The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Penn

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.

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Hi folks,

Last week, I was away at sea, on a cruise, so I wasn’t able to post. This trip was the kickoff to my upcoming 50th birthday and there is LOTS to tell about that (I got to visit Cuba!). I will share my reflections SOON.

Today, I wanted to follow-up on ridding ourselves (or at least examining) unhelpful patterns of mind as part of my Spring Cleaning and the Creative Life series. My last post was on fear and there is *always* more to say about this topic.

Four years ago, I wrote a poem about fear and its presence in my creative life. Four years ago, I held a big creativity summit online with renowned coaches and writers. I went on a roller coaster learning curve and at times it was painful. Four years ago, I was also submitting my work like crazy and getting poems published and placing in contests. Inevitably, as we grow bigger, we often have to deal with our fears that come wrapped in new clothes. This was true for me in 2014. Looking back now, I can see that my creative growth triggered a powerful fear attack. If I hadn’t pushed through it, I might have stopped on my creative journey and never made it to this amazing time in my creative life.

It is really powerful to use four years as a marker on your creative path. Amazing podcaster and writer, Joanna Penn wrote an excellent post on using the Olympics as a way to think about what one can achieve in just 4 short years. Check it out, I think you’ll find it inspiring:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/08/11/measuring-achievement-by-olympics/

Here is the post I wrote in 2014 (almost exactly four years ago) that explores how to handle a fear attack:

As a coach, I have found that the number one thing that stops most people from pursuing their deepest and most meaningful heart’s desire is fear. Fear comes in a variety of forms, shapes and personas including ‘what will they think’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’ll never make money doing what I love’, ‘I need more credentials’, and ‘what if they don’t like what I create’, etc.

None of us are immune from feeling fear, especially when we’re moving outside out comfort zone. The danger is that fear with its tricky (and sometimes believable) tunes of gloom will get the best of us and immobilize us for far too long. I’ve had my own run-ins with fear over the years. What follows below is an impromptu ‘talking back’ that I recently gave to fear.

When you’re in the grip of a fear attack, it might be fun to write a poem/letter/manifesto to your fear and finish the lines ‘I’ve lived through….’

I am looking you, FEAR, straight in the eye

I am looking you, FEAR, straight in the eye
How dare you try to intimidate me!
Do you know what I’ve lived through?

I’ve lived through being a battered woman’s child
I’ve lived through being an abused young woman
I’ve lived through poverty
I’ve lived through being almost homeless
I’ve lived through discrimination
I’ve through academe
I’ve lived through the vagaries of a creative life

What else do you think you can do to ME?

How dare you sit there!

How dare you, FEAR!

How DARE you, FEAR!

So what if they laugh? I’m supposed to be worried if the unspecified THEY laugh?

What do you mean?

THEY have laughed before, so I imagine that they’ll laugh again

How dare you trying to make me afraid!

for asking for more
for wanting more
for trying more
for talking more
for being seen more
for saying I deserve more
for desiring more

How are dare you, FEAR!

Here’s what I want you to know, FEAR

Your days are numbered

I’m cleaning house in 2014

You better get in line

Or, I will strip you down into the dysfunctional four letter thing that you are

And EAT you!

 

Recently the amazing publicist who works for my publisher, Book Smugglers, asked me to consider using a new social media platform—Instagram. She was putting together a cool campaign on Instagram to promote myself and the other authors with novellas by BSP. Instagram is a social media platform where you can share photos and videos. You can create geotags and hashtags. Instagram is visually driven. The Pew Research Center’s study, conducted a few years ago, notes that it tends to draw in a millennial audience.

And, I should note that the publicist wasn’t adamant that I start using Instagram—she was willing to post my content that I sent her. I’m pretty open to using social media, but I was reticent to add yet one more item on my already densely packed list of social media activities. Still, when your publicist asks you to consider something that they feel will be helpful with developing “organic reach” for your book, it’s wise and courteous to say yes.

In the end, I did join Instagram and it I’m glad I did. But, in doing so, it made me think more about a writer’s relationship to social media and how that relationship evolves over one’s career. It made me reflect on the choices I was making (or not making) related to social media. I thought I would share these musings with you in the hopes that it will spark your own reflections. Some of you may feel really comfortable with social media, and some may feel like it’s a drag and time suck. I find that for many writers (especially newer ones), social media is something they do begrudgingly and it often inspires feelings of guilt, dread and anxiety.

Reflecting on my choices, I can say that I’ve (unconsciously) followed four simple principles:

1) Find out what social media platforms you like and use them.

2) Use social media to serve your audience/community/tribe.

3) Grow your social media (and time learning about social media), in proportion to your goals.

4) Model your social media etiquette after other writers and creatives that you respect and enjoy following.

Facebook

The first social media platform I started using was Facebook. I read Clay Sharkey’s book Here Comes Everybody which was chock-full of reasons why Facebook was an important tool to develop and enhance social relationships and “get things done”. This changed my thinking about the value of Facebook.

Pros:

Facebook is my favorite social media platform.

There is an ease to Facebook. It’s very simple to use, so my technophobic concerns were immediately quieted.

I found that I had a natural voice and ease in expressing myself in Facebook. I love inspiring people and connecting with them, so Facebook seemed the perfect medium. A big plus of Facebook is that my insights can be shorter than a standard blog post.

For many years, I didn’t have an Author Facebook page, but used my personal page to do ‘writing sprints’ and offer up writing and creative encouragement.

I am always amazed at who finds and likes my posts. It’s a good cross section of creative writer friends and academic friends (who are supportive and/or interested in developing their writing).

I now use my personal page less for discussions of writing and have relied more heavily on my Author Facebook page. I set up an Author Facebook page a few years ago when I started developing more webinars and online trainings.

There are lots of writers that have used Facebook very creatively to keep their community engaged. Facebook is an invaluable place to cultivate your community and ideally, once you have some publications–your super fans. Many writers have closed groups where they offer super fans, first crack at content, and other goodies. Other writers use their Author Page to update folks about upcoming publications and/or events and even solicit beta readers. If you teach writing workshops, you can create closed groups and offer specific resources to participants.

Cons:

Facebook is always changing its algorithms so having an Author Page doesn’t mean that the people you want to see your work will. It used to be that everyone saw every post and that’s not true anymore. I don’t usually “boost” posts which involves paying Facebook so that they will show your post to many more people (inside and outside your network).

Upkeep:

I post at least once a week, often twice a week. I like culling and sharing interesting tidbits of news, advice and inspiration related to creativity from around the web. I often post different kinds of resources there than what I share on the blog. Although Facebook’s algorithms are always changing, the way the platform looks and feels has been relatively stable, another feature I also appreciate.

BTW: Come play with me on my Author Facebook Page here (or click the link on the sidebar to the right)

Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-characters (until recently) messages called “tweets”. Some writers use it for community building and getting to know other authors. Others use it to promote their work. I joined Twitter in 2012 and it took me some time to figure out its value and how to manage my time using it.

In 2015 I attended the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s writing residency which was amazing. I took a great workshop called “Twitter for Authors” that was so empowering and helped me to think differently about Twitter. Mary Johnson shared a power packed handout about Twitter. She made the case that women’s voices were often underrepresented on Twitter and that many female authors were trying to change that. We explored how Roxanne Gay and other prominent writers use Twitter. Mary also noted that many writers used Twitter as a tool for self-promotion and that was OK, as long as we weren’t only using it for that end. Like all social media platforms, one’s goal should be to serve the community by providing great content, not just “look at me, I have a book” updates.

This workshop exposed me to a bevy of women writers active on Twitter and gave me some concrete tools in how to connect to the writing community. It’s taken me some time but I’ve grown my community to on Twitter –it now feels like a community, not just a random bunch of strangers I haphazardly followed when I first joined. I’ve also become a fan of tools like Hootsuite to help automate my tweets.

Pros:

There is a quick responsiveness to Twitter which can feel great. It is easy to populate Twitter with information for your community—use Hootsuite to automate. But, you don’t want to automate too much because part of the fun is actually interacting with folks on Twitter in real time. It’s a great medium for getting to know other writers. Another perk is that readers have connected with me on Twitter. Some have tweeted me their reviews of my work. It’s awesome to connect with readers! This rarely happens for me through either Facebook or even my blog.

Cons and Upkeep:

If you aren’t consistent and tweet often, you can fall off of people’s radars. You also have to practice impulse control. You can’t take things back on Twitter. It is very tempting to tweet something without really thinking about the consequences. Don’t!

You should always bring your best self in all social media correspondence. There is Twitter etiquette that should be learned.

BTW: Come play with me on Twitter

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social media site. You create boards and load pictures or anything that already exists somewhere on the web. I have a couple of different boards including one about Pugs, Writing Projects, Petite Fashion, etc.

I got on Pinterest because my curiosity was peaked, especially after I heard author Joanna Penn discuss it in her fantastic podcast called ‘The Creative Penn’ (sorry I don’t remember which one, but you can see her work on social media below).

She used Pinterest as a way to create a placeholder for images of current writing projects and made boards that documented her novel writing process. I loved that idea! With Pinterest, you can signal to others about your passions, interests, hobbies, etc.

Pros and Upkeep:

Pinterest is very easy to use. You begin by naming and creating a board and ‘pinning’ items to it. You can pin when you feel like it—daily, weekly or monthly. Pinterest also suggest items for you to pin, a feature that keeps your imagination stimulated.

How might Pinterest help you as a writer?

Let’s say you are a fantasy author and you write about dragons. You create a board that collects lots of images of cool dragons.  If someone loves dragons and they are on Pinterest, they will search for dragons. There’s a good chance that they may find your board, pin some of your images and “follow” your board.  They may check out other boards that you have (maybe related to fantasy or not). Over time, they may decide to read one of your dragon themed books. Like Instagram, the idea is that this platform helps attract people based on specific interests and that can lead to interest in what you actually produce. It is thought to help with organic reach—reaching people beyond your networks.

Cons:

Pinterest can be very distracting! I have to be intentional when I go on Pinterest or I go down some beautiful rabbit holes!

BTW: Come play with me on Pinterest

Instagram

This is the new kid on the block for me. I have just started using Instagram. Even before my publicist asked me to join Instagram, I had heard some buzz about how authors were using it. Authors were posting images that related to their story ideas. I heard a good tip (I think from Joanna Penn), that to get started on Instagram, post one thing once a week or even once a month and before you know it, you’ll have lots of images. And, you’ll have followers without trying too hard. I am finding this observation to be true. I also think that I am in a place in my career that having a presence on Instagram is worthwhile.

Pros:

It’s pretty easy to use. You can literally upload any picture and tag it. It doesn’t have to be related to anything specifically about your work. It could be, ‘I just saw this beautiful flower and I wanted to share it with my community.’ I find it fun to upload photos from recent book events.

Cons:

It’s a bit harder to use on my laptop. Like Pinterest, I have to be focused when I go on Instagram. There’s so much interesting visual material, it’s easy to get lost.

Upkeep:

So far none.

BTW: come and play with me on Instagram

At every stage of your writing career, social media can support your goals. It is worth taking the time to reflect on and identify how social media can amplify your writing interests. What’s important to you? Connecting with potential readers? Pitching to editors? Connecting with local writers?

Social media continues to evolve and change and so will our use of it.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to do anything related to social media that you don’t want to (unless your publisher wants you to). Overall, you have a lot of choice about the kind of social media you want to use, how often and for what purpose.

Additional resources:

Jane Friedman’s excellent overview ‘Social Media for Authors: The Toughest Topic to Advise On’ (thanks to Erika Dreifus for posting)

Joanna Penn’s ‘7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand’ and search The Creative Penn for additional social media posts

 

I’ve made it through a major writerly milestone. Last week, I had my debut book reading and signing for Reenu-You at McIntyre’s Books. It was a blast and went very well.

However, there was still a lot to learn!

I thought I was ready. I thought I knew all there was to know. I thought I was prepared. How long had I been attending book signings? How long had I been visualizing myself conducting a reading and signing books? Longer than I can remember.

But, there was still a lot to learn!

I’m passing on some tips and lessons learned.

-Ask for help. Mobilize your writing peeps!

Doing an author signing and book reading requires some coordination, especially if this is your first time. I decided to serve drinks, food and organize a giveaway. I also had to order books because Book Smugglers distributes their books through IngramSpark and most bookstores will only order a few copies (because of the no return policy). Therefore, authors have to order books and bring them to the store. So, I needed help with lifting books, setting up the food, etc. Mobilize your community and ask writer friends for help on your big day. They’ll be happy to help with moral support, too. I’m glad I flexed my usually underutilized “asking for help” muscles. I had fantastic help and support that day.

-Promote and advertise your event at least a month beforehand. And, don’t just rely on one or two promotional strategies.

I used Twitter, my Author Facebook page, my personal Facebook page and blog to promote the event. I posted a month before, three weeks before, two weeks before and a few days before the event. McIntryre’s Books created a Facebook event page. The only thing that I didn’t do that I will do next time is to also invite people through email. I had a fantastic turnout, but several close friends weren’t there. These are folks that don’t regularly check Facebook. I over-relied on the Facebook event and my personal page for promotion. I also didn’t want to “bother” people by posting too much. Given that it takes several “touches” for people to get something on their calendar, and you never know what people actually see and when they see it, it’s better to post often. Next time, I know that it’s better to cover all the bases one can, including good old email. I also forgot to email my newsletter list!

a lovely audience

a full house!

Practice what you will read and time yourself. Do it over and over until you feel confident.

I received good advice from some writers on Twitter when I asked about tips for doing a reading. Many stressed to pick the highlights and sections of the book that pop. Most of Reenu-You moves between two narrators, Kat and Constancia. I decided to read brief snippets of when we first meet them. They both have distinctive worldviews and use of language that made those snippets very fun to read. I reminded myself that I just needed to provide an appetizer to the audience to entice them to want to read more.

Get rest the night before.

I was restless and didn’t sleep that well the night before the reading. That morning I got up and did some gentle yoga and meditation which was extremely helpful for getting grounded (as they always are).

Eat something beforehand or have an energy bar with you.

You’ll probably already feel jittery, hunger will exacerbate that feeling.

Take cough drops with you.

I know writers who carry cough drops in case their throat gets dry before a reading. I didn’t carry cough drops, but I did use Nasya oil which is a medicated oil that lubricates the nasal passages and promotes concentration. Nasya is a cleansing technique used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic science that originates in India. I swear by this technique during fall and winter when the weather is more drying and one becomes susceptible to colds and flus. Doing Nasya is also very grounding.

Food is always appreciated at an author event.

I had a nice spread of snacks, cheeses, fruit, lemonade and sparkling wine. Also a friend made great cupcakes which garnered kudos and became the second star of the day. She tried to match the frosting colors to the colors on Reenu-You’s cover. I think she did a great job.

I loved seeing people connecting and talking about writing while eating delicious food.

I splurged on food and wine as I wanted this to be a celebratory moment. When I do future readings, I will probably keep it simple-just cupcakes and champagne!

Consider offering a door prize or two. People find them fun and it contributes to the festive environment.

I absolutely love receiving door prizes at events! I decided that I wanted to give away some door prizes for my reading. I gave away my book and The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn. I’m a huge fan of Joanna Penn’s work as a podcaster, author champion and writer and I wanted to encourage the writers in the audience with her words of wisdom. I also gave away Nisa Shawl’s novel, Everfair. I met Nisi when I was a graduate student and lived in Ann Arbor. She worked in a used bookstore and somehow I discovered that she also loved speculative fiction and also wanted to be a writer. It was always a joy to visit her as we would talk endlessly about speculative fiction. She was the first person of color I knew that also wanted to write science fiction! When I was telling this story to the audience, I reminded then that although now everyone seems to be talking about Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, writers of color in speculative fiction and Black Speculative Arts, twenty-five years ago this was not the case! In the early 1990s, I knew of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, but I didn’t have a community of people who looked like me that I could talk about speculative fiction or being a writer in the genre. Nisi was a wonderful informal mentor and friend. I am thrilled for her success with Everfair which is a alternate history novel that re-imagines what might have happened in the Congo, during colonization, if its inhabitants had access to steampunk technology.

My friend Sam won Nisi’s book! A perfect fit as he is a literary and film scholar and is interested in speculative fiction.

Bring a great pen to sign books.

Your first event will probably bring a lot of people that you know. I found myself wanting to write much longer notes in the book which slowed the line. Also, they’ll want to chat a bit which is fun. Remember that energy bar? You might need to take a few bites in case your energy flags some.

Pete, one of the booksellers gave me a Sharpie to sign books with. I had meant to bring a special pen, but that detail totally got lost while preparing for everything else. I was terrified of messing up with that Sharpie, but I didn’t’.

I’ve seen other authors have a slip of paper with them and they ask people to write their names down. This ensures that you don’t spell someone’s name wrong which would be a big bummer.

Savor this feeling—allow yourself to be celebrated.

I am so grateful to folks who were able to make it to McIntyre’s Books. I looked out into the audience and saw former students, academic colleagues, community folk, writer friends and new faces. It was a real delight to experience the fullness of that moment. The writing journey is that much sweeter when you can share some of the peaks with friends.

So much fun seeing friends and holding up my book!

The time really flew by. At moments I found myself saying, “It’s all happening so fast.” I remember hearing from a coach that in order to get our brain to really “take in”, or anchor a positive experience, we have to focus on it for about ten seconds. Otherwise, it just slides by and gets drowned out in the noise of life.

I kept trying to remind myself to let the amazing feelings sink in. And, I whispered to the universe, “Thanks universe, more experiences like this, please! I’m ready!”

 

 

What are you getting for the writers in your life? What are you getting for yourself this holiday season? It’s the time of year to consider gifts we might want to give to our writing partners, writing friends, mentors and/or ourselves.

I’ve found three wonderful lists by fantastic writers that provide numerous creative ideas:

Author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn’s list includes writing themed mugs, Lord of the Rings inspired cuff links, literary games, and cookbooks.

Author and blogger, Chuck Wendig’s list includes specialty chocolates, customizable notebooks and a profanity generator!

Columnist and digital media strategist, Jane Friedman’s list includes online classes, design software, and tech tools.

Enjoy stimulating multiple economies!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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