Staying healthy (and sane) especially during stressful times and holiday periods can be a challenge for us all. This week Cheryl, Wendy and Shar talk about the health hacks they’ve found have helped to calm the chaos, stay sane (sort of) and keep our bodies and minds working well. It can be hard to put self-care on the top of your Priority List, but it’s vital. From mindfulness to stretching, gratitude to social media-strangling, we hope you’ll find our healthy hacks helpful. As a wise commercial says, you’re worth it.
According to mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”.
It’s not magic, or mysterious. It’s simply focussing on what you’re doing when you’re doing it, without thinking about anything else. Turning our brain “off” isn’t the goal here – what we’re aiming to do is practice being present. This slows down the monkey chatter going on it your head and it’s particularly helpful when you’re writing (helps that negative self talk shut up) and when you’re editing and proofreading (focus, grasshopper). If a pesky thought enters your head, distracting you, you “observe” it with detachment.
A clear and focussed mind is a beautiful thing, and there’s a reason this is called a “practice” – ie it’s something you need to consciously do throughout the day! One app many of us have tried is Headspace.com which is guided meditation.
Other mindfulness app recommendations here: https://www.mindful.org/free-mindfulness-apps-worthy-of-your-attention/
Pure H20 – the stuff you splash in with your whiskey doesn’t count.
Keep a bottle by your desk and stay hydrated. Side benefit: all the getting up and going to the bathroom enforces you to get off your chair!
3) Fresh Air / Exercise
Fresh air (for mental and physical health) is vital every day. We all know the benefits of exercise – the key we’ve found is to find something you enjoy (eg walk while listening to podcasts) and change things up so you’re not bored.
4) Healthy Fuel
Not going to get into dietary advice, except to say “stop eating crap” and remember that to function well your brain and body need good fats and protein. No secret that many of the top tier of romance writers we met at RWA over the years pay good attention to their health and wellness. We’re in this for the long haul people! Ass-spread as a result of sitting is a very real danger. As is heart disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses. You’re a Ferrari Of Awesomeness – give yourself the right fuel to run.
5) Healthy Sleep Habits
Who hasn’t lain awake at night wrangling plot problems in their head? But poor sleep can have a really negative impact on your health and your writing, so it’s worth paying as much attention to your healthy sleeping as it is when you’re awake. Consider: bed time routines, exercise / fresh air, healthy food to aid sleep, magnesium and other natural supplements, turning off “blue light” devices before bed. Many writers struggle with depression and anxiety of which poor sleep is a symptom. Courage is asking for help, no need to suffer alone.
Our fellow podcasters James Blatch and Mark Dawson had an excellent episode with sleep expert Dr Anne Bartolucci which is well worth a listen at: https://selfpublishingformula.com/episode-76/
6) Trim back on Social Media
- Especially at this time of year, social media, holiday stress and buy-buy-buy emails can be really anxiety-inducing. This is where tips we’ve talked about previously can help. In our Author Overwhelm book, we suggest:
Understand what you’re trying to achieve by using social media
- Take a step back and look at your overall social media strategy. Do you want to engage with fans? Do you want to meet other authors to find cross promotion buddies? Or do you want to just sell more books? Each of these aims would require a very different social media strategy. Once again, as soon as you have a specific goal in mind it becomes easier to decide what actions to take, and where to spend your time.
Pick one social media platform to learn at a time
Pick Facebook first
Limit your daily social media activity
- This means only looking at certain times of the day. And turn off your Facebook feed between those times. You’ll only get sucked into a cute kitten/sexy-firemen-holding-puppies time-warp that will steal your writing time.
Consider scheduling posts and other automation assistance
Plan ahead and stay focused
- If you think you might be spending too much time on social media, it could be from lack of planning. If you don’t know how much you want to do, and how often, you can sometimes overdose because of the guilt from not doing as much as you think you should. If you have a clear plan, and you know on a week-to-week basis exactly what you need to have on your social media platform, it will be much more streamlined and effective. The temptation not to plan because you think it takes too long is a false economy (but for time, not money).
If you can’t do it regularly, don’t do it at all
- This applies to blogging most of all, but also to social media platforms. If you can’t give your audience what they need, perhaps it’s time to rethink your strategy. Honestly, the world will not fall apart if you’re not on Twitter.
Try taking a social media vacation
- This is the same as above, but less permanent. Try just having a break for a while. Trying to keep up with all the posts, retweets, and must-haves on social media can be tiring. Sometimes you just need to step back and take a break. You can use automation to keep a presence, but take yourself out of it for a month.
7) Be Grateful
Yes, we know Gratitude Journals, a la Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah, can seem just one more darn “thing to do” but keeping the spirit / creative well / mind healthy is key to writing success, just as much as upping your marketing game or nailing tropes. This is an amazing, awesome time to be a writer and it’s easy to forget that when we’re lost in the fog of To Dos and If Onlys.
A team of researchers from the University of Limerick’s study published in 2017 found gratitude journaling had a significant, positive impact on well-being. Interestingly, those who were more depressed got the most benefit out of expressing their gratitude.
8) Ya Gotta Laugh
When we spoke with screenwriter Kathryn Burnett last episode, she reminded us of her sign than overcomes her resistance and helps ground her: it says, you will die. Which we all laughed at (a bit uncomfortably at fast) but that is SO true. And in the same way, laughing at your current (writing) situation is a huge stress release. Even the crazed cackling at 2am when Amazon won’t upload your darn cover image.
Humor not only helps with stress, it also has physical benefits (apparently a hearty laugh benefits your circulation, lungs and tummy muscles!) as well as boosting your creativity.
9) Stretch Yourself
Not just mentally, but physically. Take care of your back, your neck and your hands (dictation is worth mastering). Try Pilates (Wendy), Essentrics : http://www.essentrics.com/media.html (Shar) and read our Author Overwhelm book for more exercises and tips.
Can be a friend and a foe. Our previous podcast guest, Melissa Storm, talked about turning it into her Superpower (Spa Girls Podcast Episode #109). When a foe, it can be crippling, and many writers suffer. Getting some kind of help is vital – see your doctor, therapist, natural health practitioner and talk to other writers. You are not alone.
For prolific author, Zoe Dawson, it’s all about the happily ever afters. Zoe writes across several genres including romantic suspense, small town romance, new adult, urban fantasy and romantic comedy. We talk with Zoe about the challenges and rewards of writing across so many genres, how to juggle writing projects, reader expectations and the key that unlocked her being able to dramatically write faster (a book in three weeks!).
Before achieving success in the self-publishing arena, Zoe published romance traditionally under a different pen name.
In the podcast she shares how she made the transition, what she’s learned over the past five years of self-publishing and how she deals with the writing vs business equation. Zoe talks about:
* Why you should understand the key concepts of each genre
* Setting up an annual writing calendar
* How “Mirror Moments” will transform your writing
* The secret to writing faster
It was such a treat to interview Zoe. She’s a very talented, focused writer and an inspiration to those who want push their creative boundaries and succeed in writing across all the genres they love.
Learn more about Zoe at: www.zoedawson.com
Creating Character Arcs: by K M Weilandhttps://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M6VC68U
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way To Success, by K M Weiland
Goal, Motivation & Conflict, by Debra Dixon
This week we try to nut out our own personal author values, and try to distill down a mission statement for each of us as authors. We believe that defining your core values as an author will help you make decisions in your author career, keep your focus longer, and keep you sitting down in your chair, writing those books!
We talk about the pros and cons of a mission statement, why Wendy doesn’t like them, and why we think they’re valuable for you as an author. We talk about what Joanna Penn and Susan Kaye Quinn say about mission statements, and go through the process of creating one for Cheryl that means something to her as an author.
Where are you? What stage or you at?
If you’re overwhelmed? Perhaps a mission statement can help filter out the decisions that are most important to you. Often, it is seen as a tool for corporates but is similar for authors.
What are you core aims and goals?
What are your ultimate aims?
What gets your butt in the chair?
Don’t worry about making your mission statement formal. Start with jotting down your thoughts. Play with it until you are happy that it represents you. It should be something snappy – a few sentences or a paragraph.
A mission statement is personal to you. Feel free to keep it to yourself.
Wendy doesn’t get in to this stuff, she hates anything to take herself away from writing. Seeing as how she is a star, we feel that she’s already on the right track. However, she does appreciate that it can help a lot of people.
Joanna Penn’s advice:
Ask yourself what you do? What happens when you sit down to write.
Who do you do it for?
Why are you so different? (Your unique selling point)
Where are you going and what are your goals?
How are you going to get there? Focus on the skills that you have that will get you there.
Susan K Quinn
Your mission statement will change but your fundamentals will stay the same
Drink coffee and make stuff up.
To be a member of a community.
To be a teacher to encourage my students to be more than they think they can.
To have fun in my journey in life and learn from my mistakes.
Cheryl’s Mission Statement which we brainstormed:
Writing and sharing quality books about family, love and resilience, I use humor and empathy to help my readers escape to new places.
A little thing for you to do – Patricia McLinn’s workshop idea
Take out 3 pieces of paper and jot down the 3 key reasons why you write.
Don’t belabour it.
Now throw away 1 piece of paper. Happy? Probably not.
Now throw away another piece. It’s hard, but just do it!
You have one piece left, right?
This is the real reason why you write!
This week we have a meaty topic for you! We go in-depth and take a look at our fears, the mental stuff that’s stopping us from getting ahead.
We all have fears, from the rational ones that motivate us and keep us going, to the irrational fears that keep us awake at night (and me out of the swimming pool – I swear, Jaws could be in there). This episode is about recognising those fears and lessening their power over us as writers, by naming them, and focusing on ways to overcome them.
We look at the fears that have stopped or hindered us in our writing careers, how we got over them and how you can too. We also talk about the fears we still have, and the ones we wish we had!
Wendy hates this kind of episode, so if nothing else, you should listen to it just to hear her squirm… 🙂
Acknowledge and understand your fears, or you will never learn to deal with them!
Ask the why questions!
Cher’s fears –
- She fears that no one will want to read her books once she publishes them.
- Self-doubt, that she has given up a steady income for an unstable one.
Shar’s fears –
- Fear of being found out to be a fraud.
- That she’s going to write, and people are not going to want to read her work because for so long she’s believed that she will be a writer.
Wendy’s fears –
- She’s afraid that one day she’ll wake up and her books have stopped selling, and the life she now lives will no longer exist.
- Imposter syndrome keeps motivating and driving her to write more and achieve more success.
Trudi’s fears –
- Thinks her writing is not good enough.
- Fear of failure. What if I’ve done all this work and it’s not enough!
Other writer’s fears are theirs alone! They are facing different demons to you, so don’t take them on.
The SPA Girls handle their fears and issues, by talking to each other. It’s true that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Excuses manifest our fears!
Stop projecting negativity in your what ifs! Problems can be mitigated.
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Emotions like fear and anxiety have their roots in uncertainty and inexperience.
- Tim Ferris
Name your fear must be before banish it you can
Take the time to do Tim Ferris’s exercise.
We did beginnings last week, so we thought we’d pay tribute to endings this time around… 🙂 Many authors rush through the ending of their book, because by the time they get there, they’re sick of the whole concept… But your ending is what will lead readers onto your next book, so you need to spend as much time on your ending as your beginning! If you write a fizzer that ends too quickly or doesn’t deliver on your promises throughout the story, you’re not going to get lifetime readers who follow your every move.
With this in mind, we talk about chapter endings, and endings for the whole book. We give some ideas on what we do to make sure our endings are as good as we can make them, and give a few tips and tricks on creating the best ending you can!
What’s with Cheryl writing the ending before she gets there! Odd right? It’s not all that uncommon surprisingly. Plenty of writers do it! Remember, no one shoe fits all in this game.
The ending is vital because it is what will make your reader want to buy the next book. You must leave them feeling like they want more!
HEA = Happy Ever After ending. Marriage, life-long love, yadda yadda
HFN = Happy For Now ending. No actual promise of happily every after, but the reader is left with a happy and uplifting note.
Remember the ending is the payoff for the rest of the book. It must make sense to the reader. The characters can’t turn around in the last few pages and do something completely out of character from their behavior in the rest of the book. It has to tie in, and the end is the culmination of all those things, like internal and external conflict, finding a resolution.
Remember, know the rules of romance, if you want to break the rules!
DON’T DISAPPOINT YOUR READER.
We want to relate to the characters also. We want to know that whatever hell we the writers have put them through, they will resolve it and continue to do so in their lives.
Leslie Wanger the writer of Writing Romance for Dummies says – too often the real story ends with the last chapter, but the author adds an epilog just to show the characters have married and their lives are fine. I find this to be anticlimactic.
Wendy sometimes writes her endings on the second draft.
Chapter endings are also important. They will make your reader keep turning the page. Use things like;
Climax, changing viewpoints, dialogue, cliff hangers, and emotional tension.
But remember, what you want to achieve is the need for the reader to keep reading!
-If you are not happy with a chapter ending, then look at changing to another person’s point of view. Sometimes it’s best to use the character who has the most, emotionally, to lose.
In honour of Valentine’s Day, the SPA Girls fought it out to come up with our list of the Best Romance Novels of All Time. Listen to this episode to see if you agree with our choices… 🙂
Ransom, Julie Garwood http://amzn.to/2kNvpph
Angels Fall, Nora Roberts http://amzn.to/2kNHuLd
Mine Til Midnight, Lisa Kleypas http://amzn.to/2kTNzrW
The Duchess War, Courtney Milan http://amzn.to/2kYJ7YA
These Old Shades, Georgette Heyer http://amzn.to/2kxBXtD
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell http://amzn.to/2kYHeLq
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen http://amzn.to/2kTWJ7T
Mercenary Instinct, Ruby Lionsdrake http://amzn.to/2lwwqlC
Bridget Jones’ Diary, Helen Fielding http://amzn.to/2k8A2gG
Outlander/Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon http://amzn.to/2kxLCRf
Me Before You, Jo Jo Moyes http://amzn.to/2kYSw2u
Ain’t She Sweet, Marie Force http://amzn.to/2kNBrXc
Devil’s Bride, Stephanie Laurens http://amzn.to/2kTTxch
Dream Man, Linda Howard http://amzn.to/2lwDmiX
Slave To Sensation, Nalini Singh http://amzn.to/2kYZaWy
Secrets On The Sand, Roxanne St Claire http://amzn.to/2lpB5Jt