I can’t believe it, but here we are on the penultimate day of the A to Z Challenge. It’s gone so fast. Can you believe we’re almost into May? Yesterday, as regular readers will know, was publication day for To Catch a Witch. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who shared the news, liked or commented on my posts. I really do appreciate it. I woke up this morning to discover that it’s already got a bestseller flag on Amazon.
That’s all thanks to you! And, talking of you, let’s get back to the A to Z Challenge, where today Y is for something very special indeed.
Y is for …
That’s right. Today’s post is all about you, with the main focus on your health and well-being. To start with, however, I should give a little mention to the:
Your author bio will go in various places: in your books, on your website, on your Facebook page, your Amazon author profile, your Twitter bio, any guest blog posts you write … the list goes on and on. So, it’s important that you give out the right sort of information about yourself, and make sure that you’re comfortable with people reading it. Be concise and clear, and think about what’s relevant.
You may want to list all your achievements, but is it really essential that your readers know you won a badge and a bag of lollipops for a recorder recital you performed at school, aged seven? Yes, you should list your credentials (particularly important if you write non-fiction) but you don’t have to go on and on forever. If you’ve won awards for writing then it’s fine to say so (unless you were six at the time, in which case it maybe doesn’t matter so much). If your book won a prize, tell people by all means. List your previous books, but if you’ve written more than three, maybe just choose the bestsellers. It’s a biography, after all, not a bibliography.
Personally, I think that, if you’re writing a bio for your website, it’s fine to write in first person. I think it sets a more intimate and approachable tone for your readers. However, for inclusion in your books and on other sites, I’d use third person, as that’s more professional. I’d also keep it fairly short. You can be chattier and go into more detail for your website, but elsewhere there’s no point in printing paragraph after paragraph. People want a brief overview of you, they don’t want to read the full script for your episode of This Is Your Life. Oh wow, I really showed my age there. I can just see all you youngsters scratching your heads and asking, “This is what, now?” Google it.
Anyway, I’ve dug around and found a couple of articles that may be useful to you if you need help writing a bio. You’ll find them here and here. And with that out of the way, the other thing to think about is you and your:
Health and well-being
Writing is not the healthiest job in the world. Let’s face it, it’s very easy to plonk yourself at the desk and stay there all day – especially if you’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on your viewpoint) to have someone who regularly supplies you with cups of tea/coffee/gin, and even brings lunch to you, so you don’t have to stop work even to cook or make a sandwich. That sounds blissful, but in reality it’s very unhealthy. You end up staring at a keyboard or screen for hour upon hour, never shifting, and eating while you work. This has two bad side-effects. One, you’ll be too busy to really notice or enjoy what you’re eating, so it doesn’t actually fill you up as it should do, and two, crumbs in the keyboard! Yuk!
It’s so easy to get in the habit of unhealthy snacking while working, too. How much easier to chomp on chocolate or a biscuit while writing, rather than a healthy snack. Chocolate, sweets and biscuits can be stashed away in the office, whereas some healthier foods may have to be kept in the fridge, and that would mean getting up from your chair and – well – moving! There’s a well-known phenomenon among writers called “Writer’s A**e”, and it’s not the stuff of legend, but a fact. Since I started writing, I’ve gained so much weight it’s not true. Except it is true, which is pretty depressing.
And it’s not just weight that’s the problem, of course, but fitness. If you sit in one position all day, your back suffers, your neck suffers, your joints suffer. Your stamina is at zero level, your ankles hurt when you walk too far, and your knees ache. To top it all off, you need industrial strength glasses because your eyes are under terrible strain, too.
There are ways to prevent this, of course. I’ll hold my hands up now and say I’m the master at ignoring those ways. My daughter is always nagging me to take breaks from the desk, and I always mean to take better care of myself, honestly. Once I start work, though, the hours just slip away. Before I know it, it’s time for tea, and I have to save my work and log off the computer.
What I should be doing is taking a break from the computer at regular intervals and moving around. One way of doing this is by using the Pomodoro Technique. This involves working in 25-minute segments, with 5-minute breaks in between. Every couple of hours you get a longer break of around 15 minutes. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re used to working all day without any breaks at all, except maybe to hurry to the loo and back, then it does add up and make a difference.
I gave it a try a couple of years ago. I downloaded an app on my phone and every time the alarm went off I got up, put on some music and danced around my office. Yes, it probably wasn’t a pretty sight, and I kept my office blind firmly closed, but I seem to recall I felt a lot better for doing it. I’m not entirely sure why I stopped. I suspect I probably went away for a week or something, and got out of the habit. It doesn’t take much for me to fall off the wagon. Investigating it again for this blog post reminds me of how good this technique is. I’m actually going to re-install the app and do this again. You can read about one woman’s trial with the Pomodoro Technique here.
There’s a very good book called The Healthy Writer: Reduce your pain, improve your health, and build a writing career for the long term by Joanna Penn and Euan Lawson. Since Joanna spends a lot of time sitting behind a desk, I would imagine she knows all too well the problems that are associated with this lifestyle, while Euan Lawson is an actual doctor, so you know, I think he knows what he’s talking about.
Writing on the Move
Of course, another way to cut down time spent at your desk is to start dictating your books. I briefly touched on this subject in this post but at that time I was merely concerned with ways to speed up the writing process. The fact is, though, that being able to dictate your story into a dictaphone means you can “write” while doing other things, such as going for a long walk. That has to be better for you than being cooped up over a desk all day.
Of course, it’s not easy to start dictating books rather than writing them physically. I tend to write as I type, but when I tried dictation, using Dragon software, (other dictation software is available), I found the words just didn’t come naturally. There were lots of “ums” and “ers” and long silences. It’s a skill that has to be learned and I think it will take some time. As I was on a deadline, I gave up, despite spending a small fortune on the software, a voice recorder, and headset with microphone.
I keep meaning to give it another go, and I will because not only will it speed up my work in the long run, but it will be much healthier. You can find out more about dictating your work here, and there are a couple of good books on the subject: The Writer’s Guide to Taming Your Dragon by Scott Baker and Dictation: Dictate Your Writing by Kevin Gise. There’s also a public Facebook group called Dragon Riders: Authors Dictating which you can find here.
It’s not just physical problems that come with a writing career. Mental well-being is just as important. I talked, earlier in the challenge, about imposter syndrome and comparisonitis (you can read the post here), and its effect on the writer’s psyche. There are lots of insecurities in this job, too. You’re only ever as good as your last book, so they say. For traditionally published writers there’s always the worry that contracts won’t be renewed – or offered in the first place. We all have deadlines to think about, reviews to torment ourselves with, anxiety about late payments, the stomach-churning, nail-biting wait for feedback from editors/beta readers/readers/reviewers/publishers. The crushing feeling of failure when a rejection letter arrives. It’s all very up-and-down and insecure, so it’s no wonder we’re sometimes anxious and stressed.
We need to take time out to smell the flowers, and “stand and stare”. I wrote a post on this subject back in 2013 but it seems I’ve forgotten my own advice. Sometimes, we just need to remember to breathe deeply, switch off our phones, step away from the computers, and walk out into the fresh air.
I know it’s difficult right now. On top of all the normal stresses and strains of life, we have this awful virus to contend with. Our way of life has been radically changed, and normal life as we know it has been suspended for the foreseeable future. It’s very easy, and totally understandable, to start panicking, and to find our anxieties spiralling out of control. But that’s why taking a break and learning how to deal with stress, how to relax, is even more important right now.
The Benefits of Nature
No matter how stressed I am, I always find that a trip to the sea, or a walk in the countryside, restores my spirits. That’s out of the question for most of us right now, but I’ve discovered there’s a lot to be said for my own back garden. It’s never been more important to me. I recently spent one of the most relaxing afternoons of my life, just sitting outside, listening to birdsong, and watching the leaves rustling on the trees and shrubs around me. There was no traffic noise to distract me, and it was fabulous to just soak up the sunshine and empty my mind of everything but the “now”.
I’m very aware that many people don’t have a garden. At times like this it must be so difficult to have no outside space of your own. However, we’re still allowed to get outside for daily exercise. A walk to a local park could make all the difference. Sometimes, if even that’s impossible, just opening a window can help. Lean out to feel the sun’s rays on your face and listen to the birds singing.
Church bells are my favourite sound, but I now know that the sound of birdsong is definitely my second favourite. It’s one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever heard. If there’s a dearth of birdsong where you live, you can still listen to it via the internet on your browser, or through an app. Try the RSPB’s Birdsong Radio for a soothing soundtrack to your day that will make you calm down instantly. I’m actually listening to it now as I write this post. It’s absolutely free, too.
Joanna Penn – yes her again! – has written a book called The Successful Author Mindset: Surviving the Writer’s Journey and it’s extremely useful and full of great tips, but I’d also recommend The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee. I’ve got this in paperback, and it really is a brilliant book. Clear, commonsense and practical advice for ways to make your life more manageable. If money’s tight right now – and I appreciate that these are worrying times for many people, financially as much as from a health point of view – then here is a list of free mindfulness apps.
Whatever your personal circumstances, I hope you find something of use in this post. It’s certainly been useful to me! I’m listening to Birdsong Radio and it feels as if I’m outdoors, not sitting in my office. I’m going to download one of those free apps, and I’m going to give the Pomodoro Technique another try. I may even start practising those dictation skills again, too. I will train that Dragon!
Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the final A to Z Challenge blog post. Woo hoo!