A few weeks ago, I reviewed Damyanti’s debut novel, You Beneath Your Skin, a crime story about a serial killer and the lives of those trying to stop these heinous murders (the book is doing great–check it out on Amazon!). Today, Damyanti is sharing her thoughts on how to remain healthy when you’re a writer:
I must make a confession: I’m not following a whole lot of the stuff I talk about below for the last month since You Beneath Your Skin released. Writing a novel seems like a cakewalk in comparison to the work I need to put in to promote it, but that’s the thing–a writer’s work (much like a housewife’s) is never done. You’re switched on 24 *7 and that takes its toll.
Before you know it, you have back and neck pain, migraines, poor digestion, weight gain and associated health hazards. You name it.
Our life sounds cosy–after all you just sit at your table (or someone else’s table and tap away at a computer. Or if you’re a rare breed, scribble away in your notebook.
There’s so much more–a grilling routine often means poor diet, poor posture, poor routines, low exercise, and in some cases, a sedentary lifestyle. Some writers manage jobs and families and the write, so health becomes a distant priority.
At a professional level though, whether you’re self-published or trad, you need to consider writing as a career, a long-term thing.
Here are a few things to consider in order to remain healthy as a writer:
- Make health a priority: This is what I struggle with the most. Whether in the throes of drafting or edits, eating and sleeping seem secondary. But the body never forgets, and reminds you of the abuse it has taken, sooner or later. After the adrenaline high comes the crash. I haven’t crashed yet after almost two months of abuse, but I know I’ll have to pay for it. I’m going to focus on a few of the following points in the coming weeks.
- Sleep: When writing, whether at the drafting, revision, or promotional stage, the first thing we sacrifice is sleep. Guilty as charged for the last one month that You Beneath Your Skin has been unleashed on the unsuspecting world. I’m lucky if I clock in 5 hours of sleep these days. Sound familiar?That’s not a long-term option–so here are a few things we need to start working on:
- managing time better–making lists, and ticking them off as they get done
- turning off social media for a few hours a day so there are no distractions, and the body can relax
- consciously make sleep a priority–with no sleep, you’re less productive.
- Use earplugs, scents, chamomile tea–whatever brings on the snoozies.
- Diet– When you’re busy, you eat junk food. You crave sugary stuff. While this is okay once in a while, without wholesome food your body would give up, and fall ill. Even on my busiest days, I try to remain aware of what I put in my mouth. It is amazing what a little awareness would do for you. I find that when I eat light, and at regular intervals, I have better energy levels, and don’t we all need that as writers? A balanced diet, heavy on vegetables and light on processed foods—we writers need that to stay productive over the long term.
- Posture: Hunchback is often my middle name. I have tried to correct this with periodic reminders on my phone, with sticky notes stuck to my computer that say ‘sit straight,’ by investing in a chair that helps me do this. I try and not hold the phone when possible, and remind myself to do it properly when I do. I dictate notes and stories. Most importantly, I try and get in some exercise–building muscles is a good way to build a good posture.
- Exercise: The thing about exercise is that it is hard to get started, or maybe it is just me. I try and walk every day at the very least, take the stairs each time and do all my calls while strolling around. Exercise has not just physical but mental benefits–it helps you stay happier by releasing happy hormones, it keeps you alert and attentive. We writers need as much of it in our lives as we can safely handle. On busy days, I listen to podcasts or fiction when I exercise so at least I do not feel like I’m wasting my time as I work up a sweat. Blessed are those who had a strong exercise routine before they hit the writing life.
- Managing Stress: This is the killer. It keeps us in a constant fight-or-flight mode and that’s just not what our poor bodies are built for. Over time, this leads to chronic illnesses, be it with indigestion or migraines, or god forbid, other more serious diseases. Letting go of stress isn’t as easy as periodically switching off your social media, or taking a deep breath (though these most definitely help). It is a way of looking at life. Of being in the present moment and doing what needs to be done, then. Of not chasing perfection. Of going away from it all once in a while. Of not being obsessed with results. Of beating isolation with good friendship. Of taking the stress out of networking by making of it a social, fun thing. Of learning to cope with rejection and success equally well. Of making the journey the destination.
- Managing addictions: This is a tough one. Writing is a head game. Not only are you constantly carrying people and places and stories in your head, you are also worrying about how those stories would be received. You’re obsessing over numbers, or agents, or promotions or plot holes or beta-reads or rejections. So it is natural to reach out for that sugary snack, coffee or wine, or Netflix or social media. In moderation, those are great. The trick is to draw a line. Make it a relaxing break, a quick way to escape, or forget troubles or earn validation. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m my own validation. That reading is my best escape, and the one good way to forget my troubles.
Writing this post was a good health-check for me–I realised I have fallen short of many of these life-saving steps when it comes to a writing career. Writing is a marathon, and one must prepare accordingly. While performance is important, what really matters is to finish, and finish in one piece. The race is against yourself, so you should get to dictate the pace. At least some of the time.
What about you? How do you stay healthy as a writer? Any of the above resonate with you? What are the struggles you face to stay healthy while leading the writing life?
About You Beneath Your Skin
You Beneath Your Skin is a crime novel about the investigation of an acid attack on a woman from Delhi’s upper class, set against the backdrop of crimes against underprivileged women. They are assaulted, disfigured with acid, and murdered. While the framework is that of a thriller, the novel threads together different narrative strands. The author tackles various social issues: crimes against women and why they occur, the nexus between political corruption, police and big money;the abuse of the underprivileged, be it adults or children. Of these the issue of crimes against women is the strongest—why do men attack women? Why do they gang together? What happens when a woman tries to break the glass ceiling? Can toxic masculinity masquerade as benevolent patriarchy?Parents would also find this novel fascinating: how do you bring up a good human being in today’s troubled times? How much do you know of your teenager’s life?If you’re the parent of a special child, what challenges do you face and what sort of support can you expect?It is a who dunnit, but also a why dunnit, because violent crime unravels those affected: the people, the relationships, the very fabric of society, and we get a glimpse of what lies beneath. That’s why the title, You Beneath Your Skin.The narrative of the book was researched and shaped during the author’s work with Project WHY, and some of the experiences generously shared by acid attack survivors from the non-profit Stop Acid Attacks. To return this debt of gratitude, all author proceeds from the book will go to these two non-profit
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds Winter 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning