Starting with SELF is appropriate because it’s often the thing authors abandon first. We spend so much time trying to contort ourselves for agents, editors, and readers we completely forget that we’re a very important piece of our stories.
If you haven’t read the Series Kickoff outlining the 4S’s, do that here.
The self has two sections: your physical self and your higher self.
Your Higher Self
Your higher self is not a spiritual thing (although it can be if that’s important to you) but more a way in which you carry yourself. In regards to writing, it comprises your values, expectations, and boundaries. These three areas must be understood if you are to have a hope of building a sustainable writing career.
Define your beliefs. What is the code of conduct in your life? Identify the force that drives your behavior?
We all love to talk about values in a romantic sense. We want to value family and love and kindness, but in truth, we sometimes choose our values based on how good they make us look.
Behind all the posturing, our real values are there, and they are coming out every day in how we behave. When we act in alignment with our values, we feel refreshed, inspired, motivated. When we are working counter to our values, we feel stuck, hopeless, or agitated. Values often change and morph as we do, and they’re not fixed. You can integrate new values into your life that will serve you and your writing better.
My two highest held values are communication and integrity.
What are yours?
This is not what you expect from others; it’s what others expect from you. And you have more control over it than you think.
Again this comes back to behavior. You set expectations in others with the choices you make. Every time you sit down to write and your kids want something from you, do you get up and do it for them? Or do you tell them to wait until after your writing time? Both of those actions are setting an expectation.
If you interrupt your creative time to cater to others, you’re communicating to them that your writing time is optional and non-essential. They will continue to interrupt you because you’ve indicated that it’s okay if they do.
Boundaries are born from expectations. Let’s continue with the interruption example as I’m guessing it’s a common one, and it’s also a smaller, more manageable boundary to set.
Boundaries are the lines that you will not allow others to cross—a time/action/space you protect, literally or figuratively. I often instruct my clients to create a Nope List for their fiction, which is a list of boundaries you’ll set with your family/friends and your readers. Write out a series of ways you refuse to compromise your goals and values to achieve some arbitrary metric—such as I will never add gratuitous sex into my novel to gain more sales.
How could we set a healthy boundary around writing time with our children? Here’s how I do it. See how my values (communication and integrity) play into my boundaries.
I get up early to write as I have a preschool-aged daughter and I’m a morning person as they say.
I sat down with my husband and daughter and talked to them about my writing. I told them why I love to write—that it gave me purpose and joy. I let them in on my process—I’m most productive in the morning and require quiet, uninterrupted time to get into the flow. I asked them how they felt about my writing and if they had questions about how I was spending my time at the screen. Through their answers, I realized that they didn’t understand my writing time and often felt I was neglecting them to scroll social media and avoid them. So I explained further. We talked about online presence, my relationship with my readers, and my marketing efforts. I walked them through my brand and how I use my time to write, edit, publish, and promote. Once they understood better, we set the expectations around my creative time as a family.
Unless there is pain or blood, my time is MY time. I make sure to hold up my end of the bargain by sticking to the arrangement. I use that time to work, not to flitter around on the internet doing unnecessary things. And when 8 am rolls around, I pack it up and turn my attention to the family. If my boundary is crossed, I gently remind them of our agreement. I offer them an option to solve their problems and follow through with a list of consequences that we predetermined, such as if my daughter can’t give me that time, she has to play or read in her room instead of in my office. If I breach my end of the agreement, they remind me of the time and how I’ve gone over.
This example sounds very hippie, but it took a lot of reminders and a lot of putting my foot down. It’s a long and bumpy road. Slowly, my family began to understand that I respect my creative time enough to defend it, and now they respect it too.
Your Physical Self
I have zero interest in using this space to make you feel like you need to be a certain way or size or shape to be healthy. Health looks different for all of us, depending on our genetics and our environmental circumstances. Our bodies communicate with us about what makes it feel better and worse. Being in tune with that can improve your creativity because what you eat and how you move affects your focus and clarity—in helpful ways and harmful ways.
If you love to work out hard and cook elaborate Keto meals, then do that.
But connecting to our bodies could look like drinking a big glass of cold water before you write because it perks you up. Or take a break from writing to do some stretching in your chair. Or save those cookies for after your writing time because you know sugar makes you foggy and grumpy.
Practice listening to your body.
Whether it’s your higher self or your physical self, it’s about alignment. This industry has enough obstacles to navigate; our relationship with writing doesn’t have to be one of them.
If you need help sorting out your priorities and creating a plan to bring your Self back into your writing game, I’ve got you covered. Let’s chat soon.