The Practice of Creativity

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How long do you want to keep writing and creating? Is your body and mind up for the journey? Writing is one of the few professions that can be practically age proof. There’s one big caveat though—we can write well into our senior years only if we respect our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can.  Joanna Penn, noted and successful indie author has teamed up with Dr. Euan Lawson to write The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term. And, it promises to be a new standard on this topic.

Aching back? Chronic pain, sleep problems? Anxious? Sugar cravings? Penn and Lawson tackle many physical and mental health issues that beset writers, including difficult ones to talk about like depression, loneliness, anxiety and challenges with chronic pain.

Like in her other book: Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey (which I also enjoyed), Penn posted a survey on her blog and asked writers to share their triumphs and challenges with staying healthy. And, they did–over a 1,000 writers responded, detailing their struggles, triumphs and tips.

In the past several years, Penn has been open about her debilitating migraines, chronic lower back pain and managing the emotional ups and downs of creative work. Some of her long term solutions have included taking up yoga 3-4 times a week, using dictation software and taking daily walks. I’ve been inspired to see how positively the changes she’s made have benefited her.

What really works in this book is their combined experience. They expertly weave together insights from their own journey and useful snippets from survey respondents. What’s the science on rest, standing desks and ergonomic chairs? Lawson’s got the answers and does a fantastic job of making the science and medical research accessible.

What’s it about: Getting you to think about ways you can keep doing what you love for a long time; prioritizing your health as part of a long term sustainable career as a writer, cultivating a healthy author mindset

Structure: Several chapters are co-written, some chapters are individually written, reflective questions and resources at the end of each chapter

Style: Extremely personable; scientific information presented in a way that is fun to read

Topics: a personal journey to a pain-free back, writing with depression and anxiety, the active writer’s mindset, loneliness and isolation, a letter to sugar, strategies for the sofa bound, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

There is a risk that any book about health can get preachy, but this is not a book about denial. It is not necessary to live a life that would make a monk weep. We are not aspirational ascetics, denying the flesh for the greater holiness of the written word. This is not an exhaustive book covering everything possible, but we hope it will help you feel less alone in your journey toward wellness. It is about empowerment. It is about sustainability. It is about making change that will help you become a healthy writer for the long term.

Healthy Writers Need Healthy Connections:

If you want to be a healthy writer, then you should spend as much time addressing your social networks and your social isolation as much as anything else. It needs to be on a par with giving up cigarettes, sorting out your sleep, losing weight and getting exercise.

Jumping into Facebook doesn’t count. In fact, there is mixed evidence about the impact of online social media and its effect on loneliness. One study among postgraduate students found that increased use of Facebook was associated with loneliness.

The inability to do what everyone around me was doing made me feel even more worthless than the illness already did (from a chapter written by Dan Holloway on writing and mental health issues):

And if I ever admitted to my writing friends that I was finding it hard the classic retort would come back: “We all feel like that.” People who say this mean well, but it is such a damaging thing to say. The thing is, when I say I can’t put pen to paper, I don’t mean I’m finding it tough. I don’t mean I need tips to unlock the words. I don’t mean I need prompts or-don’t even go there-a better plan. I mean I can’t. I physically cannot make the words appear. You wouldn’t tell someone who couldn’t use their legs that we all find it hard to stand up, just because sometimes you’re tired and don’t feel like it. It’s time we stopped making the same gaffes with mental ill health.

Sort out your sleep

Many writers surveyed for this book talked about sleep. There were suggestions for developing routines at the end of the day and recommendations on avoiding screen-time. There was a recognition that depression, anxiety and work related stress had a big impact on your sleep.

In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker collates studies that show sleeping less than six or seven hours a night can impact your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, disrupt your blood sugar levels, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and contribute to psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety.

So clearly it’s an important topic for writers.

Bottom line: This is a definitive guide for encouraging writers to make sensible and long lasting changes for their health.

I consider myself pretty healthy. I work out 4-5 times a week, watch what I eat and meditate several times a week. I came to this book feeling like I knew a lot about healthy living. This book, however, opened my eyes to the many things that I had taken for granted.

I have been lucky. I haven’t had much back, neck or wrist pain. But, I don’t want to take any of that for granted anymore. I saw that I was cutting corners on getting proper rest, working in not very ergonomically friendly ways, and ignoring good rules for taking breaks from work.

After reading this book, I felt inspired to take even better care of myself—especially now that I turned fifty.

I have implemented a few things right away (like getting a riser for my laptop), and recommitting to using my dictation software more often. The bigger lifestyles changes like getting more rest are long-term projects.

Not to be morbid, but when I face my demise, I hope that I’m very elderly and in a chair writing. I have better hopes of going that way by making investments in my health now.

If you pick up this book from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here is the link for the paperback.

 Here is the link for the e-book.

Affirmations-366Days#116: Writers need strong and supple backs. I remember to take stretch breaks often. I am grateful for a healthy back.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#16: I protect and conserve my life energy for creative endeavors.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days# 13: I understand that my body is a co-creator in the creative process. I invite my body to let me know what it needs to support my creative life.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

This is the time of year that most of us start worrying about the flu and taking safeguards to build up our immunity. Our immune system is very important as it works to protect our bodies from germs and ideally, helps the body keep a balanced inner ‘terrain’. I’d like to propose that this is also a great time of year to consider your creativity as a practice that supports your health.

We can often feel the physical effects of being creative immediately in our bodies. They usually include an upbeat outlook, feeling intense curiosity, better energy and greater control over our moods. We know that our brains reward creative activity by producing more dopamine and serotonin, important hormones. And, that is great brain juice! We also know when most people create that they are in the ‘alpha’ brain wave state which is a relaxed state that lowers blood pressure and produces more endorphins. Neuroscientists like Nancy Andreasen (The Creating Brain) also point to ‘brain plasticity’ (neural adaptations and new neural pathways) that creative thinking encourages.

Stories from doctors about their clients as well as others in the healing professions have provided good anecdotal evidence about creativity and health. There is also growing clinical research on the interrelationship between creativity and health. Research has shown that people who are creatively challenged at work keep themselves healthier. And studies are being conducted across the country to look at the effects of creativity on stress, resistance to illness and as a strong boost to immune function.

So, here are some tips for building your immunity through creativity this fall:

—Spread your fertilizer. First, recognize that on a metaphorical level, it hurts not to create. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has said, in her work, that we can think of creativity as a type of rich excrement in us. And, that we need to use it, or get it out of our bodies, daily. And if we don’t use it, you know what happens? It backs up in us and makes us feel…well, you know, like we have a lot of unused fertilizer lying around inside of us. When you haven’t been creating very much, don’t you feel sort of backed up? Don’t you feel sluggish when you’re not consistently writing, drumming, acting, singing, dancing, etc? And, then when you create something, anything, doesn’t your body feel better, almost immediately? Ask yourself for the next couple of weeks: Am I letting my precious fertilizer back up? If so, what can I do in the next ten minutes that will stimulate my creativity?

–Make more great brain juice: Our brains invite creativity when we are able to slip into a quieter and relaxed state of mind. Getting relaxed is different for everyone. An hour in the garden may produce lovely relaxing results for someone. Another person might love to create a collage, or plan a dinner party for sixteen people. If taking a long luxurious bath helps to really relax you, then by all means make sure you do it. It doesn’t matter—identify what really relaxes you and commit to doing it for at least ten minutes a day. Regard those precious ten minutes as the down payment on the long term outcome of a stronger immune system.

–Practice ‘walk-by creativity’. A dear friend of mine used to grow and arrange flowers. I would visit her at her office and often did not expect to see the most artfully arranged group of wild flowers sitting in a vase on a table in the lobby outside her office. There was no good reason that they were there except she wanted other people to enjoy their beauty. This is an example of what I like to call ‘walk-by creativity’. You’re just walking by and you notice something another human being has created and you enjoy the moment. What about creating a walk-by-creative moment for someone else? Is there something that you can make, or do, so that when someone walks by your desk, patio, lobby, window, etc., it catches their breath, eyes and intrigues? I encourage you to delight someone with your creative expression.

–Be an inspiration detective for one month. Many people tell me that they wait to be creative for when they feel inspired. But when I ask them: What inspires you? They often don’t know because they have been waiting for so long that the creative impulse has ebbed far away. Waiting for inspiration often means that we treat our creativity like this rare crinoline dress we get to wear only on special occasions. Sometimes many other things get attached to this ‘waiting for inspiration’ moment. I’ve found that it usually means I’m waiting for the perfect magical moment when there won’t be “too much to do”, I’ll be the perfect size, and I’ll have learned how to stop judging myself. The problem is that if we wait too long to start being creative then our anxieties, guilt, and unused fertilizer builds. Then, in the middle of the night we desperately race to the closet, snatch the dress off the silk hanger and stuff ourselves into it. This is usually not a pleasant experience. So, why don’t you, for the next month, actively notice what you’re inspired by and allow that to lead to your own relationship with the creative process? If you’ve forgotten what inspires you to be creative: Keep finishing the questions:
What inspires me? Where are some new places that I can look for inspiration?
Treat the inspiration to create as a great mystery.

–Laugh yourself into better immunity-Research has popped up all over the place supporting the connection between laughter and health. Deep belly laughter gives the heart and diaphragm a great work out, relaxes the muscles, and stimulates the immune system. Several years ago, I went to a ‘laugh –a-yoga’ session and discovered that as adults we often don’t laugh deeply, and/or for no reason. Babies and very young children are always laughing deeply and for no reason. The best thing is there is no wrong way to do a deep belly laugh. What a relief! And, as Diane Ealy, expert on women’s creative cycles, says “Ha-Ha=Aha” (The Woman’s Book of Creativity). When you’re laughing you’re more likely to feel creative. Laughing allows us to shift our perspective and the ability to see new ideas and approaches. And, that is what creativity is all about.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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