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2018 Golden Heart Finalist Katherine Olson on Self-Care for Writers!

Today we’re welcoming another Persister, 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Katherine Olson, whose manuscript NORTH STAR has been nominated for Best Contemporary Romance!

Katherine lives in south Texas with the rest of Team Olson—her Air Force pilot husband, daughter, two cats, and two dogs. Excellent margaritas notwithstanding, she wishes she was back in Alaska, but settles for writing contemporary romances set in the Land of the Midnight Sun. When she’s not writing a new story on napkins, receipts, and keyboard alike, she’s lifting weights, biking, swimming, and reading all the books.

Here’s a blurb for NORTH STAR:

Yura Nukusuk, an Inupiaq geologist in Alaska, fights to save her home from the devastation of climate change while trying to forget about her first love, NHL hotshot Michel Beaulieu. When mutual friends put together a relay triathlon, Yura aims to use the race to reclaim her dignity and send Michel back to Montreal with his tail between his legs. Instead, Michel sets the record straight about his infidelity and confesses his lingering feelings for her, shifting the ground right under Yura’s feet.

Under the glow of the midnight sun, Michel steps back into Yura’s life as her friend, regaining her trust with every act of kindness and bridging the divide between them. Caught between her calling and the man determined to win her back, will Yura leave the Last Frontier to be with the love of her life, or will they remain on opposite sides of North America, forever separated by the Continental Divide and an inability to forgive?

Oh, sigh! I’m such a sucker for second chance love, and I think it’s fabulous that you’re mixing in climate change, athletic competition, and love as a guiding “North Star!” (Excuse me while I sigh again!!)

Katherine’s here today with some wonderful advice for all of us: concrete things to do on those days when we feel down, and aren’t sure how to get back up again!

Take it away, Katherine!

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Self-Care for Writers

That’s it, you think, hearing the heavy-handed criticism from someone in your critique group.

Or reading the polite let-down from yet another agent you’d queried.

Or the scathing review from a reader who did not care for your book and wasn’t shy about letting the entire world know.

I just can’t do this anymore.

A writer’s career is rife with opportunity for disparagement—by its very nature, we are putting our work and ourselves out in the world for public consideration and either adoration (we all hope!) or rejection, in its many permutations. So, what’s a tender-hearted writer to do? How does one cope with the ups and the downs and not lose sight of the reason we started telling stories in the first place?

I don’t have easy answers for those questions, but what I do have is a game plan for putting myself back together when the rejection comes. In no particular order, here are some strategies that have helped me pick myself back up and get back to doing what I do best.

Take a Moment

Ouch. It hurts, doesn’t it? Go ahead and let yourself have that sucker-punched, purely emotional reaction. Remember it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, whether that be anger, sadness, frustration, or anything else. Trying to avoid the emotional roller coaster altogether usually backfires because those pesky feelings don’t just go away, even if you’re able to stuff them down temporarily. So, do whatever you need to do to express yourself—have a good cry, holler into a pillow, write a stinging response back to that reviewer (but do NOT actually post it, for the love of God). Let yourself feel whatever you feel. Then leave it behind.

Back Away from the Computer

I mean that. *Slaps hand reaching for the keyboard* As soon as you’re able, turn off your computer and your phone. Give yourself a break from the social media rat race. Now is not the time to start comparing yourself to other people, because if you didn’t find yourself lacking before, you’ll almost certainly do so now. Do yourself this kindness as a regular practice—I like to take a technology fast on Sundays—but especially in the aftermath of rejection.

Opt Outside

Chances are, you’re probably close to hissing at sunlight and avoiding garlic at all costs. We could all stand to spend more time outdoors, but when you’re battered and hurting, time spent in fresh air is more important than ever. Find a park, go out to your backyard, or if you’re an urbanite, maybe find a bit of greenery in the form of a container garden or out on a rooftop. Breathe, feel the sun on your face, listen to the wind. Even if it’s hot and sticky, even if it’s freezing cold, get yourself outside and immerse yourself in the natural world, however it comes. There’s nothing more soothing to the soul.

Move It

Still feeling mopey and weepy? My friends, it’s time for some bona fide exercise. Do whatever challenges your body but still feels good—we’re not aiming to punish ourselves here. It can be something as mellow as going for a walk or doing some yoga, or as intense as boot camp-style classes or Cross-Fit. Unexpected but awesome upside to exercise? I often find that I’m able to untangle pieces of my story when I’m doing something slow and steady and repetitive, like a long hike or swim or bike ride (bonus points if you get your sweat on outdoors). But if you’re looking for a distraction from writing, maybe you try a new exercise class you’ve been wanting to check out but haven’t gotten around to yet (kickboxing anyone?) Now is the perfect time to switch gears, try something different and do your mind and body a solid. When you’re sailing high on the endorphin rush and feeling confident for tackling something you weren’t sure you could, the rejection will feel like a distant memory.

Cook a Meal

Whenever you’re able, take the time to make yourself a nice meal. If your favorite comfort food recipe calls to you in your moment of need, you won’t get judgement from this writer, but ideally there are some vegetables on your plate, too. If you’re a foodie, use this opportunity to expand your repertoire—I always like to see if I can prepare some of the cuisine my characters might be sampling. The important thing is to make it an event: set the table, put on a little music, light a few candles, have a glass of wine. And if you can, try to eat the meal with someone else—your significant other and your family, or maybe a few close friends. Feed your mind and body while you fill your figurative well with good conversation and communion.

Dance Off!

Guys, it works. If you find that you’ve been taking yourself too seriously and doing a lot more sulking than anyone should, it’s high time for a dance-off in the kitchen. Lately, my favorites have been the genius songs from the Bad Lip Reading Star Wars parodies. Not only are they hilarious, they are surprisingly catchy and danceable (and dangerous earworms, besides). So, find some music that makes you want to get up and move. Turn it up. Turn it up a little more. Then go shake what your momma gave you. I guarantee that you won’t be feeling bummed by the time you’re done.

Treat Yo’self

It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive. Maybe you find a great pen for your next handwritten stretch, some pretty bookmarks, a little candle for your writing desk, or some new music to jam to. Or, it can be as simple as printing off some new words of encouragement to pin to your bulletin board (or pictures of hot guys. That’s good, too.). Get yourself a little some-something to enjoy the next time you sit down to write.

Reach Out

I cannot overstate how life-changing being a part of the 2018 Golden Heart® finalists has been for me. Even just knowing that there are forty-four other Persisters out there who know what this writer life feels like—how withering and simultaneously wonderful it is—has been so vital to me from a psychological standpoint. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important, worthy takeaways from the Golden Heart® contest, having this automatic, built-in cheer section. So, don’t be surprised if I show up at nationals with a Golden Heart Persisters tattoo on my forehead. But I digress. If like most writers you are a bit of an introvert, finding your writing tribe is all the more important. Go to your local chapter meeting, even if it’s painful the first time. Sweat your way through critique group. Attend a conference and find your people. We’re here, waiting for you! *Waves* And when you’re not the new kid anymore, extend a hand to that person flitting at the margins, and pull them in, too.

Read All the Things

Go back and read that book, the one that speaks to you no matter how many times you’ve read it. Or, find a new story and immerse yourself in the world the author has created or illuminated. I like to try and read something outside of the genre I’d normally choose and will usually find something nonfiction because it helps me let go of my inner editor. Regardless, set aside some time to experience what good writers do best: transport you to another world. Soak up that inspiration and remember the feelings you want to create in your own writing when you go back to the keyboard.

Speaking of that Keyboard…

Grab your coffee, get your butt in The Chair, and get back to your story. Note that I said “story”, not social media. If you find that you’re still not feeling up to the social media spin cycle, it’s okay to keep your distance for a little while longer. Everything will still be waiting for you after you’ve powered through some more words on your latest work-in-progress. And that, in my opinion, is ultimately the best way to expunge the self-doubt demons summoned by whatever rejection you’ve endured: create in spite of them. Create, because you love to. Create because that, by God, is what you’re here on the Pale Blue Dot to do.

Alright now. You guys know what I’m going to ask: What are your favorite strategies for getting back on the writing bandwagon? How do you put yourself back together?

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Connect with Katherine Olson on social media:

Instagram: @katherineaolson

41 responses to “2018 Golden Heart Finalist Katherine Olson on Self-Care for Writers!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Katherine!!

    I love this whole post so hard!! Yes, we need to keep feeding ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, and fill the creative well in all sorts of ways.

    Writing is a tough life for even the luckiest writers, but the one thing that ties us all together is that inborn drive to keep writing, to come back to the keyboard, no matter what. (Even if we sometimes need to step away for a few months, or even years at a time.)

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    • Thank you Elisa for having me on the blog and letting me go on and on (guess I have a lot to say about this 😂)! It’s true, it’s so important to routinely do the small, quotidian things that help us keep going. Writing is a tough career with so many ups and downs; the only way to stay sane is make a commitment to nurturing the person responsible for all the creating, even if that means sometimes stepping away from the writing for a bit.

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  2. Excellent post! My favorite way find my muse is to enjoy family and friends. Letting your self forget about the fictional world and enjoy life, sort of unlocks things. I come back with a fresh outlook.

    I love the premise of your story. Love sports romances! Good luck in Denver, Katherine. And thank your husband for his service for me.

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    • Hi Autumn! Thank you! Yes, it’s so important to spend time with our real life people, too, lol, especially because they are so often neglected when we’re in the trenches of writing/revising/etc. It helps me to come back to my writing with new perspective, too.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      It’s true…and not just because of the emotional nourishment.

      Watching people interact–the different personalities, the weird little tensions, the funny verbal exchanges–gets the story mind excited and working again. Human beings are our real subject, and if we just hang out in our own heads too long, we get stale.

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  3. Barbra Campbell says:

    Katherine,
    Great suggestions. I routinely use nature and exercise. And of course, reading. My other outlet is the cello.
    South Texas vs. Alaska…what a drastic difference!

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    • Hi Barbra! Ahh, the cello, my favorite instrument–I was a percussionist back in the day but I always wanted to give the cello a try! ❤️ Exercise and nature, definitely a winning combination, too. And yes, my God, what a change in latitude. Still getting used to it, although thankfully now I don’t feel like I’m dying come summertime! 😅

      Looking forward to meeting you in Denver!

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  4. I echo your sigh, Elisa. I love Katherine’s blurb!

    Thanks for sharing your game plan! I love being outside and make sure to take the pup for hikes at least every other day. It keeps me from going insane 😉

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    • Hi Alexia! Thank you :-D, so glad you like the blurb. I’ve loved seeing your pictures of your dog (Loki, right?)! What a beautiful pup! And a good walking buddy, too, I bet. Definitely a winning strategy for not succumbing to the writing crazy!

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  5. Gail Hart says:

    Great suggestions, Katherine. Though I’ll pass on the one about cooking. I’m allergic to the kitchen, LOL.

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  6. Heather McCollum says:

    Great tips, Katherine!
    Thanks for coming on the blog, and huge congratulations for being a finalist!!

    I guess when I fall off the bandwagon, I start looking at pictures. I’m a very visual writer, so pretty or emotional pictures really start my mind churning up new plot and character ideas. If I combine pictures with music, something will come to mind. : )

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Ooh, yes!! Pictures and music! Great way to recharge the imagination and get that writing itch again!

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    • Thank you Heather! I love the idea to use some visual inspiration to get going again (though I have to be careful not to go overboard and plunge down the Pinterest rabbit hole, hehe). And yes, music is so important–put the two sensory inputs together and good things are going to happen!

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  7. suzanne says:

    Katherine, fabulous advice! I always want to burrow beneath a heap of blankets, but I don’t necessarily feel better afterwards. I just feel sad. Going outdoors, though, and I can’t help but beginning to feel the wound scarring over on its way to healing. It does help to live close to the beach.

    So excited to read your Alaska story. So fascinated by Alaska!

    See you in Denver!

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    • Hi Suzanne! Wallowing is my first impulse, too, and just as you said, it almost never makes me feel better. Sometimes getting out the door is the hardest part, but once I have a little bit of momentum going, it feels wonderful to be outside and settles me right away. 🙂 And I bet living by the water is lovely! Looking forward to seeing you in Denver!

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  8. Brenda Lowder says:

    Hi, Katherine! Congratulations on your final! I can’t wait to read your book! And what an awesome blog post. I feel very inspired to be more active.

    I think the thing that gets me back into writing is reading my WIP from the beginning to where I’ve left off. It inspires me to finish the story that I eventually come to feel like no one else could write exactly the way that I would.

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    • Hey Brenda! 🙂 I’m so glad to hear there was a useful takeaway for you–staying active has to be one of my favorite ways to keep my body and mind healthy. And how true, reading through that WIP is almost always a motivating experience. Sometimes I don’t like what I have down, but more often I surprise myself, like, “Hey! This actually isn’t an awful pile of poo!” LOL! Excited to meet you in Denver!

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  9. Julia Day says:

    Your blurb sounds great! Can’t wait to see this one in print.

    I like to treat myself to a mani-pedi. It gets me out of my house and it makes me put all electronics down.

    (And USAF veteran here! Thank you for YOUR service.)

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    • Hi Julia! Thank you! And USAF vet, how awesome! 🙂 I love your idea of doing a mani-pedi and how it forces us to leave the house and put the phone down and just enjoy the experience. I’m definitely adding that to my list! 😇

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  10. Hi Katherine,

    Your book sounds amazing! Who doesn’t love a second chance romance?

    Thank you for sharing your health tips for writers. I love to walk my fur baby at the park to clear my mind for writing, and life in general!

    I’m looking forward to meeting you in Denver!

    All the best,

    Elizabeth

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    • Hi Elizabeth! Thank you!! I love taking my fur children for a walk, too–they get tuckered out and I almost always feel better afterward, especially if I’ve been stewing over writing-related stuff. Win-win for sure! I’m excited to meet you in Denver! 🙂

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  11. A fellow Alaskan! *waves from Anchorage* Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes to all you’ve said here. I love all these strategies for recovering from rejection and I’ve used ALL of them at one point or another. I’ll also add that taking myself to a matinee movie by myself is something I find remarkably restorative. I really love the turn-off-my-phone-and-just-fall-into-the-story feeling that I get in darkened theatres.

    Excellent post, Katherine, and congrats on your final! I’ll be cheering loudly for you in Denver! 🙂

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    • OMG HI VIVI! *Waves like Forrest Gump* Thank you! And to think you were there in Anchorage while I was! How cool is that! I love your idea for going to a matinee movie and just enjoying the phone-free theatrical experience (putting the phone away for a bit seems to be a recurring theme here, I think we’re all on to something!). Hope I get a chance to meet you in Denver! 🙂

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  12. Love the blurb for your manuscript. What a fun premise. (Best wishes on the GH!) And thanks so much for all the helpful tips.

    I have to agree with Elizabeth. Spending time with my pets can make a huge difference when I’m just not ready to go back and face the computer again. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exercising them, though. Sometimes just brushing the dogs or horses can be very centering and therapeutic. It really seems to help me work through those hard knocks and get my head on straight again.

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    • Hi Laurie! Thank you so much! I also agree that just spending time with our beloved critters can make such a difference. One of our cats (Bruce Cat, if anyone wants to know), is especially attuned to my moods, and always seems to know when I need a good snuggle. Nothing could be more soothing than having another warm, furry body right next to yours!

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  13. Alyssa Henderson says:

    Love the tips! Thank you for your post. Good luck on GH)

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  14. Tamara Hogan says:

    Welcome to the blog, Katherine, and congrats on your GH final!

    There are so many good self-care suggestions here, and I think I’ve used them all at one time or another. Tomorrow morning, I’m reaching out, blowing off writing new words to meet one of my writing BFFs for coffee. There will be complaining, celebrating, reassurance, strategizing, and snort-laughing, because that’s what happens When Tammy Meets Susan. 🙂

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    • Hi Tamara! Thank you so much! Ahh, so envious that tomorrow you get to have a writing BFF day, complete with coffee and commiserating! What fun! 😀

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  15. Those are great, Katherine. My favorite is saddle up horse and go for a ride. Everything is much better then. Congrats on North Star. Love the blurb and premise. Have a great time in Denver!

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    • Hi Bev! Thank you! 🙂 Going for a ride sounds lovely–getting the best of both worlds with time outside, exercise, and the therapeutic benefits with being close to an animal, too. Makes me think I ought to give it a try!

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  16. What a great list of strategies. Another one of mine is to look at writing awards I’ve won. They tell me “someone thought you were good.”

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    • Hey Jeanne! Thank you! I love the idea of looking back at writing awards–tangible proof, right? Nothing could be better than some objective measure of our ability. I’ve heard of people also keeping a longer list of all the things they’ve been awarded/things they’re proud of and looking back to that when they’re feeling down.

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  17. What a great post, Katherine. Your book sounds fascinating.

    I have an amazing group of writer friends, and we meet often for lunch. The encouragement, brainstorming and general tips flow freely. I’m lucky to get whatever I need, whether it’s “it’ll be okay” or “time to pull up your big girl panties and woman-up.”

    Congratulations on your final. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Denver.

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    • Hi Leslie and thank you!! That’s so awesome that you have your group of writer buds to meet up with on a regular basis–people there for the ups and downs who can commiserate but also tell you when it’s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself, lol! I’ve been thinking about trying to put something like that together, too–maybe when the little one is in school. 😉

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  18. Tracy Brody says:

    Congrats on your Golden Heart final, Katherine. I’m a little jealous of your time in Alaska. It’s on my top 5 list of places to visit.

    It can be hard when you’ve taken a few hits or life has gotten in the way of writing. For me, plotting out story or new scenes helps get me motivated to write again. Doing that on a writing retreat with lots of time forced to be writerly helps too. 😉

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  19. Thank you, Tracy! 🙂 I still feel so lucky to have been there, even if it was only for three years. It was still enough time to change the whole trajectory of my life (would I have written the story that made it to the Golden Heart final if I hadn’t lived there? Hard to say!).

    Plotting new scenes in those semi-conscious minutes right after I wake up always gets me going–something about that half lucid state seems to be good for mapping things out. But I’d love to do a writer’s retreat, too (writer bucket list, lol)! There’s definitely something to be said for buckling down and just writing. 🙂

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