The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘self-help

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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Feeling worthy is a learned behavior.
—Beverly McIver

Happy New Year!

How lucky are we that we have another year to explore our creative passions and dreams.

Last month, I got the nub of a terrific idea from meeting the writer James Maxey. He is using the energy of 2016, being a leap year, to spur him on to write every day and aim for 366,000 words by the end of the year. Intense, I know!

I loved the idea of attempting something inspiring, mind-stretching and ambitious for my creative life in 2016. I thought about what I need in my creative life and what other creative folk might need.

New-Year-Pictures-Download-1024x576

I asked myself the question: What could I share with you on a daily basis that would support a positive mindset as we approach our creative work?

Answer: Affirmations!

I was lucky enough to meet renowned visual artist, Beverly McIver at a professional development conference. She talked at length about how important it is that creative people do the inner emotional work to support the (often) long path to professional success. Anxious and unhelpful self-talk and inner critics often stop us before we can even get to our projects.

What I need as a writer is lots of practice in self-kindness, plain and simple. I have technique, craft, discipline and perseverance in spades. Many creative people struggle with simply being self-accepting. As you know, we can think the meanest things about ourselves.

Over the years, I have found affirmations to be a potent tool in combating unhelpful self-talk/criticism. The use of affirmations has come a long way. An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.”

You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Affirmations as writer and coach, Rochelle Melanader notes in her book WRTE-A-THON: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and live to tell about it), helps to “challenge and reframe assumptions.”

Now that many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations, they’ve become respectable. Gone are the days that affirmations made you only think of Shirley MacLaine, flouncy scarves, and quartz crystals. (Though for the record, I’ve liked each of the above at different times in my life.)

So, my commitment to you and myself is to post an original affirmation every day through the end of the year. It’s a fun and daunting goal! Some affirmations will focus generally on creativity, but many will focus on writing. I imagine some will be serious and others will be a bit more whimsical. They will usually arrive without commentary, but occasionally I may offer some additional thoughts. I encourage you to use the affirmation as you see fit. You can say it to yourself several times a day, write it down or adapt the words to your liking. Periodically, I’ll be writing about the different ways creative people use affirmations and the current research on the use of affirmations.

My greatest hope is that the affirmations I write will be there when you need them most. And, that they will embody a tone and energy that can carry you past the sometimes insistent, unhelpful and inaccurate voices in our heads.

Affirmation #1- The more creative work I release into the world, the happier I am.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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