“Writer Wellness” by Joy Held


After five hours in the car, I didn’t feel like going to the writer’s conference. The driving, the early morning preparations and saying good-bye to my children had combined to make my body sluggish and my heart heavy. But the conference began that evening at 7:00 p.m. with “Night Owl Sessions” until 11:00 p.m. Twelve hours of activities were scheduled for the next day. There was an hour and a half to check into the hotel, change clothes and pick up my conference information. I didn’t want to miss anything, but the car trip zapped my energy. My hips were tired from sitting so long. I’m not a spring chick any more.

Thankfully, the hotel registry went smoothly and the conference folks were so organized that I was left with an hour and ten minutes before opening events. I got a cold bottle of water from my take-along cooler, changed into exercise clothes and headed for the hotel activity area (the pool, spa and exercise room).

Thirty minutes of easy yoga later, I felt clear headed and energized. I had done five minutes of deep breathing exercises and felt peaceful and open to new ideas as the result. The water replaced needed fluids and helped the tension headache drain away. I was excited again about going to the writing conference.

Back in the hotel room, I showered, dressed and ate six rice crackers, making it to the convention downstairs with five minutes to spare. I chose a seat between two pleasant-looking writers and looked around. Wow! Fresh fruit and cheese plates alongside rows of pitchers filled with cold water. Later, I used the break to stretch my legs, then wrote a page for my journal. I noted the surroundings, the people and the day’s events then folded the paper away to be pasted into my journal waiting safely under lock and key at home.

I had a fabulous, productive writing weekend.

Until I lived my writing this way, I used to have to schedule workshop travel to include extra days to rest before and after. Until I got my diet under control, I ate the wrong things while on a writing trip and needed three days for the swelling in my hands and feet to disappear.

Those things don’t plague me now because I’ve developed a personal and wholistic way to live that supports my writing life as never before. I call this lifestyle WRITER WELLNESS. It’s a unique and self-designed approach to maintaining my creative edge through regular practices: journal writing, exercise, relaxation, proper nutrition and creative play.

Each part is designed to keep my body healthy, my mind focused and my writing fruitful. It works because the principles are custom designed to suit my dreams as a writer but to fall within the demands of my family-driven life situation. Once I tapped into the five specifics, it was a matter of discovering through research and trial what worked best for me. Then I applied discipline to follow through on the ideas. What resulted was a distinctive set of practices that have helped me stay healthy and creative for years.

On the writing trip, I used abbreviated versions of journaling, exercise, proper food, water, and deep breathing to focus and relax my mind. At home, these ideas are expanded to represent my life as a mother, writer and teacher. After years of adhering to WRITER WELLNESS, I write six days a week. I have to stop myself from writing seven days. The components of WRITER WELLNESS are feasible and flexible. Anyone can explore and apply each part to their lives in a personal way.

DAILY JOURNAL WRITING. If you don’t write in a private journal every day, get started. It doesn’t matter what you say, but how. You MUST hand write your entries to better drain your mind and body of daily drudge. The stuff that gets in your way when you’re writing. Don’t worry about prompts, grammar or syntax. Just write. Every day. Page after page. The length is determined by your personal schedule.

EXERCISE SIX DAYS A WEEK. The key is moderate and long-term. Experiment with walking, hatha yoga and stretching exercises. Find what works for you no less than twenty minutes per day.

LEARN RELAXATION TECHNIQUES. Deep breathing, guided visualization, meditation or laying down for five minutes without moving will strengthen your mind and provide you with clarity and focus for every facet of your life.

DEVELOP PROPER NUTRITIONAL HABITS. Stop eating the foods you know aren’t good for you. Don’t add salt to anything. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Eat smaller “meal snacks” multiple times during the day.

CREATIVE PLAY. Your mind loves a trip to the museum or theatre to see a play. Do a crossword puzzle at least once per month. When you’re stuck for an idea, spend two hours cutting pictures from magazines about the idea, make a collage and write down everything you can think of afterwards. The writing brain is a multi-faceted muscle that thrives on regular creative play outside of your chosen field. Explore other artistic mediums on a consistent basis and you’ll never run out of fuel. I DON’T BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK!

© 2001 Joy E. Held. All rights reserved.