Writing as Self-Care

by | Aug 10, 2017 | academic writing, mindset, writer's retreat

The more I think about writing in academia, the more I see its parallels with exercise. We know, logically, that we need to exercise our bodies. We know that exercise is an investment in ourselves and our health. We’re stronger, we sleep better, we can more easily move through our everyday lives when we regularly exercise. The benefits are mental, too. We are calmer, think more clearly, and feel less stressed when we move our bodies. Yet, most of us struggle to invest the time, energy, and resources in the regular exercise that our bodies and minds deserve.

The same is true for writing in academia. We know, logically, that it is the most important part of our work as academics. We know that publishing is an investment in ourselves and our careers. We’re better job candidates, more likely to get promoted, more likely to get tenure, and more mobile when we have a strong publication record. The benefits of writing more are mental, too. We feel more secure in our positions, our voices are heard in our fields, we have more influence and are more likely to positively change the lives of others when our research gets out there. Yet, most of us struggle to invest the time, energy, and resources into writing that our careers and ourselves deserve.

A consistent, sustainable writing practice is self-care

Just like incorporating exercise into our everyday lives is a matter of self-care, so is creating a consistent and sustainable writing routine. Like exercise, when we’re not doing it, we can see writing as a chore. But if you’ve ever prioritized exercise, found a routine that you love, and done it consistently for any amount of time, you know that it stops being a chore and you start to crave it. The same can happen for writing if you begin to treat it as self-care.

The pressure to write and publish is real, and the stakes are high. However, if you shift your mindset around writing away from “I must get this done or I’ll lose my job and everything will be awful forever” to a mindset that sees writing as career self-care, your investment in the importance of your writing practice shifts. So much of writing is how you think about it. Thinking about it as self-care stops you from writing to please others, and turns your focus on writing inward, to please yourself.

One of our Navigate students, when asked what is her deep writing “why” replied: I write because I want to feel powerful. Just as exercising our bodies makes us strong, regular writing makes us strong. Strong in our writing voice. Strong in our message to the world about our research. Strong in our confidence in ourselves as scholars of worth.

How to do writing as self-care

So let’s talk about what writing as self-care looks like. First, you need to write regularly. There has to be an established practice that gets the priority it deserves. At first, this may seem daunting or impossible, but once you make writing regular, you’ll start to crave it. You’ll look forward to that block of time to let yourself do the deep thinking work required of writing.

To be consistent with your writing, you need to choose the best time of day for you to write. For some, the best times are in the morning, and just like exercise, if you don’t write first thing it will keep not happening until the day is over and you’re too exhausted to care. But your own writing time might be after lunch, or late at night. Your goal is to align your writing time with your best energy so that writing gets that focus and mental clarity instead of other, less important tasks. Don’t give these times of day away to other tasks (email, meetings, grading). Be very protective of those times, and cherish them. Your best times of day should go to your writing.

When the writing piece is figured out, all the other pieces of academia can fit into place better. Your teaching can be better connected to your research area. Just as your students are writing their way towards understanding a certain area of the field, so are you. The teacher/researcher is fully enacted, and though it may not directly show in your teaching, it enriches you as a professional. You are sustaining yourself, caring for yourself, by investing time and energy in your writing practice, and this will make you a happier, better professional.

You are allowed to drive your career rather than letting your career respond to the desires of others. Keeping writing at the center can help you do that. If your academic mission is clear, and your writing is aligned with that, then writing can be the flagship activity of your career, with all the other activities following in line behind. This not only moves your career in the direction that you want it to go, it just feels good. It feels good to be productive, to be contributing, to be heard. More people are more likely to hear your message and your unique take on your field is more likely to create positive change.

Your writing needs love

In addition to creating regular writing times, making sure they are your best times, and putting writing first to drive your career, your writing needs energy investment. Your writing needs love. It needs care, and attention. One way to cultivate this love for writing is to plan periodic writing retreats. These can take on many, many different forms.

The simplest writing retreat is one where you don’t have to travel, or really spend any money at all. You just block a day on your calendar, find a place for you and your laptop to go, and honor that day. I wrote about how to help you make this plan a reality here.

One step up from simple is to actually spend a little money and go to a nearby hotel for a night or two. You’ll want to make sure that the hotel has a desk, and that you can easily feed yourself (either by bringing food with you and having a fridge in the room) or with room service or a nearby restaurant. If you can’t spend money on a hotel and food, you could look for a local meditation center or monastery. Sometimes those places allow overnight guests in simple accommodations that are perfect for giving your writing the love and care it deserves. This option takes a lot more pre-planning, arranging for child care, making reservations, etc., and as such, it is an investment. But it also really helps to nurture your writing practice.

Finally, you could go on a destination writing retreat. This is a serious investment, but so worth it. Taking several days away from everything else to solely focus on your writing is the ultimate in writing self-care. A multi-day, get-away-from-it-all retreat lets your brain do the deep mental work of writing, and can re-inspire and reinvigorate your writing practice.

And finally, if you are interested in a more structured retreat subscribe to my email newsletter, In The Pipeline, so that you can get notified about our next in-person retreat. 



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