Want to be a Great Writer? How You Live Matters.

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I was recently reminded that what I do when I’m not writing, may be as important to the creative process as writing itself. Well, almost. Clearly, I still need to put in the work. But if you, like me, get stuck often or procrastinate, take a look at your daily habits to see if they are helping or hurting. I attended a seminar a few weeks ago that suggested specific lifestyle changes in order to better tap into the subconscious mind, energize the non-dominate side of the brain, find an authentic voice and banish crippling fear.

The main tidbit of advice? Put down that martini, tumbler of scotch, wine glass and/or cigarette and take a long, cool drink of water. Yup. We all can’t be Hunter S. Thompson and go down in a flame of booze, cigarettes and drugs. Writers and bad habits often go hand-in-hand. Partly, it’s cultural. When I was a newspaper journalist, I remember more than one editor drinking on the job. In graduate school in New York, most writers I knew met up at bars and pubs to ‘talk’ into the wee hours. I was working too many jobs to do this often, but when I did, I remember how many of my creative writer friends seemed to idolize Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Truman Capote. All iconic writers. All alcoholics. I know this much: good writing comes from the depths of our souls. It can come from an inner whisper of trauma. It can be a vulnerable place to live. Yes, you may be writing fiction, but the truth that may emerge can painfully mirror fears, demons, love, longing, insecurities, loss, heartbreak…It’s all raw. And strangers will read it. And being raw, in and of itself, takes a toll. I know. Last Christmas I wrote the most painful chapter of my novel Uriel’s Mask. My boys were with their dad. I was alone for nearly two weeks. I started to slip into a depression as I wrote about abuse seen from a six-year-old’s eyes. I was having night mares. I slept with the light on. I wanted to drink. My relationships suffered. What I was experiencing must be close to what actors feel when they are in character. Some days I walked on the beach and cried after writing for hours. It wasn’t explainable to friends, so I didn’t bother. But I was raw and I was needy without knowing what I needed. But there it is. That vulnerable place of truth leaves us feeling exposed, uncertain, adrift. The feelings can be overwhelming—even if cathartic or beautiful. It’s understandable to have the urge to swallow them. But here’s the rub: in order to keep writing and finish that powerful novel, screen play or short stories that will resonate with readers…FEEL those damn feelings and push through without relying on stimulants or depressants. This is what I’m currently trying to do. It’s hard. And that’s why it’s so easy to push the writing aside. Don’t.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Exercise! Dean Nelson, Ph.D., founder and director of Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium, Behind The Scenes, shared recently at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference that many of the best-selling authors he has interviewed over the years link their career longevity to exercise. Running is Nelson’s choice. When he’s stuck, he says he’ll step away, go for a run in San Diego where he can find a great vista, and just let his mind drift.
  • Meditate. Giving my brain a pause lets me detach and float up into my subconscious mind. It also gives me a break from my fear of failure—or success—and gives me a mini-vacation from my life. Not only is meditation great for creativity, it has amazing health benefits that can’t be disputed. From keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, to reducing blood pressure and anxiety, meditation is life changing.
  • Yoga. I place yoga in a different category from exercise or meditation, although outsiders may wonder why. Yes, it is a form of exercise, and yes, there is meditation at the end. But yoga, in and of itself, is like mindful movement that improves my focus and goal setting. Deep hip opening poses have surprisingly released memories, grief and grudges. While heart-opening poses force me not to close down with my alignment—which then influences my actual being. And, finally, yoga helps me embrace my authentic, timeless self. And, it just feels damn good. I smile. I’m surrounded by heart-felt people. I leave energized and suddenly ready to tackle the next project, the next chapter, the next assignment. It’s amazing.
  • Reduce caffeine. This is SO tough for me! But I know that 3 to 4 cups of joe just makes my heart and thoughts race. Plus, I don’t sleep as well. It doesn’t help me craft eloquent lines.
  • Write a few pages long hand. Step away from the computer, go outside (if possible) and put pen to paper. Something magical happens. Maybe it’s tactile, but somehow, if I’m blocked, the words start flowing again. Try it.
  • Write a few paragraphs with your opposite hand. It’s supposed to jog that non-dominant side of the brain. When I do it, I’m amazed at what I actually say.
  • Paint or draw. Painting just takes me away from my fears, anxieties and my daily grind. I become razor focused on the present moment. I come back refreshed and grateful.
  • Cut off the cell phone and internet for a few hours a day.
  • Read other books! Seriously, it just gets me so excited to read my favorite authors, even if only for just 30 minutes at bedtime.

If you liked this article, try Finding the Sweet Space of Between.

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