The Writing Life: Creating Balance

Writers are not immune to the ills that plague humans. We know about tortured artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath to name a very few. While more than 50 million Americans suffer from one form of mental illness or another, there is some evidence that highly creative people are more susceptible. I think that means we, writers, should make an even greater effort to practice healthy, positive, protective self-care. Following are some steps to take toward creating a life that will support and enhance your craft.

Maintain good health

There has been a lot of advertising around how to be healthy. All of us have a pretty good idea that the following are key to a healthy and long life:

  • eating lots of fruits and veggies
  • avoiding foods high in fat and sugar
  • drinking lots of water
  • exercising regularly
  • sleeping at least 7 ½ hours each night
  • trying new things

But like many things in life, knowing and executing are two totally different things. This is where knowing yourself, discipline, good habits, and patience will greatly help.

Journal writing

Writing in a journal has been proven to provide many benefits. One practice that I recommend is to just write out whatever is in your head every day prior to sitting down to write. For those of you who like writing prompts:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What is on the schedule for today?
  • How are you feeling about writing later?
  • What might get in the way of your writing and what can you do about that?

You can do this first thing in the morning or whenever is convenient. This is not the kind of journal writing that you will want to save for later. There probably won’t be a lot of good ideas or well-turned phrases that you will be incorporating into your next work. That is not the purpose of this type of writing. This is similar to Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”. The idea is to give yourself a clean slate, free from all the random thoughts that seem to occupy too much of our brain. This is a practice that will help build discipline and patience as well as reap more beneficial rewards over time with increased focus. Journal writing will also help you know yourself better which, in turn, will make you a better writer.

Meditate

Meditation is very relaxing and calming. It’s a great practice that can clear your mind before and after each writing session or anytime you need to slow down and refocus on the present moment. Just 5 minutes will do wonders. A daily meditation practice offers many benefits such as

  • better sleep
  • increased focus
  • managing stress and emotions better
  • enhanced creativity

According to Harvard Medical School, meditating 10 – 20 minutes a day can lower blood pressure. But don’t try to do too much if this is new for you. Attempt 1 to 5 minutes at first. Here is a simple exercise:

  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
    • PRO TIP: If thoughts are intruding, you can say in your head, “breath in” and “breath out” with each inhalation and exhalation while you focus on the rising and falling of your chest.
  • Take 3 slow, deep breaths, letting each out slowly and then let your breathing return to its normal rhythm.
  • Continue to focus on your breathing, in and out. Notice how breathing feels. Notice how your body feels. Don’t judge what you observe. It is just information.
    • PRO TIP: If thoughts or judgements come up, in your head say something like “thinking” or “those are just thoughts.” Let them go and return your focus to your breathing.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn to maintain focus on breathing and let thoughts come and go without diverting our attention. It’s a practice, and practice makes improvement.

Walk in nature

Walking outside is like meditating if you focus on what you are seeing and experiencing in the moment. Walking helps one part of my brain focus on organizing my thoughts while another part notices the warmth of the sun, the scent of flowers, and the pleasure of movement. It fosters feelings of serenity and well-being. If you have a dog, bring them along. Be present with your pet and look at the beauty around you. Notice the air you are breathing. Is it cold or warm? Look at the colorful flowers and variety of plantings. Can you smell the freshly mown grass? What shade of blue is the sky? Is it cloudy or does sunshine brighten everything?  How loud are the birds? Practicing awareness will help you stay in the moment and improve not just your focus, but your writing as well. Engaging with the present rather than ruminating on our thoughts will be refreshing!

Spend time with loved ones

A lot of writing is done in isolation so, to create balance, we must make an effort to spend time with others. If this means arranging in advance a scheduled time, do it. And stick to it. No matter where you are in your writing or how many ideas are coming to you, keep these appointments. Spending time with people who are good to us, who accept us the way we are – true friends – is as important – or more important – than our writing. Life is about relationships and, just like writing, relationships take work. Both are worth it. When you find special people, hold on to them. They make the good times better and the difficult times a little easier.

Read                                                                                      

You can learn a lot about writing from observing how authors write. Think about the books you loved best. What did you like about them? Usually, the answer is something like the language, the characters, and the setting. Paying attention to how other writers use figurative language, create new worlds and develop characters and describe their interactions will improve your writing. Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how we learn and become better writers. Reading is fuel for your mind. Exposing yourself to new ideas creates connections between known and new information, firing your imagination. But it’s not only about writing. Reading is very relaxing. It’s good for you.

Despite how the tortured artist stereotype has been romanticized at times, I don’t believe we need to suffer for our art. I don’t believe in muses. I believe that our creativity is our own, to be developed or not. We don’t need alcohol, drugs, to be in love, or to be surrounded by beautiful people to write. The best way to bring out our creativity, and our best work, is by fostering our health and vitality, developing discipline, and establishing and maintaining a balanced life. It’s that simple, but not that easy.

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