Love is in the air…
When we think of Valentine’s Day, of course, we naturally think of romance, partnerships, and sharing love with a special someone. Today, though, I want to talk about a different kind of relationship for a minute. Not everyone is partnered up nor wants to be, but everyone is worthy of love – from our own sweet selves first of all. So, in this post, I share seven ways writers can nurture a healthy relationship with our creative hearts and keep the self-love spark alive for the long haul.
It’s likely that not all of these ways of caring for and connecting with your creative self will work for you. We all have our unique love languages. The trick is finding yours and then using it in your self-talk. 💕
Creative work is a commitment.
Here’s a thought: the longest committed relationship any of us will have isn’t with another human being, but with ourselves.
Sometimes, that love story can be complicated—I know mine has been. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how to love ourselves. Sometimes, we neglect our commitment to our own well-being. Sometimes, we treat ourselves badly in ways we wouldn’t stand for from someone else.
It’s a good thing that when it comes to loving ourselves, we always get another chance.
For writers and creators, self-love can get extra challenging. Putting your creative work into the world to be consumed, judged, rejected, or worst of all, unnoticed and unrequited, can feel like living with nerves exposed to every sling and arrow. Many of us are already highly sensitive creatures by nature. But even the toughest among us have bad days, and we all can use a little tenderness.
So, how do we care for our raw and wild hearts? How do we romance our creative selves to build a healthy, lasting relationship that can weather the ups and downs, for better or worse?
1. Write for you first.
When writers first begin to take their work seriously, it’s probably with a focus on the creative process. We do it for love: of story, of words, of character, of the worlds we build in our imagination. But once you start your career, you quickly learn that publishing is a business like any other.
Agents and acquiring editors aren’t doing this for love. They’re doing it for money. This is not a knock on industry professionals! Many of them got into this business out of love, too. But if they are doing their jobs well, they have to think of what will sell and how to sell it.
It’s easy to start thinking that way too, as a writer, valuing and assessing your work on the sole grounds of whether it is marketable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s smart to understand the market and be practical about it. But if you are only writing “to market” instead of writing what you love, it takes the joy out of it.
Whatever book you write, if you intend to publish it, you will have to read it over and over: from first to final draft, through multiple edit rounds, through copy edits, all the way to the proofs. It helps to have that spark of love to keep you going. To keep your relationship with your creativity strong and keep the love alive, make space for the parts of writing and the kinds of story that make you happy, even if you’re writing in a genre with strict expectations.
Remember, you can’t please everyone with your work. Start with yourself. Sometimes, it helps to set aside time to write purely for fun again, whether that’s fanfiction, funny poetry, blogging, or just seeing where the page leads.
Being playful and spontaneous with your chosen art is a great way to nurture creativity.
2. Take yourself on a date.
I’ve mentioned Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and her idea of an Artist Date here before, but I want to raise it again because it fits today’s theme so beautifully. An artist date is time set aside to romance the artist within, engage your senses, delight your inner child, and refill the creative well. It can be a place to visit, a scrumptious food, an activity, or even a state of mind. You don’t have to do it once a week, like Cameron recommends, but setting a schedule and even putting them on your calendar might help you follow through on the commitment.
Again, not everything may be your thing! Not all dates may work out. If you’re not sure where to take yourself, make a list of some activities or destination that you think might tickle your fancy. Then pick one that appeals to you more than the others and try it out. One of the nice things about an artist date is that you don’t need anyone else to go with you. You only need to please yourself.
The lists are for giddy delights—nothing serious here. This is not the time to undertake edifying adult pleasures, such as the computer course you’ve been meaning to take. The course is not an Artist Date. It is far too demanding. What we are after here is sheer fun. Nothing too harsh. And remember, it must be undertaken solo. On an Artist Date, you are wooing yourself. The adventure is not to be shared. It is private and personal: a secret gift you share with yourself alone.Julia Cameron, The Listening Path, excerpted at LitHub.com
Here are some artist date ideas that came to mind for me:
- Go to a movie or play
- Cook and eat a meal you love or take yourself out to dinner
- Visit an art installation
- Attend a live music performance
- Try something new or practice a less familiar creative discipline
- Move your body – put on your favorite music and dance it out
- Go to a curio shop or farmers’ market
- Walk in a park or botanical garden
- Take a long shower or bath and pamper yourself
- Take a class in something fun that piques your curiosity
- Treat yourself at an arts and crafts store
The most important factor here is that you are doing it for no other reason but spending time with yourself and getting to know who you are, what you like, what you want. Deep connections take time, so don’t ghost your creative self if the first date feels weird. Maybe you just need some time to loosen up and build trust.
3. Keep a positive feedback file.
Healthy trust, whether for ourself or others, develops over time with consistent, positive interactions. Yet, when we seek feedback on our work, it’s easy to focus solely on the action items, i.e. the negative critiques. It’s hard to remember that feedback isn’t just good for learning what isn’t working or what you are doing “wrong” (scare quotes because writing is subjective!)
It’s crucial to get feedback on what is working so you can build on your strengths. When someone says a nice thing about your writing, don’t just say thank you and forget about it. Take it in, honor it, and let it feed you.
Save those positive reviews, those beta comments, and those texts saying they stayed up too late reading what you wrote (my favorite kind). Put them together in a document on your computer or paste them into a scrapbook. Make pretty graphics of them and put them on Instagram. Be shameless about it, but the most important audience for this is you.
If you aren’t getting any positive regard from your feedback sources, or they consistently leave you feeling discouraged even after you take time to marinate on their comments, I’d strongly urge that you take a step back and reevaluate those sources. Your betas and CPs should be people who get what you are trying to do with your work, who are rooting for you, and who help you feel excited to dig deeper into your work’s potential.
This is also a way to care for yourself: making sure you’re surrounded by people who appreciate your strong points and support your growth. Feedback partnerships are relationships like any other, and they can be healthy or unhealthy. As with any good relationship, it should start with honest but kind communication. And if you need more positive comments or reassurance, it should be safe to ask for it.
4. Save your darlings.
Your relationship with your own writing should start with honest but kind communication, too! When you’re marking up that document for your next round of revisions, be sure to note the parts you love as well as the parts that you want to improve. To go a step further, keep those favorite lines in a separate file to review when you’re feeling like you don’t know the first thing about putting two words together.
An upside of this trick is that when you later see one of those snippet prompts on social media, you won’t have to search your whole manuscript again to separate the gold from the chaff. You’ll have all your gold in one place and ready to dazzle.
5. Display your wins.
If you’re like me and you sometimes forget things that aren’t right under your nose all the time (and sometimes things that are), it helps to put your favorite wins, your inspirations, and your motivating quotes where they will be impossible to ignore. I put them directly behind my computer monitor. Yeah, they do become background decoration eventually, but it makes it harder to forget that “oh yeah, I did that.”
I put my offer letters up here, my Pitch Wars welcome email, and since I took this picture, I added a wedding photo. It doesn’t have to be about writing, and it doesn’t have to just be accomplishments you’re proud of. It can include anything that makes you feel happy, inspired, or loved.
6. Put rest on your to do list.
At the beginning of this year, when I started journaling again, I decided to write to-do lists in my journal every morning. I put checkboxes by each one and found this was great incentive to return to the journal the next day to mark the tasks I’d completed.
Then, sometime in mid-January when I was feeling particularly under-slept, I had the brilliant idea of adding an extra item to my to-do list: “Nap.” I drew a little box by it just like every other task, so I could have the satisfaction of checking it off. I was tired, but also weary of feeling guilty for taking time to rest even when I had other things to do.
I was surprised at how well this worked! At least, if my brain couldn’t get anything else on the to-do list checked off, it could accomplish this one. I’ve started using other tricks like this, too. On my birthday I gave myself a free “birthday” checkbox. On migraine days I give myself a free checkbox too. But “Nap” is for sure the best one, because it’s actionable and because it provides me with a clear benefit when I do need the extra rest.
If you aren’t a fan of naps, that’s fine! Identify the things that do help you feel rested and refreshed, then put those things on your list of things to do. Whether it’s a skin care routine, soaking in nature, listening to music, or even zoning out with some trash tv, rest is crucial to caring for our creative hearts.
The pressure to constantly and tirelessly produce has nothing to do with creativity—that’s the joyless drumbeat of capitalism and Puritan work ethic. Just say “NO” to that bullshit and give your soul the downtime it craves.
7. Share the love.
I’ve spent the rest of this post talking about self-love. If you’re like me, it can be hard to separate self-love and selfishness, but I assure you, there is a difference. Self-love fills you up and gives you resources that will serve you when you feel called upon to help others. That’s why when you fly, the attendants always tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you: you can’t be there for anyone else if you’re struggling for breath yourself.
However, assuming you’re not already depleted, you can also give yourself a lift and practice loving-kindness by giving back to your community. For myself, I find that providing positive regard and support to other writers can raise my mood in an instant. If I stay out of a comparing or competitive mindset in doing so, with some self-discipline I can carry that love back to my own work as well.
If you are feeling particularly harsh on yourself, try giving yourself a positivity pass by pretending the work belongs to someone else. Treat it with the same care you would if someone entrusted their baby to you. Would you shred another writer’s tender heart? If not, then transfer some of that same compassion to your own endeavors.
With that in mind, this week I am going to hold a giveaway and offer at least five positivity reads (one per weekday) via my Twitter account. Follow me there and keep an eye out for the giveaway posts to enter. If you feel inspired to do so, I challenge you to offer your own positivity reads. There’s no prerequisite for sharing the love besides a willing heart.
How do you care for your creative heart? Are you planning to try out any of the ideas above? Comment and let me know. I love to hear from my readers, and this one’s my Valentine to you. 💝