Got a question for you: When’s the last time you cut yourself a break, as a freelance writer? If you’re all smack-talk and no compliments when you look in the mirror, I have some positive thoughts I’d like you to adopt.
It’s time to give yourself the same level of loving care you’d give any struggling stranger on the street.
That’s right — it’s time to practice self-compassion.
It’s a classic paradox that writers are commonly sensitive people, yet we’re also often very hard on ourselves.
If that’s you, it’s time to change course and practice self-compassion. Honestly, stop torturing yourself! #justwhy
Life’s too short to spend your precious moments beating up on yourself. Too short to dwell on negative thoughts about what you haven’t done, or how much you need to improve your speed or your craft.
Consider self-compassion a productivity shortcut. When you feel better about yourself, it’s easier to sit down and get the writing done.
How can you practice self-compassion and get the positive thoughts flowing? I’ve boiled down my top 10 self-care tips into a handy infographic you can download and keep:
Get a free printable version of this infographic.
1. Do things that feel good
Remember to look up from your computer each day, and find something in the 3-D world that gives you joy.
That thing could be listening to a favorite song, watching a hummingbird out the window, a quick call to a friend, or maybe a favorite rock you like to hold.
Give yourself 5 minutes to just BE. (Have you noticed they call us human BEings, not human doings?) Take a few moments for pure happiness. You deserve it.
2. Stop pushing yourself to be perfect
If there’s one myth I wish I could end about freelance writing, it’s that all the other writers have achieved perfection. You know, they never turn in a draft with a typo.
They effortlessly and quickly produce their client work and do their marketing. Or they never screw up. Only you do that.
As one of the writers some people seem to think never have a bad day, I can assure you it’s a fantasy. Realize that no writer functions at an ‘optimal level’ — or at least, they don’t all the time.
You’re not perfect, either. So what? No lives were lost due to your mistakes, right?
If you make a regular effort as a writer, you’ll continue to improve. Let that be enough.
3. Find healthy activities you enjoy
Too many writers neglect their health and never move from their desks, except to hit the fridge, TV, or bed. Don’t let this be you — it’ll really shorten your lifespan.
Good self-care begins with a commitment to move at least a little, every day. Walk, bike, hike, swim, stroll… do whatever you enjoy. I’ve always done this with walks, but recently added about 35 miles a week of biking to my schedule. I can report that WOW, I’m much more productive, relaxed, focused, and sleeping better, too!
If you have a disability that makes it hard to move around, do whatever you can do. Yoga, deep breathing, and stretches will help, too. Do what you can to keep your cells thriving.
4. Respond to your needs
To practice self-compassion, you need to be in touch with how you’re doing emotionally. Take a moment at the start of your day to assess your energy level. How’re you doing today?
If your current energy level isn’t a match for the demanding task of writing, maybe start with one of the activities listed in the other points here, to help raise your energy before you try to write.
Forcing yourself to sit down to the keyboard when you’re in no emotional state to be focused on writing is a waste of your time. Like they say on the airlines, you need to put on your oxygen mask first, before you can help others with your words.
Don’t let this turn into procrastination. But know that a few minutes devoted to getting you in a good head space, if that’s what needs to happen, will usually set you up for a more productive writing day.
5. Try a little kindness
When something goes wrong with your writing — do you beat up on yourself about it? OK, you had a typo, missed a deadline, or wrote a piece that didn’t live up to your full potential.
If the error was made by someone else, you’d probably tell them, “It’s OK — we all make mistakes.” Or “I’m sure you’re doing the best you can.”
Well, guess what? You deserve that basic kindness, too.
Acknowledge that what you’re trying to do is hard. If it were easy, everyone would quit their day job today and be a freelance writer. Right? Practice kindness, and tomorrow, get up and try again.
6. Eliminate negative self-talk
If I could only give ONE tip in this post, this would be it. In my years working one-to-one with writers in my writing-business coaching program, I’ve noticed that many writers casually and routinely make negative comments about themselves.
Do you find yourself saying things like this?
I’m so slow — sorry it’s taking me so long.
I know so many other writers who’ve achieved more, I’m so behind.
I just don’t know if I’m good enough.
If any of that sounded familiar, it’s time to pop that negative tape out of your brain and record a new one. Instead of put-downs, create affirmations you can look at each day.
Build yourself up, and you’ll approach your writing with more confidence. That might sound weird or goofy, but try it out — you may be amazed at how it improves your writing. For instance, instead of the thoughts above, you could instead say:
The speed I’m going is right for me. I’m exactly where I’m meant to be in my journey.
Comparing myself to others isn’t productive or healthy. I’m making progress compared to where I was last year.
I know that even if my writing isn’t perfect, there are clients who need me, who can’t write well.
Don’t you feel better already?
Hunt and kill your negative self-talk, and you’ll take a big step toward being a better writer. Because nobody can write well with a crap-ton of negativity floating around.
7. Be mindful
Consider having a brief check-in at the start of your day. How’s your energy level?
Don’t ignore your feelings. Maybe you need to shake things up today to lift your mood — write in the park or at a Starbucks, or stretch for 15 minutes before you sit down to write.
Or maybe circling negative thoughts are paralyzing you into inactivity. If so, think on those feelings, acknowledge them, and then…let them go. Try to clear your head and release toxic thoughts, so you can move forward with your day.
If you need help developing a mindfulness practice, YouTube is a bountiful resource for ideas and exercises.
8. Stop judging
Do you bang a mental gavel and go all judge-y on yourself, when you’re not getting the writing done, or don’t like what you produce?
If you sentence yourself to the title Suckiest Writer Ever for all eternity over ever minor mistake… stop.
Try to resist the urge to judge yourself a failure, a loser, too slow, not gifted enough. Remember, as long as you live, hope remains that you can improve. There’s no final verdict possible, yet.
Letting go of judgements means you can stop labeling yourself and adding to that negative self-talk chatter I just mentioned above. Now, you’re free to soar.
9. Consider our common humanity
Writing is a lonely craft. Especially for freelance writers, who usually toil at home. It’s you and the keyboard, all day every day.
But you’re not alone, really. You are part of a vast, global tribe of people who are trying to take their destiny in their own hands.
If you feel isolated and alone, consider all the other writers who’re struggling to get their thoughts down, at the very same time you are. All flawed human beings trying their best — just like you.
10. Practice forgiveness
Here’s a crazy idea: After you screw up, consider simply forgiving yourself and moving on.
Not just saying a quick ‘OK, I forgive’ to yourself, but truly letting it go. So it’s gone — completely erased from your accounting of yourself, as if it never happened.
If necessary, decide on a change you’ll do in the future that will help prevent this error from happening again.
For instance: Didn’t meet a deadline? Vow to back up your own internal deadlines by a day or two next time.
Or if you perhaps were rude to an editor, go ahead and extend an apology. Make amends. Then, forgive and move forward with a clean slate.
Positive thoughts lead to better writing
Is it worth taking the time to work on your head game, and turn negative thoughts into positive ones? Absolutely.
The number-one problem most freelance writers have isn’t the collapse of print magazines, or the rise of the global marketplace, or a recession, or anything like that.
The chief problem lies between your ears.
Change how you think about your freelance writing talent, and you could just change everything — from how much you produce and how quickly, to the quality of clients you pursue and land.
Believing in your skills will get you far. Try it and see.
What positive thoughts do you use to help you write? Let’s discuss in the comments.
–Points adapted for writers from Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion.org site, and the work of Jasmin L. Cori, MS LPC