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.

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 ( 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.

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”. 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!