Elizabeth: Write for your Health

In my healthcare-related day job, we talk about “Mind – Body – Spirit” when addressing how to help patients (and communities) achieve long-term health and wellness goals.  There is a big banner with those words on the wall of one of our buildings and the phrase often appears on PowerPoint slides, especially in strategy and planning meetings.  While the idea is sound, I’m afraid the over-used phrase tends to inspire a bit of eye-rolling on occasion, though maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, the prevalence of the phrase at work explains why, when I came across an article the other day talking about how Writing improves your Mind, Body, and Spirit, my first response was an eye-roll.   The article, however, had some good points, as did the variety of other related articles I found when I started googling the subject.

Turns out, writing doesn’t just result in stories that can be shared with readers, it also provides some tangible “mind, body, and spirit” related benefits for the writer.  As a note:  those benefits apply to creative pursuits in general, rather than being tied solely to writing.  While it is by no means exhaustive, here is a list of some of the benefits of living a creative (writing) life:

Mind

Mental health – Brain-imaging studies have shown that creativity, which can be thought of as taking the time and space to fuel the imagination, actually alters brain chemistry, which can provide a boost to mental health.  While there can be some frustrations (okay, lots of frustrations) in the writing process, think of that euphoric rush when you get that great scene down on paper or uncover that perfect twist to add to the plot or finally type “The End.”  That’s your brain’s reward center releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s sometimes described as a natural antidepressant.

Communication – As you write, you are telling your story to your potential readers.  Through the drafting process, as you spend time in the minds of your characters, you learn how they express ideas and communicate with others.  While that learning is great in terms of your book, it can also help you hone your own communication skills and make you better able to communicate ideas.

Critical Thinking – Writing definitely requires strong critical thinking skills; whether it’s mapping out acts, scenes, or character arcs; keeping track of mysteries and clues; or brainstorming twists and turns.  That critical thinking, like the process of learning to play an instrument or to speak a new language, helps build new mental pathways – in essence, enhancing your mental capacity.    As Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying in the image above, writing can also help you work through your thoughts on a particular subject.

Body

Vital signs – When you’re working on something creative, you tend to be pretty focused, right?  Researchers have shown that that level of focused attention acts on your system like meditating does.  When your creativity is really flowing, your muscles relax (assuming you’re not hunched over your keyboard), your heart-rate slows, and your blood pressure and stress levels (cortisol) decrease, which are all things that can contribute to improvements in overall physical health.

Exercise – Okay, exercise isn’t technically part of the writing process, but maybe it should be.  Researchers are just beginning to understand how your thinking processes change when engaged in physical activities.  I went to a talk by author Joyce Carol Oates once at my local university years ago and she said she often did some of her best “writing” while out for a walk/run, and I’ve heard other authors say the same thing.  I find that I often come up with what I think are my most creative ideas while on the elliptical-machine down at the gym.    All that exercise can pay of, not just in creativity, but in improved physical health.

“The more regularly you exercise, the better you will sleep and the more of a creative powerhouse you will become.”

Spirit

Emotional Release – A few of the articles I encountered during my search focused on “expressive writing” as a way of dealing with stress and/or traumatic events.  In those cases, the ability to escape into writing provided a distraction from negative thoughts and emotions, reduced depression, and even helped improve self-identity.   Writing about emotionally charged subjects or traumas can help put them in perspective and develop coping strategies, leading to improvements in general well-being, sleep, immunity, and overall health.

 “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” ~ Graham Greene, Ways Of Escape

Community – While writing is often a lonely pursuit, it can also have a strong community aspect (like this very blog).  Being part of a community of like-minded individuals can lead to greater perceptions of well-being.  Think of the lift you feel when you have good news to share with your writer fiends, whether it’s winning a contest, meeting a goal, or just having written a great sentence.  Those kinds of connections can improve your mood, as well as provide “hits of happy” to mentally store away for occasions when things are not so bright.

Happiness – The process of writing includes self-expression, problem-solving, and creative thinking.  Even when the results of your writing aren’t quite where you want them to be, the writing process, when done regularly, can be linked to improved mood and well-being.  It can also help foster a sense of control over the experiences life throws at you, leading to increased happiness and resilience.

Finally, engaging in writing (or your favourite creative pursuit of choice) makes life interesting and fulfilling, and, frankly, fun.  So go forth and create; your Body, Mind, and Spirit will thank you.

Can you think of other ways that writing (or other creative pursuits) help improve your Mind, Body, and Spirit?

Nancy: Can Creativity Be Scheduled?

Week 1 of My 12-Week Year Creativity Schedule. I might have gotten a little carried away…Note that I did not schedule transition time between major activities. Or  lunch time.

There many, many schools of thought regarding creativity, grasshopper. Looking specifically at writing, there are pantsers and plotters, planners and wingers, outline enthusiasts, outline eschewers, thumbnail sketch makers, muse-seeking free spirits, spreadsheet weirdos (raises hand). It seems creativity refuses to be contained. You can’t put creativity in a corner!

But can you put creativity in a time block on a calendar?

Ever willing to be a cautionary tale, I threw myself on the sword of research with an intense productivity system, called the 12-Week Year, so I can report my findings. For more information about this system and how to implement it, there are books, courses, and seminars. Boiling it down for you, the idea is based on data that suggest companies (and individual employees), when aligning to their annual plans, see a burst of productivity and forward progress during the last three months of their fiscal years. Why? Continue reading

Jilly: Making Good Use of Critical Reviews

Do you read reviews when you’re thinking about buying a book? How do you use them to help your decision-making?

I never take account of the star ratings, but I used to spend quite a lot of time sifting through the reviews themselves, trying to find ones that I thought were written by a reader with tastes similar to mine, who’d bought the book with their own hard-earned money and reviewed it because they wanted to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t.

That’s become almost impossible of late, because reviews are so important that publishers and authors will do whatever they legitimately can to collect as many high-scoring, positive reviews as possible. Searching for the few that might be useful to me has become a needle/haystack exercise, and linking reviews to verified purchases has, if anything, made the problem worse.

Now, if I see a book with hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews, it does not make me think the book is likely to be good. I start with the expectation that the book is very probably the beneficiary of a well-executed and possibly expensive marketing campaign, and that I should disregard most if not all of the enthusiastic endorsement.

So I’ve been trying a new tactic lately—if it’s a book I like the sound of, but there are so many unhelpfully positive reviews that I can’t use them to form an opinion, I read the detailed critical reviews instead. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it’s been working quite well, for three reasons. Continue reading

Michaeline: When Words Fail

The Oblique Strategy of the Day was “State the problem in words as simply as possible”.

A girl gagged in a laboratory, watching a gooey liquid man experiment with test tubes

When words fail, sometimes you have to use other tools to define the problem. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

And you’d think this would be an easy-peasy strategy for the writer, since what we do is words. But there are two sides of every argument, and there are two sides to every brain, and sometimes, just sometimes, the problem isn’t from the verbal half of the brain, but that mysterious, artsy-fartsy, swirly-whirly half of the brain that sends us dreams of hairbrushes and neglects to make clear exactly what that means.

So, when you don’t even have clear images to base your words on, it’s time to dig in the toolbox and look for other techniques to make the problem more clear – because half of solving any problem is knowing exactly what the problem is. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – Out of this World

I never know what is going to spark and idea for Friday Writing Sprints.  Today, it was an advert for a Solar Orbit Necklace from thinkgeek.com.  Not only is it pretty and sparkly, but it, “includes the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter

Who could pass that up?  My favorite line from the description is:

“For those who are about to complain that the beads are not to scale, here’s the deal: we wanted you to be able to lift your head despite the asteroids in the belt being visible. We think that’s a fair trade-off.”

That seems fair.  You’ve got to love a copy writer with a sense of humor.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of the beads being sized to scale. Then my mind started to wander off to Science Fiction and Fantasy stories, then off to space travel, and then in a multitude of random directions.

With all that thinking going on, seems like the time is ripe for a little Random Word Improv.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Recorded Sessions

RWA 2017So many recorded sessions, so little time. Actually, the second part isn’t exactly true. I have all the time in the world. I’m referring to the RWA National Conference recordings. I bought them at the last RWA Conference I attended with every intention of listening to them regularly for motivation and craft reminders. I thought, oh, I have lots of time because I don’t have to listen to them all at once and was looking forward to parsing out the listening as motivation until I went to the next one. Continue reading

Elizabeth: You’re Wrong!

As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s post, work on my current manuscript that I am supposed to be buffing and polishing in preparation for pitching at RWA Nationals has been derailed by a new story idea that is refusing to patiently wait its turn in the pending idea file.

Part of the allure – other than the “fun of discovery” vs. the “hard work of wrestling a story into shape” – is that it combines two of my current passions:  story and politics.

The heroine, a reporter, wants to cover the new big, shiny exciting story, but instead gets sent to the middle of nowhere to cover a political campaign that she has no interest in.  She and the hero, the under-dog politician battling to unseat an entrenched incumbent, couldn’t be more different.  City vs. country.  Democrat vs. Republican.  Vegan vs. hunter/fisherman.  If I was writing a mystery, one of them would likely wind up as a chalk-outline.  Fortunately, this is romance, so there will be a happily-ever-after if I have to lock them in a room until they can reach common ground.  (Note to self:  find room to lock characters in.) Continue reading