Sunday, 21 October 2018

Looking after yourself as a writer by Anne Booth

I didn't know, when I started trying to write as a full-time job, that there were some health risks attached, and having encountered some of them, I thought I'd share what I am trying to do about them.

In order to stay afloat as a full-time writer, you have to work long hours, and I have found that sitting at my desk, involved in my story and forgetting to take breaks, has not been good for my posture or my weight. I know that I should get up and walk about more, but I am sure other writers will understand that it often doesn't work that way - you don't intend to sit writing non-stop for hours, but when you are deep into a particular scene the time rushes by and you end up being motionless for too long. Even walking my dogs doesn't make up for those long stationary hours sitting down.

So, following the rule of 3, so beloved of those writing about story structure, here are three things I am trying to do about this:

1) I have got a standing desk.

I absolutely love it.  I read a proud tweet by the lovely writer Alice Broadway, (@alicecrumbs)    where she shared a picture of the standing writing desk her husband had made her. I'd been looking at standing writing desks for a while, and I was very impressed. So I contacted her and her husband, and Dave made one for  me, specially built to fit my laptop. All of the standing desks I saw online cost so much more than this one- and this one is so elegant and lovely and does the job. He is setting up a business doing bespoke woodwork projects, and he is available to make other writers standing desks. His twitter account is @daveyboydanger and I highly recommend him and his desks!

2. I have joined a community gym, but because I am feeling a bit shy about exposing my lack of fitness in front of others, I have invested some money for some one- to- one sessions with a very kind, young, fit, personal trainer called Poppy. I NEVER thought I would do anything like that, but I am so glad and I need it so much. My shoulders hold so much tension, and my weak core muscles would never get me a place on 'Strictly Come Dancing', and Poppy devises brilliant exercises to help. I can feel the good of it. Poppy is also very pleased about the standing desk. And, by an amazing coincidence, I have found that Poppy is the niece of the art director in a publisher who will be publishing a picture book of mine in 2020! It is definitely a small world!!

As a self-employed person I am definitely going to claim for the standing desk against tax, and I am going to ask about claiming for the personal training, as other people work in offices where they have free gym membership. If I hear back that you can, I will tell you.

3. I have gone away on a writing retreat. As most writers know, you can also claim the cost of going away to research and write, against tax. Not having an office to go to, and working alone at home, takes its toll on your mental and emotional health, and I have been struggling a bit with that. It can feel very isolating not having work colleagues and working on your own all day, and you never get away from your domestic environment. I am very lucky that my lovely husband built me a writing hut in our garden, but every so often I need to write intensely and be in a quiet environment with my meals made for me, but also with the company of other writers. I have just come back from writing (and copy and pasting!) tens of thousands of words at a writing retreat in France called Chez Castilllon I highly recommend it. It opens again next year with some wonderful tutored retreats, but you can also attend and just do your own  work.
         I did worry about spending money - every writer will understand that - but if I can get a contract for the work I did then, which I am finishing now, it will more than pay for itself, and I also always feel so much better emotionally and mentally for spending time with the lovely people who run it, Janie and Mickey Wilson (Janie is the brilliant writer Janie Millman) When you go on retreat you also have the company of the other writers who happen to be writing there, and I was very lucky with the company I was in this past week and really enjoyed meeting everyone. I was particularly lucky that one of the people there for her own work was the very experienced and very very good  writer Jo Thomas, who in one sentence at one meal, told me not to worry about a particular issue and advised me to put back a whole section of work I had removed because of it. Suddenly I had copy and pasted back thousands of words,  the book I was writing made sense again, I was much MUCH nearer completing it, and I am very grateful. I also really enjoyed reading Jo's books in bed at night - they are very relaxing, romantic and well written, so I have discovered a great new writer to read!

So - buying a standing desk, going to see a personal trainer to get bespoke exercises to sort out fitness issues, and going away on a writing retreat, have all been ways I have looked after my health and invested in my career as a writer. If I see this as a business investment so I can keep going in the long-run then I don't feel guilty about spending money on myself, and I can already see the good of all three things. I think I will share three more things next month!


janie millman said...

Lovely and thought provoking blog

Joan Lennon said...

Wise words, Anne!

Hilary Hawkes said...

Very sensible and such good advice. I'd love a standing desk! I agree about the exercise. I joined a gym some years ago and now go to an exercise class a couple of times a week called Body Balance. It's a mixture of yoga, tai chi and pilates to music - all abilities and I love it. Walking every day is also good and a chance to think in the fresh air.