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.