Friday 29 May 2015

Writer's Care Package

By Jeanette O’Hagan

Rodeo rough riders,
crocodile wranglers,
or nuclear power plant technicians
– some people have dangerous jobs.

But what job could be safer than tapping away at the keyboard (or scribbling words across the page) in a book-lined study or sun-warmed secluded nook. A bottomless cup of coffee close at hand, maybe music plugged in, with only the threat of paper cuts or computer meltdowns to disturb one’s tranquillity.

Shhh! Don’t laugh!

I love being a writer. Writing can be exhilarating, entertaining, a voyage to self-discovery and a way of reaching out to the world. In fact a writer can straddle a wild bull, fight a raging bushfire, tussle a crocodile or single-handedly prevent a major nuclear plant meltdown – without the danger of broken bones, life-threating chomps or immolation, without even leaving his/her comfy chair. So why do writers need care packages?

I’m currently completing a unit on journaling. The last four weeks have been challenging as we’ve looked at using our own experiences to inform our writing, ways of writing about trauma, and self-care. The protagonist in my current short story experiences significant loss and grief – so I tapped into grief from my past, then looked at how this helped me write about grief in my story. In the last unit, one of the readings was a poignant rendering of our lecturer’s grieving the cot death of her youngest child. The result has been an emotional roller coaster as I’ve relived difficult memories (though, don't worry, I haven’t been overwhelmed by them). Poetry, metaphor, externalising, fictionalising, journaling, knowing my limits, debriefing, faith and prayer– all these have been ways of handling difficult emotions.

Who knew that writing can be perilous at times?

Some possible Perils of Writing (lights dim, da-dump, da-dump):
  • Writer’s block or burn out
  • Isolation/depression (going stir crazy)
  • Flamed by criticism and rejection
  • Oscillating between bombastic euphoria and crippling self-doubt
  • The evils of improper posture or prolonged sitting (see here)
  • (Especially for memoir writers) Hooking into past traumas
  • Or being traumatised by the stories of others (research)
  • Reckless literary self-exposure and possible loss of reputation
  • Self-absorption (it’s all about me baby)
  • Burning relationships with kiss and tell memoirs, injudicious or just honest revelations
  • Losing touch with reality (especially as a fantasy writer – 'grin')
  • Being dosed with too much reality – as one is hit with the stats (chances of being published, chances of making even the most modest living from one’s writing)
  • Dastardly scoundrels who steal one’s creative content or whinge about paying more than $2 for the novel you spent 10 years writing
  • Or predatory vanity publishers that charge exorbitantly while given zip all
  • Running afoul of online readers’ group, being labelled as a ‘badly behaving author’ (yikes)
  • Prioritising everything and everyone else but one’s writing
  • Leaving/Squeezing God out

Perhaps you can think of some other possibilities.

Neil Gaiman in Trigger Warnings mentions words of wisdom from airplane safety instructions – ‘In case of emergency, fit your own oxygen mask before helping others.’  Jesus put it this way ‘Love God with your whole being’ and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ (paraphrase Luke 10:27).

As Christian writers we are called to be ‘outward looking’ – to think of God and others. I believe this is crucial. Too often our contemporary society promotes selfishness, e.g. ‘you are the most important person in the world’ or ‘cut people out of your life who do nothing for you.’ As Christians we have a higher calling - but such a calling doesn’t require abject self-abuse.  Paul says ‘After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church’ (Ephes 5: 29, NIV). To be able to sustain our writing, we need to care for ourselves in a balanced and loving way.

Some suggestions for a care package:
  • A clock - Understand your own creative rhythms – work with them, not against them & remember to sleep
  • A party hat and bubble blower  – don’t forget to have fun
  • Author dates – fill up your inspirational well, experience a rodeo or medieval fair, take a juggling class, hear your favourite author speak, do something you’ve always wanted to do
  • A (candy) cane – remember we are on a journey, writing is a process as much as it is a product
  • A minty and a prayer – for those moments
  • A blank canvas – because we all make mistakes and life if full of potential and new opportunities
  • A balloon – because there is always hope (1 Cor 13:13)
  • A sparkler or party popper – let’s celebrate those little victories
  • A mirror – because you are made in God’s image, you are His child
  • A window – there is a whole wide world out there /don’t forget to get out of the house
  • A framed photo of those you love – to remind you that you have another life & there are precious people who care about you
  • The Good Book – love letters from the Father, wisdom and life giving words
  • Chocolate – and good coffee (or tea) – because why not?

What would you include in a care package?

Jeanette has recently had a short story published as part of the general market Tied in Pink Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) . She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her children, in her final unit of post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or webistes or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

Images: Jeanette O'Hagan 2015


  1. Well said, Jeanette. I like the care package idea, both as a reminder to care for ourselves and not to get too absorbed in our writing.

    1. Thanks Iola - It is easy sometimes to lose perspective :)

  2. That's a really important list of the 'perils' of writing, Jeanette--thank you. I've certainly experienced many of them along the way. And I think your writer's care package list is great too! I always like to have my Bible open on the desk beside me and a window nearby. Oh and the tea and coffee don't go astray either!

    1. Thanks Jo-Anne. It seems you are have already put together a great care package, developed no doubt with experience.

  3. Great ideas, Jeanette. Can't think of any additions.You've covered them all. Oh, maybe one; at bedtime, telling my characters go to sleep and leave me be to get my rest. They're often worrisome at night. Still they do give me a great idea or two to work on when daylight comes, and I open my weary eyes!

    1. Haha, Rita - ah yes, I often go to sleep with my characters up to mischief. They like to surprise me now and then.

  4. Thanks Jo'Anne - indeed, coffee/tea and chocolate should always come in good supply :)

  5. What a great post! I also think you've covered everything I'd ever want in a care package. Lots of things on which to ponder, Jeanette. Thank you :)

  6. Thank you Jeanette for your post. I would add to the care package going out for coffee with a friend.

    1. Julie - absolutely, that's a great one to add.

  7. Good article Jenny. I would add something God has shown me personally; give yourself permission to do one thing at a time and not multitask so much. I'm still working on this. I have reduced doing a dozen things at once to a few—getting there ;-)

    1. That is a challenging one Kayleen - so many demands on our time, but often we are not nearly as efficient as we imagine we are when multi-tasking. A good point to make :)


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