, I am still being kept afloat. I just recently finished my first round of edits to Truest, and I actually feel good about them. I am about to dive back into my first draft of book two, and I’m excited about it. I feel like I have joy and perspective and faith again.
I used to think it was weak to need special self-care; now I realize that it is smart. By addressing areas where I could help myself, I was able to more quickly get back to enjoying my vocation, reveling in the blessedness of what I am called to do.
Jackie Lea Sommers lives and loves and writes in Minneapolis and can be found online at www.jackieleasommers.com and @jackieleawrites.