For Writers- How To Keep A Healthy, Creative Mind

There are so many blogs and posts out there about physical or mental health, but I haven’t come across many about staying creatively healthy. I wanted to explain what I have learned because writing is one of the hardest professions in the world. 

These days, there are too many jobs that require lots of sitting. Other than the fact that most people have to work to damn near sickness to make ends meet, a stationary lifestyle contributes to depression and obesity that’s at an all-time high. People are discovering (during this quarantine) what writers have had to deal with for hundreds of years: a solitary lifestyle. If you are a writer and still struggle with staying on top of your art, keep reading. 

The first thing- excuses are bullshit; your body doesn’t like being motionless, nor does your brain. Also, humans have not evolved to be solitary, stationary creatures. There needs to be a balance, and it is so easy to get out of balance. For example, say you are so on point one day in your writing that you don’t want to stop. That’s fine. The next day though, you might not feel the same way and get frustrated. You need to move. Get up and take a walk, stretch, maybe even meditate. 

Keeping the body healthy is a must do in a writer’s world. Your brain needs endorphins and Vitamin D (Did you know Vitamin D is a Prohormone produced by the kidneys? Prohormones are the substances used to create hormones, and not getting enough Vit D will affect your entire body). So, get your ass off the chair, grab some sunlight, and go exercise (to get those endorphins!). Call a writer friend, go outside and plant a tree, or go shop. Take it a day at a time. The sentence might not come today, but you might have it tomorrow. Arm yourself with things that will help you declutter your mind.

But then something terrible happens: Burn out and overwhelm. It can come quickly, and then that pesky writer’s block will grab you and not let go. Writers can stress about just one sentence in a 90,000-word manuscript. Stress can build with more sentences and words that just aren’t coming to you, “But…but… I have to figure it out!” You say. Yes, you will, but you need to give your brain the ammunition it needs to provide you with the right words. 

So what can you do when you already have writer’s block or burnout and feel creatively drained? You’re depressed that your manuscript’s sitting in Dropbox’s cloud, not getting finished. 

Alright. Stop. Yep, I said stop. Step away. Yeah, you won’t want to do it.

Now, I didn’t say quit. Muhammad Ali said, “Learn how to rest, not to quit.” Creativity is not never-ending; you need to replenish it. So, stop and REST. Then READ, READ, READ! Exercise. Eat well. Paint. Do whatever will fill your creativity cup. Go back to your inspiration. Your body is a muscled, chemical, organic, thinking machine that needs all components on board to function at its peak. Again, take it a day at a time. Some days you will be on and some days you won’t. You will need to accept them all to keep your stress at a minimum because stress and creativity don’t always mix well. (Hey! Some people thrive under pressure. If that’s you, fuck you, in the kindest way I can say it, and rock on!)

Now, find what works for your creative edge. Research. Once I googled if my favorite author (Karen Marie Moning) read while she was writing her best sellers. She said she didn’t. So I tried it out, focusing entirely on my own writing. Well, that didn’t work for me; I need to take reading sabbaticals. I take a week off and read as much as I can because reading restores my writing creativity, but that might not work for you. Get back to what your soul craves- music, art, nature, a good film…the list can go on and on. 

Give your body and brain what it needs, and the words will come.

Another thing I want to talk about: writer’s anxiety- a pesky side product of doubt and a few other things I will go into. Writing a book and publishing is no small task, and having other people read your work will put the writer at risk for criticism, good and bad. That can be daunting. Expect it and accept it, you will need to put on your criticism “bulletproof” vest. That’s the only thing you can do.

Another thing that can bring anxiety is, unlike other professions, writing has delayed feelings of accomplishment, leaving your brain sometimes dopamine deficit, in my opinion. It could take years for a novel writer or screenwriter to finish multiple drafts with only themselves as company for encouragement. With other professions, you might not have long projects, be able to bounce ideas off of other people, or simply be a hard-working employee and get recognition (if not any of those, at least get paid for working every day!!). 

Writers, on the other hand, have to be self-motivated with no pay sometimes- even if they feel like they aren’t accomplishing much but crappy writing. Motivation is something they must give themselves. 

Do you know the “depressed writer” cliché? If you think about it, it makes sense. A writing project could take years to complete, and it might be a long time before you feel accomplished. Additionally, unless you are in a writer’s group or have peer review, you won’t get other human’s endorsement and critique of your work. Humans are social creatures, and like it or not, gaining other people’s perspectives on your writing makes you a better writer. On top of all that, when you finally publish, you might get criticized harshly and not get paid much. 

Writing is a difficult job, to say the least, that goes for any type- journalist, screenwriter, or novelist. Writers must become disciplined to wake up daily and work, even if they are completely burnt out, broke, or frustrated. Be prepared for this challenge to come. Expect it, figure out what to do when you start feeling frustrated, and you can accomplish anything.

Lastly, as a side note, to help keep your anxiety low, there are many methods to use. Other than what I wrote above about moving your body and such, also, clean your workspace. There are articles upon articles that if your surroundings are clutter-free, it is much easier to concentrate (and it’s true!). 

Okay, and I’m going to say it, grab a cocktail, a beer, glass of wine, or your preferred spirit. Unless you’re an alcoholic, or your doctor or meds say DON’T DRINK, grab your beverage and relax a bit. It truly can settle you and give some “liquid courage” to write your little heart out. (Edit when you’re sober though.) 

To sum all of this up, keep yourself physically moving (notice I didn’t say “perfectly fit,” even though that would be ideal), declutter, give yourself praise, and get some Vitamin D (at the very least, a supplement!). Then go back to what inspires your creativity. Remember, take your struggles a day at a time and work through them. It will all be worth it because we all know writers are badass.

Ancilla – Teaser #1

She’d listened to her dad’s strange theories. Even with her minimal knowledge of physics, she knew going forward in time would be more easily achieved than going back.

Dad figured it out.

Moisture gathered in her eyes, and before she knew it, she tasted a salty liquid on her lips. It couldn’t be happening; everything must be a mistake. A dream. But she knew what she had seen and heard. Those men were Roman– even her rational mind nagged at her to believe it.

She thought of the man’s face. He’d said his name was Lepidus, and with what little research she had done in one of her first history classes at Northwestern, she knew there were many male children named after their fathers. Which was he? What year was it? If he was the Lepidus who was a part of the second triumvirate, he was important to history. He ruled right alongside Marc Antony and Octavian. His time would be the end of the Roman Republic.

Whoa. Stop. You’re already accepting this?

“Why are you so quiet?” Brandy muttered.

Nicole tried to discreetly wipe the tears from her eyes, then sniffed.

“I’m thinking.”

“You’re crying too,” Brandy said.

Nicole slanted Brandy a look from the corner of her eye. Leave it to Brandy to call her out on it.

“Hey, what happened out there…” Brandy shifted her focus to the opposite wall. “It could have been… could’ve been worse, yeah?”

Nicole didn’t need a reminder of the humiliation, even though she wanted to scrape the stares of everyone’s eyes off her skin. No, there were far worse problems they needed to talk about.

“Let’s not talk about that ever again, okay? And that isn’t it.” She sighed.

Brandy leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes when pain creased her forehead. “All right.”

Nicole knew everything was a million miles—no, a million minutes—from all right.

“What then? We’ll get outta here. If we can find out where we’re at, we’ll get some help and go home. I might even have military contacts here,” Brandy said.

How was Nicole supposed to tell Brandy where she thought they were without sounding as if she’d lost touch with reality? She slowly pushed herself up the wall to stand and intertwined her arms deeper in the blanket.

Turning away from the bars, she filled her lungs and said, “I think I know where we are.”

Brandy popped open her eyes and shifted slightly, sitting up a little straighter. “Where?”

“What do you know about what our dads do?”

“Uh, physics, science shit. My dad didn’t talk shop.”

“Well, mine did. Most of it I didn’t understand. They’re studying dark energy, gravity, and quantum level physics. Who knows what else.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, you saw the men out there and the house. Where do you think we are? Because I hope I’m wrong.”

Brandy shrugged, seeming awfully calm—a little too calm. “Some shithole third world country. I’ve visited damn plenty of them. Somewhere in Africa? Or Iran? Where else could we be?”

Africans who speak Latin? No.

“Then how do you think we got here? You have any idea what happened after we ran in the stairwell?” Nicole questioned.

Brandy went quiet, then she shifted again, clearly uncomfortable, the first real sign of her fear. “Someone drugged then kidnapped us? Trying for some ransom cash? To get some money out of our dads?”

Nicole had initially thought the same thing. But if she was right, it was worse. Much worse.

“That doesn’t explain how we woke up on the street. What about the suction and pulling?”

“Drugs, Nicole.” Brandy’s patronizing tone rolled off each word.

“How? We didn’t eat or drink anything.”

“It’s obvious. The door locking before it should have. Some kind of gas was pumped into the stairwell that made us hallucinate and pass out.”

Nicole had to admit that scenario sounded remarkably logical and smart. Still, not even those in third world countries wore gilded leather–chest armor. To be fair, Brandy hadn’t been able to see straight when they were taken to the men—she couldn’t even stand. She might have seen them, but pain didn’t always allow for a clear head.

“No, Brandy, I… don’t think that’s what happened.” Nicole trembled, making the blanket vibrate. “Listen. I… I think we’re…” She searched for the right word, only one coming to mind. “Displaced.”

“What the hell’s that mean?”

“I mean, whatever happened to us in that stairway didn’t have anything to do with drugs. Or being kidnapped. Something sent us… An accident.” Nicole rubbed her lips together, and her eyes filled again as she looked down at Brandy’s lifted brow.

“What do you mean sent us? Sent us where? Spit it out.”

“Sent us back in time. Or we fell through time, I don’t know,” Nicole rushed.

Brandy didn’t blink. “Fell through time?”

“Yes.”

A choking sound came out of Brandy’s mouth. “They hit your head too, bitch. Sit down.”

Brandy bent her finger and pointed to the dirt floor, half her mouth cocked to the side. It did sound ridiculous, saying it out loud. But Nicole wasn’t joking, far from it. Her frown deepened.

Brandy’s mouth fell open. “Shit, you’re serious.”

“There aren’t any other explanations.”

“Nah, you don’t know for sure.” Brandy gave Nicole an expression like she smelled shit. “Where, then?”

“I don’t know the year, but we’re in Rome.” Nicole pulled her arms tighter together, hugging herself. “Ancient Rome.”

“Time travel isn’t possible, and you fucking know it,” Brandy gritted, yet now her voice quivered.

“What do you think happened in the stairwell? Can you explain the way these people dress or their speech? They think we are escaped slaves.”

Brandy didn’t say anything as she looked away, then swiped her hand across her mouth. “Come on. Slavery still exists, and I know I can’t understand them, but it could be any langua—”

“It’s a rough Latin. And the Greek they speak, I don’t fully understand,” Nicole said.

She couldn’t make out Brandy’s face that clearly, but the white of her eyes moved fast as her gaze rushed around the grungy prison walls, finally stopping at the chains bracketed into the bricks.

Shaking her head back and forth, Brandy said, “You’re wrong. We need to get out of here…” She tried to stand but fell back on her ass.

“With you like that? Where would we go? Huh? If I’m right, there isn’t a US Embassy or anyone we know. We have no food or clothes.”

“Okay, you stay, then. What you’re saying is bullshit. I’m getting the hell out of here the motherfucking second I can.”

“I hope to God I’m wrong, but you know what our dads are. Is it really that impossible?” Nicole paused and made sure she had Brandy’s full attention before she breathed, “A wormhole. I think our dads figured out how to create a wormhole.”

THANKS FOR READING! RELEASE DATE COMING SOON!

Advice for the Aspiring Novel Writer

Ancilla hasn’t released yet, and it surprised me the other day when someone already asked about my process. A friend said to me as well, “You finished! That’s awesome. A lot of people say they’ll write a book and they never do.”

Here’s the thing: writing a novel is not easy. When I first got started five years ago, all I knew was that I loved to read. After taking creative novel writing classes in college, I quickly found out that writing can SUCK. Forcing myself to sit down at the computer daily was a chore I couldn’t have expected. I didn’t realize how much my body loves to move, and it became more and more difficult to concentrate (I will write another article about staying healthy while being a writer).

All of that aside, finishing my novel has also given me so much excitement and joy; it’s hard to explain unless you feel it yourself. Writing is indeed torture and fun rolled into one. On any given day, I can doubt myself then the next day I feel inspired; you have to roll with it.

(Not sure who owns this image)

One of my biggest fears when I first began was I’m not that great with grammar. I’m not efficient with spelling either (a lifetime of autocorrect has messed me up). Let me tell you that there are ways to improve on this, too. Grammarly is an online program, and there are editors for hire. Don’t worry so much about it as I did; it wasted my time and gave me even more doubt.

My advice? KEEP GOING. You will suck at first. Accept it. The only way to get past that is write, edit, write. Know your weaknesses and work on them. Also, if something doesn’t work for you, strive for something else. I’m talking about trying EVERYTHING ELSE from moving writing spots to writing naked (or you can even pray to your muse to visit you more often. Hey, whatever works!). Everyone is different; find your niche. Make sure to learn the basics of storytelling and the three-act structure (https://goteenwriters.com/2012/09/14/understanding-the-three-act-structure/)(image provided by this website). Also, there are programs out there that can help you finish your manuscript. I will talk about that in a minute.

The next thing is to think about is your story idea over and over and over again. Think about a character or characters, plan him/her, dream about a scenario you can put them in. Start mentally going down the rabbit hole and don’t stop- it will surprise you what you can come up with. Keep asking “WHAT IF…this happened…or this….” Start bringing a journal with you to jot down ideas or type it in your phone. You get the picture. Don’t forget to read if you get stuck, feel drained of creativity, or just plain lazy. After that, sit your ass down and start typing. I wrote the first ~20,000 words without plotting anything on paper yet- to get a feel and practice a little. Then when I felt it was time, I went to the drawing board and used J.K. Rowling’s grid (Link at the end of paragraph talks more about this) to get my brain working overtime to take my plot further. By the time I finished the manuscript, I hadn’t stayed to my outline, but it steered me in the right direction and made me think. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/135108057549884646/

Of course, there were bumps in the road, and a huge one for me was I re-wrote my first chapters about fifteen times (blah). Then one day, randomly scrolling through Pinterest, I came across an article, and it gave me good advice, “when you know your ending, you can write your beginning.” This info forced me to plot my conclusion, then after that, I was driving one day listening to a song that I thought would inspire my work and the whole plot came together in my head in perfect order. I’m not saying this will happen to you, but think hard about how you want your story to end.

Okay, so you have all these great ideas then whatever stopping those ideas from getting on the paper and completed is frustrating the hell out of you. Around this time is where discipline comes in. I had NONE. I let all kinds of things get in the way. So, I got an email one day from a man named Joe Bunting, and his website provides a “100 Day Book Program”. https://thewritepractice.com/groups/100db/. I am not sure how much it costs now, but it wasn’t much. This program gave me strict accountability and workshopping with other writers. I had a set amount of words I had to turn into my group every week. I already had plotted so much, and I pushed myself. Before I knew it, my first draft was complete!

These are most of the things that helped me get a rough draft completed. Always remember to dump your story onto the paper, don’t overthink about correcting anything, you will be editing the hell out of it later. JUST GET IT WRITTEN!

I still worry that my writing isn’t good enough (syntax too simple, not enough description, etc.), and I’ll find out what readers think about it soon, but I must remember that I’m a storyteller, not just a writer. My writing will improve with each new book. I sincerely hope everyone enjoys reading Ancilla!

HAPPY WRITING to EVERYONE!