Optimising Self-Care for Authors
Opportunities are everywhere when you run an author business. There are multiple ways to do almost any task and few authors follow the same path. The freedom is exhilarating but excessive choice can also be overwhelming at times. Facing dozens of options at every fork in the road, many of us find ourselves overcomplicating our days, wanting to try everything. Like magpies, we jump from one shiny object to the next, writing several series at once and dipping into lots of marketing tactics without focusing long enough to make one work. We burn through evenings and weekends, disregarding self-care as we fight to “break out.”
Sometimes, working harder than 99% of your peers and testing every option is necessary to engineer a tipping point where sales flow in abundance. This is often the case when working in a creative industry like publishing. Working harder is the antithesis of self-care, but it can greatly reduce stress if it delivers your desired result. When it works, it allows you to take a break without having to worry. That said, the constant charge isn’t sustainable if you never get to a checkpoint where you can rest. Too many authors learn this lesson the hard way, grinding to the point of failure, never resting even when they achieve pipedream riches and accolades.
You might think you can go “one more round” ad infinitum but nobody can fight forever. If your body doesn’t collapse completely, your mind will fog until sickness becomes your default state. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to happen. It is possible to build an author business in way that’s sustainable for your body and mind, as you will find out in today’s blog post, which focuses on optimising your work-life for productivity and happiness over the long term. None of what we will explore today is medical advice. Execute the following tactics, though, and you will reduce your chances of ever facing burnout while building a successful author business.
In business, there’s a concept called the Red Queen effect. A 2014 Science Direct article defines it as “the coevolution of competing platforms and the demise of ones that do not adapt fast enough relative to rivals.” The idea comes from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In the book, Carroll’s heroine Alice races the Red Queen but can never overtake her as the queen always matches her pace to the point where it seems like neither of them is moving. The imagery represents the human productivity arms race in which many of us compete. Suffering from the Red Queen effect, you might not notice warning signs of burnout because everyone’s moving so quickly around you that you’ve come to see your sprinting as normal.
According to a 2019 article from Healthline, however, burnout has a list of noticeable symptoms. These include:
- Escape fantasies
- Frequent illness
The issue is that hardworking authors often view these warning signs as temporary blips. They push through a book launch, believing the fog will clear after the pressure fades, and refuse to talk about their feelings of isolation because they tell themselves they’ll be more sociable when they “get back on top” of work. They disregard other symptoms, thinking everyone shares a similar experience. To sidestep a crash, though, you must heed these warnings and practice self-care when you need it.
Paying attention to your mind and body isn’t the only possible precaution you can take to stave off a possible crash. Indeed, your tools, resources and environment also need attention as they’re equally vulnerable. Say you lost a manuscript. Authors do it all the time. A computer dies. A file corrupts. A flood soils a notepad you’ve used to write a first draft. You leave notes on the bus and watch helplessly as it pulls into the distance. It doesn’t matter how you lose a project; the pain of the loss can be agonising, particularly if it amounts to weeks or months of work. If you face a deadline, it can even cause you to overwork to catch up and disregard your health.
Creating backups, however, can prevent a loss from overloading your schedule. It’s not a classic example of self-care, but this precaution creates the same result: less stress and work. Ideally, you should create regular backups. Dropbox and Google Drive can help because both copy your work to the cloud in almost real time without requiring you to remember to do anything. Likewise, if you handwrite work, how about uploading photographs of pages to similar services on a regular basis? These tactics won’t prevent burnout if you work too hard anyway, but they will stop you from having to overwork and neglect your rest if a device fails or a disaster happens.
Speaking of rest, it’s impossible to work hard every day of your life even if you’re working smart to minimise stress and stay on schedule. Occasionally, whether you like it or not, you must take a break. Indeed, according to a 2013 article published by Scientific American, psychologists have established that relentless work can trigger “stress, anxiety and depression” but that vacations, “likely revitalize the body and mind.” The problem, according to a comprehensive meta-analysis by Finnish academics at the University of Tampere, is that “these benefits generally fade within two to four weeks.” Hence, if you want to avoid burnout, you must take breaks often.
A double-pronged approach works well. Firstly, try to incorporate breaks into each day. Scheduling 25-minute work sprints followed by 5-minute breaks, for instance, will concentrate your productivity into short sprints and give you the freedom to have shorter workdays. Be sure, however, to reinforce this practice with longer multi-day vacations — ideally once a month — for best results. How do you do this without bankrupting yourself? Easy; a staycation works just as well as a beach break. Simply minimise how much you think about work for at least a weekend. The combination of daily and monthly breaks will optimise your work-rest ratio over the long term.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Many authors interpret this quote as an argument for limiting the time they spend with loved ones who are nothing like the author personality they want to craft. Using it, they distance themselves from childhood friends and spend more time talking to successful authors, thinking it will make them more likely to become a bestseller. Science suggests that humans mimic their peers for social self-preservation. Hence, the authors who follow its philosophy might be onto something. But will this practice help them stay healthy?
In short, no. The idea is problematic. You see, author communities tend to meet primarily online and, as humans, we all need regular in-person connections to stay happy. Thus, you must make and maintain real-world connections even if it means talking to non-authors. Your health depends on it. Consider, for instance, getting a gym buddy. Or ask to meet friends for coffee. Instigating activities will feel awkward if you’re not a natural ringleader, but the world is full of people who wish they were more sociable. By leading the way, not only will you improve your own wellbeing, but you might also help a friend who’s been fighting their own battle alone.
Human health is a complex subject. Medical doctors train for years to become experts. So, if you have chronic pain or experience symptoms that worry you, it’s best to consult a medical professional. That said, it’s possible to use common self-care techniques to minimise your risk of developing a range of common ailments in the first place that develop as a result of the typical author lifestyle. Such ailments include:
- Wrist, neck and back pain
- Weight gain
Most of these symptoms stem from two main causes in authors: excessive screen time and a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, preventing them is simple, providing you weave self-care habits into your lifestyle.
Few such habits have a noticeable immediate effect. That said, together they can have a huge long-term impact that you’re certain to notice. Creating an ergonomically friendly computer setup, for instance, helps ease posture-related issues, including back pain and RSI, which worsen if not managed. Turning off screened devices at least an hour before bed also ensures you get better night’s sleep, contributing to your overall cognitive ability. Eating healthily and leading an active lifestyle also keeps you feeling better and happier. Staying healthy might seem to have little effect on your day-to-day productivity, but it’s the best way to hold off a crash forever.
When you’re trying to get ahead in life, self-care is the last thing on your mind. The truth, though, is that self-care is an investment that compounds in value the longer you do it. By incorporating it into each day, week, month and year, it will make you more likely to lead a sustainable work life and enables you to extend the time you can continue working happily as an author.
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