13th November is World Kindness Day. How cool is that? A day to focus our attention on generous thoughts and actions to ourselves and others.
It’s late in the day as I write this, as I’ve just got back from holidaying in Madeira (gorgeous island, beautiful flowers and sunsets, though don’t recommend tackling all the hills on foot at 6 months pregnant :-O).
I was unplugged for much of the time, which was so needed. And that unplugged time gave me the space to read, to scribble in my notebook, and to think about what I need from my own writing life. Interestingly, what I need from my writing life is what I need from my everyday life too, much of the time.
So, in the spirit of World Kindness Day, here are 13 ways I nurture the writer in me:
- Treat her like a friend
If you read no further, I hope you remember this bit. We’re all so good at beating ourselves up, with frankly abusive self-criticism and put-downs. (I don’t think it’s just me, anyway). But we are far more likely to treat others with kindness, to look for the good, to care about how they are. So treat your writing self as a separate person. Someone you care about, someone you want the best for. And that means looking for the good, picking her up, being there for her. Numbers 2-13 are different ways you can do that.
- Make her work manageable
This is important. Don’t tell your writer that she has to sit down and write a book, she’ll most likely cower under the duvet until you decide doing your accounts or taking the dog for a walk is suddenly your most pressing task. Instead, say to her that she just needs to sit and write for 25 minutes, or 500 words, or whatever feels right for you. If you wrote 500 words every day for 3 months, you’d have a 30,000 word manuscript. Make things simple, no big deal.
- Make her work non-negotiable
But you do need to let her know she’s needed. Whether you want to embed a writing habit for your own wellbeing, or to create regular content for your business, or to finish your book, you need to… write. It’s about doing, not dreaming. I like making things non-negotiable because it takes the decision away. So set a pattern that suits you (20 minutes each day, 1 hour twice a week, every Friday… whatever suits) and stick to it without fail. Let your writer know she’s wanted and you’re not going to steal her time away.
- Wine and dine her
I have one long day a week to write/work on my business, and the rest of it happens in bigger or smaller chunks. Often towards the end of that long day I’m done in. I’ve developed a habit of taking my laptop to a local cafe and writing from there (they know to expect me most weeks now!). I’ve moved my body, I’ve changed things up, I’ve acknowledged her needs. And usually, that’s when some of my best writing happens. So if you’re feeling stuck, give your writer a treat. It doesn’t have to be coffee and cake, sitting on a bench by a beautiful tree might be the food your writer needs.
- Let her play
Sometimes you have a clear intention of what you want to write and it just won’t happen. Something else wants to be written instead. Rather than get into a stand off with your writing self, cut her some slack. Give her some time to write her thing. Then you can get on with your original idea (unless she’s come up with something far more original and interesting!).
- Keep her in your pocket
I love notebooks. I carry one everywhere, that and a bottle of water. Use a notepad app on your phone if you like, but don’t miss a chance to note something down when an idea strikes you.
- Give her fuel
Julia Cameron talks about having weekly ‘artist dates’ with yourself – an hour each week that you spend with yourself to refill your creative well. I love this idea. I confess I don’t always stick to it, but I do recognise when I’m tired it’s often not because I need to do less, but that I need to do more of the things I love, the things that bring me energy (which will of course mean cutting out some of the draining activities to make space). So give your writer energy by spending time regularly in the places and with the people that make you feel good.
- Play to her strengths
There’s a talented member of my group The Copy Kitchen who declared that she ‘wasn’t a writer’. This belief came from school, and from the labels she attached since about what she is and what she isn’t. Yet, we all write – we write lists, emails, birthday cards. This particular person is a talented professional artist, and we talked about her turning her ideas into word doodles, cutting them up onto bits of paper and storyboarding them, rather than agonising at a blank screen for hours. She wrote a whole press release (that made it into the local press!) this way. The point is, there’s no wrong way to get going with your writing. Let your writer do it her way.
- Read to her
I came across a brilliant quote a couple of weeks ago:
“Reading is breathing in; Writing is breathing out.” Pam Allyn
I posted it on my Red Tree Writing Facebook Page and a lovely reader commented about how she’d realised this was why she’d felt out of sync recently – not enough balance between reading and writing. Reading is another type of fuel for your writer – read whatever lights you up, sparks your curiosity, gets you itching to reflect and respond.
- Listen to her
The wonderful thing about treating your writing self as a friend is it means you’re no longer alone. It’s no longer just on you to get the writing done – there’s you and your writer working together. Julia Cameron (I’m a fan, can you tell?) says that when she’s not sure what to write in her morning pages (a daily 3 page journalling exercise) she asks ‘little Julie’ and writes whatever comes up. It’s good to have goals, to know where you want to go. But when you don’t, or if something doesn’t feel quite right, use your notebook to have a conversation and see what happens.
- Give her space
A couple of years ago I was writing an e-book for a client to a tight deadline around Christmastime. My partner had taken a day off work to look after the children and give me extra uninterrupted time to write. The pressure was on. It was an agonising, arduous day. I got to 6pm defeated.
I’d written a couple of thousand words but it was all absolute dross. I felt guilty and stressed. Yet. The next day I fired up the computer, I looked at my draft, my notes and my research and something magical had happened overnight. It wasn’t dross at all. Yes, it needed livening up, yes it needed reworking a little, and a fresh starting point. But it was there – it was down and it was totally workable.
Don’t give up on your writer. Give her space, and give you space too.
- Deal in doing, not outcomes
A bit of a theme running through this list is the balance between goal-setting and freedom, I notice. It comes up at the writing retreats I host too. At the start I invite everyone to share their goals for the day’s writing. And then I ask them to set their intentions. Sometimes the two align, sometimes they don’t. A goal has a fixed outcome (write this week’s blog). An intention is more about direction of travel (to play/unwind/get clear on what next). Put the work in (you’ve made it non-negotiable anyway), but wherever possible follow your intention not your outcome – there may be something more interesting for you to sniff out. And doing is the way to get there.
- Gather your cheerleaders
I’ve ended this list with this second most important point (after the whole thing of treating your writing self as a friend, #1), so I hope you’ve got this far… Please surround yourself with people who will treat you and your writing seriously and kindly, and friendlily (I know that’s not a word).Writing is an act of vulnerability, it’s an act of bravery, and it’s sowing little seeds. You don’t sow seeds and ask people to stamp on them. Yes, they might need a little more water, a little weeding, and that’s what friendly feedback is for. But they need nurture most of all. Seek out the people who will support your writing.
And if you’re not already there, join The Copy Kitchen – that’s exactly what the group is for: to support you as you grow your business through writing honest, engaging content. With your writing self alongside you.