The Power of Slowing Down to Create

We creatives can easily get caught in the belief that we’ll get to our writing when all the other “important” obligations have been taken care of. We all have a perpetual and long list of To Dos, and many days the obligations and commitments feel never ending.

As a creative person who teaches other people how to realize their dream of creating through writing, I have to walk my talk when it comes to slowing down and making time to let the creative process happen. And this applies to us all, I think, because we’re all creating, all the time.

Some days slowing down might feel like a lofty ideal, a fantastical dream. How are all those must-dos on the To Do list going to get done if we don’t maintain our nose-to-the-grindstone M.O.? The good news is it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of a seemingly negligible shift in the day-to-day. Small actions go a long way. And the slowing down that’s required to allow for the creative process also leads to an inner vitality that can infuse our lives and our writing with a kind of intentionality necessary for continued health and success.

Here are six of my favorite ways to slow down and allow space to create so I can maintain a clear and persistent focus on my life and my writing.

Gratitude
I resisted this one for a long time. It felt too smarmy, too touchy-feely, and to be honest, I didn’t believe in its power. But two years ago, I decided to embrace it because I had nothing to lose. Literally. I was a few months into my move back to Portland after leaving two years before to travel around and house sit for long-term vacationers – my solution to having my teaching load drastically cut and no Plan B in place. (I didn’t see it coming.) I sold all my belongings – except for what would fit in my car – and I hit the road.

Fast forward to two years ago when I was back in Portland, still looking for steady work while I created content for my business and tried to wrap my brain around how to move from where I was to becoming a business owner. I had my clothes, a couple of pans, a plate and one set of eating utensils, pictures of my kids, a few books, and camping gear. I moved into an artists’ community and slept every night on a camping pad with a hole I couldn’t locate. This is where the gratitude practice comes in.

Was this the life I had envisioned for myself? Not by a long shot. But because of my decision to fully embrace a regular gratitude practice, I learned to feel sincere gratefulness for that camping pad and the blanket my son had bought me for Solstice the winter before. Every morning before I rolled off that half-deflated pad, I went through my list of (at least) five things I was grateful for that day and why. I embraced the idea that, despite having no evidence things were going to change, believing that they would and being sincerely grateful for everything in my life – small and large, easy and difficult – would make the difference. That’s when my life started to change.

Having a gratitude practice leads us to a higher level of self-love, which, in my mind, generates a kind of inner vitality that can’t be diminished. Learning to love ourselves like no one else ever has, ever can, or ever will is a halleluiah moment, and when we master it – integrate it into our being – we can begin to practice gratitude on a whole new level. This synergistic relationship between gratitude and self-love is magical. Each one feeds the other.

Now, every morning, before I sit up and put my feet on the floor, I still do my gratitude practice even though things have improved substantially. I now live in an apartment I love, I sleep on a plush mattress under a luxurious comforter, and my life keeps getting better every day. And my list of things to be grateful for just keeps growing. From my experience, I’ve come to realize that constant gratitude ignites our inner vitality – our verve to live our purpose – and once we learn to harness its power, there’s no stopping us from accomplishing our goals, including our goals around writing. Because, as I always tell my workshop and retreat participants, writing is an act of self-love.

Meditation
As soon as I’ve completed my gratitude practice, I meditate. I do several short, guided meditations that I keep on my phone and that focus on a variety of themes. Other times of the day, I might do a more free-flowing meditation wherein I visualize outcomes I’d like to realize. I’ve often heard people say they don’t have time for meditation, but as the Zen proverb goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

I’m convinced that meditation alters time. Or maybe our perception of it. For me, meditation expands time, so even if I have a busy day ahead, taking time out to meditate leaves me feeling like I have more time to work with. When we meditate, not only do we “create” more time for ourselves so we can write, we also infuse ourselves with an inner vitality that shines.

Reverie
Reverie is sort of like meditation but it differs in that rather than striving to go beyond the mind, we explore our minds. We daydream, and daydreaming is an essential tool to have and use as a writer. Consistently working this muscle will keep our imaginations alive and strong, a must for creating enticing characters and story worlds. When was the last time you let yourself sit, stare out the window, and nurture your wild imagination?

Naps
After living in Italy for a summer in 2001, experiencing the pleasurable practice of the afternoon riposo, and discovering the rejuvenating benefits of this practice, I’ve incorporated it into my life. In Italy in the afternoon, shops close and everyone goes home for an extended lunch and/or afternoon nap. Sometimes my naps last 15 minutes. Other times, they last an hour. And what they do for me is exponential. Not only do I feel more rested and clear headed, I feel I’m honoring myself and my body and its needs. And while I may not work in a nap every day, I practice this time-honored custom at least three days each week.

Psychologist, Dr. Sara Mednick says that naps “can improve brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity.” Naps can also rejuvenate our willpower and lower cardiovascular disease and inflammation in the body. Try it for a week to give your body and mind a rest and let your subconscious do its work. You just might get hooked!

Being in nature
When I feel I’ve been sitting too long, I get outside, even if it’s to walk a few blocks in my neighborhood. I live in the city, so getting an immediate nature fix isn’t always possible, but I’m blessed to live in a city with amazing parks and natural areas (something for which I’m very grateful). In Portland, we have Forest Park, Washington Park, and Mt. Tabor, to name a few. I can walk mere blocks from my front door and be in the forest or a beautifully curated natural area.

Taking a walk or a hike amongst the trees is a great way to slow down and connect with nature, which has its own pace. As Lao Tzu once wrote, “Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” The more we’re in nature, the more we can align with its rhythms and its slow but purposeful processes, and in turn, we can mimic its inherent and patient unfolding: a necessity when we’re working with the creative process.

Intentional food prep
After having been hit with some complicated health issues that include allergies and sensitivities to many foods, my eating habits have changed drastically over the past several years. Gone are the days of grabbing whatever is handy without any consideration of what it will do to my body just to stave off hunger pangs.

Now I have to shop for my food intentionally, I have to prepare it intentionally, and I savor it intentionally. (This is a great example of being grateful for a hardship that has led to me to more profound awareness.) I’ve learned that creating a relationship with my food is an excellent way to slow down and make room for creativity – not just from the nutrients I gain from it, but from the practice of giving thought to the food’s source (the people who grew it, organically, with intention) and the process of intentionally preparing food and cooking it, followed by the intentional process of enjoying it, slowly. (This is another thing the Italians have mastered.)

When we allow all of our senses to become activated around our food – the way it looks, smells, tastes, feels, and even sounds – we can’t help but slow down, savor the moments, and reap the benefits of better physical health and good digestion, as well as the self-honor that comes from knowing we’re treating ourselves well. What we put into our bodies affects our brains, so as writers, we want to feed ourselves with the best possible fuel we can find.

With slowing down comes an inherent intentionality – a certain kind of mindfulness – that can infuse our lives – including our writing lives – with calm vitality and gentle stamina that will keep us going steady and strong – just like nature – rather than producing through fits and starts of energy bursts throughout the day or week.

The tortoise and the hare come to mind right now, and we know who made it past the finish line. Whether our finish line is wrapping up the first draft of a novel we’ve been laboring over for months or simply getting a few pages out each day or week, slowing down to achieve a calm resoluteness is as essential for our own personal vitality as it is for the vitality of our writing practice.

What do you do to slow down during your day or week?


Heid, Markham. “You Asked: Is it Good or Bad to Take a Nap?” October 1, 2014. Accessed February 28, 2018.

 

Author Interview – Patty Blue Hayes

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

When I wrote my first book I wasn’t aware of these magical beings known as developmental editors. I thought I’d find an editor to correct grammar and make note of things I might have repeated, were too confusing or could be worded differently. Each time I sat down to edit I always started at page one. So pages one through fifty were extremely over-edited and the last ten pages were pretty neglected. It wasn’t until I found my editor, Chelsea, that I realized what a gift her work was to my book. My first book was a published journal. And was a very personal story. I had no idea if my experience had a traditional story arc or theme or even what was necessary to keep in the manuscript or delete. Working with my editor taught me that it’s essential to work with a developmental editor before I begin my editing and polishing process.

For my upcoming book I have rough journal entries and will craft the book after my collaboration with an editor. I also learned not to make every word dramatic and perfect. A published journal should read realistically, more conversational in nature and not overly precise or extravagant.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Currently I’m working on the journal-book from three international volunteer trips I completed in 2017. I have one spiritual/healing book outlined and have post-its covering my office door. A cook book is only meagerly in the works on paper but very clear in my mind thematically and a 10,000 word eBook on preparing for travel to Thailand is more than half finished.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

Absolutely, yes. Writing is not an option for me. I believe I’ve finally come to realize it is what I am meant to do. If I don’t write, I become moody, anxious and stressed. I was eleven years-old when I stated I wanted to write a book. And specifically, I wanted to write one that would help adults. But at eleven, that seemed a bit unrealistic. I started writing in a journal in high school and went on to write in college but never saw it as something I could really do as an avocation.

After my mother died I wrote my first screenplay. I wrote another screenplay, because that’s what you do the minute you finish the first one. I got very discouraged after my agent disappeared. It had taken me a long time to even get an agent. So I stopped writing but always had the longing. It wasn’t until the day I was flying back home alone after my husband told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore that a definitive thought came to me, pick up a pen, this is your first book. And that book is helping adults.

For me, writing is as essential as breathing. And I believe it is what I’m here to do. Not paint, not cook, not play an instrument. By writing, I’m honoring the most authentic part of myself and allowing my soul to express itself.

How many hours a day do you write?

I don’t write daily. In the process of the current book, I wrote journal entries almost daily but I wasn’t putting myself on a schedule to write every day. As I approach the re-writing and editing process I may spend four to six hours at a time engaged in the work, but that won’t likely be daily. I’ve also found it essential for me to take breaks from writing. My writing process is organic. Maybe I could produce more if I scheduled time every day, but I don’t think the writing would flow.

What are your favorite literary journals?

I don’t actually read any literary journals.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I’d say the most challenging part on this current book will be to decide what to omit. And that’s why working with an editor I trust will be so valuable.When you write something so personal, it can be a challenge to distance ourselves from the experience. I used to have a hard time editing, but now I settle in my writing chair with tea, light some incense, and I offer up a little prayer for guidance and then I trust in that process. I may go back and edit like that several times, and each time I’m trusting the process and asking the ego to step aside.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

I believe people experience writer’s block. If I wrote fiction I know I’d have writer’s block. That genre seems so foreign to me. I wouldn’t know where to begin! I haven’t experienced writer’s block but that may be due to my loose schedule and not putting pressure on myself to produce.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

This varies greatly. My first book sat for a few years before I could even start re-writing and editing due to the emotionally triggering content. I was still going through the healing process and sometimes reading my words was too overwhelming and not good for my mental health. That book began in 2010 and was published in 2015. My current journal book started in 2017 and I’d like to publish by 2019.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’m in a local writer’s group here on the Central Coast in California. Because writing is a solitary process, I enjoy meeting up with them. I learn a lot from our meetings and it’s encouraging to hear people’s good news about getting published, completing a project, winning an award or getting a book deal. I have a confession. Because I write in the journal/memoir genre, I can’t read other authors in the genre too close to when I’m going to be writing and editing. I need to keep myself clear from developing comparison-itits. I mostly read self-help, spiritual and personal development books.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

That’s a great question! I can’t wait to read other writer’s answers. I’m currently in a cycle where I’m not watching or reading any content on marketing, blogging or anything to do with the business of writing. In the past I’ve overdone it on watching videos and webinars, most of which are sales tools designed to have you purchase a more expensive product or service. It was getting to be more of a cause of stress than a benefit.


Works by Patty Blue Hayes

My Heart is Broken, Now What?

Patty Blue Hayes is grateful to have survived her near death divorce, an event that launched her into the darkest depths of depression. Patty’s award-winning book, Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce, shares her story of loss, vulnerability, and eventual reawakening to her own value and worth. She moved from pain to finding purpose. Through her story she helps people not feel alone in their own painful life experiences.

Patty founded Soul Garden Healing®, to help women get through their journey of heartbreak with her signature audio program, You Can Heal Your Heartbreak™.The program is based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What?, offering 12 helpful practices in an easy guidebook.

She is working on another life experience book, chronicling time in Thailand at an elephant sanctuary, the Dominican Republic, where she worked at a boys and girls club, and her return to the small Romanian village of Baile Tusnad to complete her English teaching practicum to children in a group home. Follow her journey on her blog.

Learn more about Patty at her website: www.pattybluehayes.com