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Photo: Kajsa Göransson


New Year, New Goals. Like so many others, it’s my natural inclination to compose a long list of the things I want to accomplish in 2022. Still, given the unpredictability of our pandemic lives, I’ve learned to be more flexible because the best-laid plans can change in the blink of an eye. Still, having clear-cut goals motivates me and holds me accountable. My professional goal is to write the sequel to Sommaren på Nornö, and I have a first draft deadline of April 1st. In the past, such a deadline would freak me out, but I’m still aiming for that date since perfection out of the gate is not my objective. Developing the characters, setting, and conflicts into a workable plot that I can then tweak and polish will give me the momentum I need.


However, regardless of what I say, I can still feel the stress and panic building. When I analyze my book-writing state of mind, I realize I'm often anxious, distracted, time-strapped, tired, overcaffeinated, and grumpy, trying to juggle my family, my writing, and my social life. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I have to find a more balanced mental and physical approach to managing my writing process. This dilemma led me to research information about healthy writer habits, and I found an eye-opening book by Joanna Penn and Dr. Euan Lawson: The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long Term. The book discusses the emotional and physical costs of the writing life; the stress, anxiety, back/shoulder/neck pain, sleep problems, digestive issues, and weight gain, to name but a few, associated with this sedentary, often lonely pursuit. I can relate to all of the above (!) and wanted to begin the new year--and my new novel--with a plan.


Penn and Euan’s book provides practical tips and inspiration, giving me a framework to think about how I structure my writing days. I’ve incorporated their advice and developed a strategy to address some of my issues. Many of these points may seem obvious, but while I’m very disciplined when it comes to writing, I’m prone to slacking off when it comes to creating a self-care routine, mistaking time not spent writing as time ill-spent. Here are some ways I’m trying to live a healthier, happier, more sustainable writer’s life:

  1. Six to eight hours sleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night and look at my phone, messing up my sleep cycle and setting myself up for a rough day. I feel so much more positive when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

  2. Morning stretch. My lower back and shoulders are stiff and achy from sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. A daily or twice-daily, fifteen-minute stretching program alleviates the pain, but I can get lazy and skip it, much to my detriment, so this routine has become non-negotiable.

  3. Exercise at least four times a week. I’ve never been an exercise fanatic, but I’m finally embracing it midlife, ha-ha. The mental and physical benefits are no-brainers.

  4. Fresh air every day. It’s so easy to stay indoors and work, work, work, but your air and brain cells will eventually get stale. A thirty-minute walk or outdoor break will increase the amount of serotonin in your system and make you feel happier, sharper, and refreshed. In fact, I actually like the cold, invigorating Stockholm air. If that Arctic gust doesn’t clear your mind, I don’t know what will!

  5. Limit caffeine intake. There was a period when I was drinking so much coffee, I wasn’t even sure it was working anymore. Plus, I began to feel jittery. Switching to herbal tea, taking a power nap, or going out for a walk is just as effective for me.

  6. Power Nap. For the reason stated above and for the psychological benefit of taking a break with no pressure or expectations. Sometimes, I don’t fall asleep, but I never regret trying.

  7. Healthy snacking. It’s so easy to munch on chips and sweets when I’m writing, almost as though I’ve earned the right to indulge in processed food, but my stomach always feels terrible afterward. Carrots, turkey slices, berries, nuts, fiber crackers, or protein shakes are nutritious, fill me up, and don’t irritate my stomach. Again, another no-brainer!

  8. Curate my news, information, online, and social media diet. Trying to stay plugged in about everything going on politically, socially, and culturally is just too time-consuming. Better to focus on creating my own stories!

  9. Break up my writing shifts. Working eight hours straight is not always the most effective. Some experts claim four-hour stretches are most productive, and I think that makes sense. Writing for two, three, or four hours and then going on a 30-60 minute powerwalk or a podcast/reading break gets my creative juices flowing again.

  10. Time allocation. This means guarding my time and not feeling guilty if I say no—to family, friends, or professional requests. Overpromising only leads to stress and guilt. If I’m going to meet my April 1st deadline, I have to prioritize, and people understand if you lay it out in those terms instead of pretending otherwise and not delivering.

So far, this new approach seems to be working. I feel much more alert, enthusiastic, balanced, and productive, which I hope will be reflected in my writing. What are some of your strategies for optimizing your workday?






Photo: Stefan Anderson


December is one of my favorite months; a bright, festive respite from the grey doldrums of November when my energy level and spirits flag. However, it’s also a month full of paradoxes. Holiday lights and burning candles artificially illuminate hours of intense darkness. We rush like mad to complete those final projects while simultaneously longing for a much-needed break. Although the year’s close signifies a noble ending, the desire for a fresh start is never far behind. December is billed as a sociable, cheerful time, but it can also amplify feelings of loneliness and melancholy. Finally, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, yet there’s little spirituality and lots of commercialism.


On top of these conflicting impressions, the fast-moving Omicron situation has colored what we hoped would be a less restrictive holiday season. Collectively, it feels like we’ve experienced a lifetime of stress over the past two years, and our weariness can obscure the strides we’ve made with the vaccines and our ability to treat the virus. Yet, even with these highs and lows, the days leading up to Christmas and the New Year still fill me with hope and anticipation. Even with the gloomy omicron news, I’m determined to keep my spirits up and will take extra layers of precaution (home antigen tests are my new best friends). Call me naive, but I’m still holding on to the belief that I’ll be able to gather with family and friends responsibly.


Creatively, my writing this month has come in fits and starts. It’s become clear I won’t reach my word count goal by Christmas, and after lots of guilt and self-reproach, I‘ve chosen to be kinder to myself and accept it. There were just too many distractions competing for my attention (it is the holiday season, after all). Nevertheless, I’m cautiously optimistic about what I’ve written so far and think there may be some potential, but who knows?!


After a hectic but incredibly fulfilling year, I need some time to decompress. I know that a short writing break and surrounding myself with people and experiences that spark joy will bring me peace and nurture new ideas. This may be the best present I can give myself this Christmas. I hope you will also treat yourself to a mindset that enables you to relax and enjoy the blessings of another December because despite the ongoing challenges, we've made it this far!

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy Holiday Season! Thank you so much for your support and for reading my work this year. See you in 2022!



After another challenging year, the holidays are finally upon us and I hope you will be able to find peace and joy this season. I love giving well-thought-out presents to family and friends and have put together some of my favorite pieces to channel your inner Santa. I always start from a bookish perspective and then add other book-adjacent items that have caught my fancy. There has been lots of talk about supply chain issues and shipping delays so start in good time to maintain your sanity :). My goal is to have a little fun and inspire, not to push products! Nothing beats good health and the company of loved ones...


Photo courtesy of BookBub


BOOKS

So many interesting titles have been released just in time for the holidays. Bibliophile Diverse Spines is the latest installment to the much-appreciated series. Foodies will love Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide and creatives will find inspiration in the living spaces of Artists in Residence. The Afro Surf tome makes me want to hit the waves!



Art, design, beauty, style, and decor are front and center in these beautiful coffee table books: ACNE PAPER; Mickalene Thomas; Life in a French Country House; Estée Lauder: A Beautiful Life; Slim Aarons Style; Hill House Living.

These new biographies dig deeper into the lives of beloved icons: Will; Tim: Biografin om Avicii; Garbo.

The Something's Off book came out in June, but it would be the perfect gift for (and homage to) fans of the late great designer and artist, Virgil Abloh.


COZY FASHION

Want to keep someone warm or up their WFH game? These pieces may just do the trick: Soft Goat cashmere pants and hoodie; Ugg Cozette slides; Ugg Scuffita slippers; Stand Studio purple furry hat; Stand Studio Lucille shearling tote; Stand Studio cocoon coat.


HOME

Home for the holidays takes on new meaning with these pieces: Svenskt Tenn Mareld vase in forest green; Svenkt Tenn emerald Glasiett leaf; Anissa Kermiche striking Love Handles vase; Chamois Pomegranate tablecloth; Not Another Bill personalized Table Seating Planner for dinner parties; Skultuna's newest Veermaker's Bluebell candlestick.


CANDLES

Let there be light with these elegant scented candles: Perennial favorite La Forêt from Victor Vaissier will bring the essence of the forest to your home. Pair it with another one of their seasonal fragrances, Saison Bleu. Holiday from Harlem Candle Company was inspired by Billie Holiday. Evening Amber, a new, aromatically chic blend by style maven Nathalie Schuterman. Light it all up with this smart match set from Eldstickan.


LUXURIOUS SELF CARE


Do you want to spoil someone in your life? Or maybe reward yourself for getting that raise or publishing a book? Hermès hand cream and nail polish are the latest entries into the luxury beauty space. Chanel also produces a luxurious hand cream for winter days. Dr. Barbara Sturm skincare boasts a loyal clientele and I'm happy to see she has developed products for darker skin tones. The Molton Brown Christmas Cracker with four woody-scented bath gels would make the perfect stocking stuffer.


COOL LUXURY


These gifts are sleek and gender-neutral: stylish Hermès Apple watch; Satake Ame knife set; Rimowa's classic silver cabin bag; Tiffany Supreme keychain.


FUN & WHIMSICAL


Holiday breaks aren't complete without a complicated puzzle to put together and bibliophiles will be scratching their heads for days with In the Bookstore and Classic Paperbacks! Olympia Le Tan trades in her signature book covers for an adorable CEO Barbie clutch. Pärlans Julkalender is a wonderful collection of delectable caramel candies.


LAST WORD...

Please consider donating to a charity in need or a cause close to your heart. Among other charitable organizations, I will be supporting Mentor International.

Wishing you all love and light this holiday season!!