Five Non-Negotiable Must-Dos to Maintain the Health of Your Writerly Body and Soul

Whether we want to admit it or not, we writers are sensitive souls. We write because we notice more than others, which means that, through all the observing and processing, our systems are bombarded, infiltrated, and taxed to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis.

We must take regular reprieves and preventative measures to keep our vessels in good working order. And while some – if not all of – the items in the list below may seem obvious, it’s easy for us to forget. As a reminder, here are five essential, absolutely non-negotiable must-dos to maintain the health of your ever-sensitive writerly body, mind and soul.

1) Get enough sleep. See? I said they may seem obvious, but how many times do you stay up late to gulp in just one or two more episodes of your recent TV series binge? (Okay, maybe I’m talking more to myself than to all of you.) More and more, scientists and the medical community are speaking to the fact that we need a certain amount of sleep for our health, on all levels. When we sleep, we not only rest and replenish, but we also tune into our subconscious, which is crucial for us writers. And if you’re someone who remembers your dreams, there’s so much great fodder there for your next excellent story.

2) Drink plenty of water. Again, maybe obvious, but how many times do you realize that the day is nearly over and you’ve only had one or two glasses of water – if even that? The adult body is believed to be about 60% water. If we don’t maintain that level of liquidity, horrible things can begin to happen. Not only does our skin and mouth dry up, we can get dizzy or lightheaded, tired, and develop headaches. Who wants to – or can – write when they’re lightheaded, tired, and nursing a headache? More severe symptoms of dehydration include confusion, rapid heart rate, fever, and even seizure or shock. 

Imagine the cells of your body and your brain tissues plump and elastic, fully hydrated and ready to serve the wealth of stories that live in my imagination every time you imbibe a glass of clear, refreshing water. If you work at home, keep a glass out in plain sight in a location you walk past several times a day as a reminder. If your budget can tolerate it and your taste buds like it, quaff some electrolyte-loaded coconut water on the daily to keep your system happy, supple, and ready to churn out all those words shoring up inside you.

3) Walk outside. Kill two birds with one stone. After hours at the keyboard or at your desk, hunched over pen and paper, give your body a break and go for a walk outside. Not only will you keep your muscles from experiencing ennui, you’ll get some sunlight on your eyes – always good for your mood, and you’ll get next to nature – always good to keep us grounded and tuned into the earth’s natural rhythms, which will help the writing flow.

4) Eat healthy brain food. And again… this may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes, we writers can get on a roll and forget about eating. Of course, doing this once in a while, when we’re deep in flow and lost in our story world, isn’t going to do much harm. In fact, it can be a good thing, in terms of clearing us out to make room for more creative solutions to our story problems.

But regularly foregoing food – especially, healthy brain food – can have lasting effects that can harm our physical health, including our brains, and, in turn, our ability to create. Here’s a good list of The Top 50 Best Foods for Your Brain. If you’re like me and have a lot of food sensitivities, there are plenty of other foods you can substitute that are equally good for your brain.

For me, here’s a typical brain food-rich day:

Breakfast – Hot buckwheat cereal with chia seeds and blueberries

Lunch – Salad made with romaine lettuce, celery, chopped carrots, and sweet corn, topped with virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Himalayan sea salt, and fresh herbs, like parsley, cilantro, and basil

Dinner – Baked sweet potato with grass-fed butter, Himalayan sea salt, and pepper OR sliced baked parsnips, zucchini, and multi-colored carrots tossed with fresh pesto OR beets baked and drizzled with melted coconut oil or nestled atop a pile of romaine along with dollops of herbed goat cheese, topped with cold-pressed, virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Plenty of water throughout the day with a 17-oz can of coconut water keeps me hydrated and happy, and snacks include blueberries, dates, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds. And in the evening, some dark chocolate and wine are a luxurious treat at the end of the day.

5) Meditate. It’s SO good for us. It gives us a breather from all the rampant thoughts that bounce around inside our brains day after day. It slows our heart rate. And it expands time. As the old Zen proverb says, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”I start my days with meditation, and it always leaves me feeling that I can take on the day with MORE time to spare. On the days I scrimp, I can tell.

For writers, it’s a great way to quiet our minds and give our characters the space to talk to us. They’re ready and waiting, and when we give them the room, they’ll always tell us what’s next, whether we like it or not.

I’d love to hear what you do to keep your vessel – your writing machine – your physical body, mind, and spirit – in prime working order so you can honor your call to write and tell stories.

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
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Three Easy Ways Strangers Can Enhance Your Writing

I live in downtown Portland, Oregon, on the second floor of a 113-year-old building. I love my apartment, and while the building has its issues, it also has a fair amount of charm. I work at home, so I’m able to look out any of my four, big, north-facing windows throughout the day to see and hear snippets of stories unfold or pass on by. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up to the sound of alcohol-induced squabbles and lines of dialogue that stay with me.

The storyteller in me kicks in and I can’t help but create a beginning and end to the middle I’ve witnessed and/or heard.

As writers, we have at our disposal a jackpot of fodder and triggers for our writing. Even if we’re working on a longer piece, like a novel or memoir, taking the time to write a quick story based on a conversation we’ve overheard, a facial expression we’ve witnessed, or a scent that stays with us after someone has strolled past can lead to breakthroughs we might not have expected. Or it could lead to a finished piece we submit for publication, and getting our words in print never hurts, right?

Here are three ways we can use strangers to enhance or kickstart our writing, keep the cogs in our writer brains in good working order, and nurture our imaginations so we can keep funneling words onto the page.

  • Physical appearance. I’m fascinated by the vastly different physical traits humans have that can add to a character’s appeal or intrigue. From meaty cheeks, tiny teeth, and lush eyebrows to slender fingers, perfectly painted toenails, and dancing Adam’s apples, human beings are charming bundles of physical intricacies and abnormalities, all fit to be explored, described, and elaborated on. Keep a writer’s notebook, and when you’re out and about, do some people watching (coffee shops are excellent for this) and jot down interesting features you notice (but be stealth… staring at strangers for more than 5 seconds is creepy!).
  • Dialogue and speech patterns. Again, coffee shops are great for this, or any public place, for that matter. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit in a public space and not overhear conversations. I know it sounds invasive (and I have a thing about being overheard in a public space when I’m having a conversation), but it will give you some great indicators about how to vary language, cadence, and tone so your characters are distinctive. The last thing we want is for our characters to all sound alike. Listen for that slight lisp, where the voice emanates from (chest, throat, nasal cavity), the nervous laugh…
  • Fill in the gaps. After you’ve watched and listened, start to imagine the rest of their stories. If someone is sitting alone, imagine what the rest of their life might look like. Do they always sit alone? Are they lonely? Or are they happy to be by themselves, away from a house full of roommates or kids or visiting relatives? If two people appear to be having a meeting, imagine what their home lives are like. Who and what do they go home to at the end of the day?

Writers are avid students of human behavior and the human condition. It’s why we do what we do. And what better way to fill our notebooks with rich, usable fodder that will serve as prompts for practice or, perhaps, a polished piece of prose. And it will keep your storytelling brain in prime form, too.

Do some sleuthing, then let us know what you uncovered in the comments below. The voyeur in me wants to know!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
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The Surprising Secret to Creating Believable, Engaging Characters Your Readers Will Never Forget

We all know a good story when we read, watch, or hear one. But do you have a clear idea of what makes one story better than another? We could likely create a long list: vivid descriptions, compelling conflict, evocative emotional landscape, intriguing storylines, and much, much more. And while all of these are necessary for a good story, what’s the one thing that if it were missing there would be no story?

Character.

Many people are moved to write stories because they seek to make meaning of this crazy, beautifully confounding thing called life. And they’re compelled to explore the human condition, which means delving deep into the kaleidoscope of human motivation and behavior. This is why creating believable, engaging characters that your readers will never forget is essential. It’s also an art.

Constructing an interesting storyline that satisfies your readers’ need to know the answer to “what happened next?” is important, but when all is said and done, if your readers go away wondering “why?” did that character do that thing, they’ll go away frustrated and unsatisfied.

We want to understand why we do the things we do, and we look to characters for those answers. There’s a way to get to the core of that inquiry. We can study the ancient chakra system, which will help us begin to drill down inside a character’s core to unravel all her hidden desires and fears. This will better inform our creation of her, and it will help our readers embrace her as a flawed, yet lovable, character that they become emotionally invested in.

Stay tuned for more about how we can use this ancient, esoteric system as a practical application to writing deep, profound characters that come off the page and stay with our readers long after they’ve put our work down.

To get you moving in that direction, call a character to mind. Maybe it’s one from an in-progress short story, novel, or creative non-fiction piece. Or maybe you want to make one up for this exercise. (Think simply if you’re creating one: gender, age, physical appearance.)

Put your character on a plane or a train (or some other mode of transportation) en route to visit family for the holidays, and answer this question: What tacit agreement does this character have with her/his family?

Now write at least two pages about what unfolds as the character approaches, or arrives, at her/his destination.

Then either share your piece of writing or let us know what that process was like in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…