Warning: Do not eat this blog. Do not inhale this blog. Do not come in any kind of physical contact with this blog. I have a cold and these germs are nefarious. Who knows by what channels they travel?
But having a cold and being easy on myself today has made me wonder about how we take care of ourselves when we’re not sick, what we do to feed our spirits and our creative selves. We’re responsible for our own sustenance, for keeping ourselves fueled for the long haul. What do we do? What do others suggest?
Make a mobile from an early ms draft.
Make a loaf of bread for a friend.
Call a friend from your writing group.
Or, on a slightly different tack, getting over a snag.
Maybe the cupboard is bare, or maybe there’s a huge tangle, a plot problem you just can’t solve, a character who won’t step out of the shadows.
Dorothea Brande in Becoming a Writer says, “If you want to stimulate yourself into writing, amuse yourself in wordless ways.” She suggests going to a symphony, sitting on a park bench, horseback riding, knitting. I’d add walking in the woods, sitting by a river or the ocean–if there’s one handy.
Laura Ruby has said on this very blog that she often gets insights into how to solve a writing tangle while running.
Franny Billingsley plays fetch with her dog when she’s trying to solve a writing problem.
When Twyla Tharp is looking for an idea for a dance she moves, and that movement leads to another movement, and that eventually leads to the dance. For writers, perhaps we grab a new notebook and write something silly: a to-do list for a potato, a pig’s opera, a crossword puzzle writer’s proposal of marriage.
Perhaps undertaking a non-writing project that involves several steps will be useful, say making kim chee —a process that involves waiting and fermentation–or Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, ditto.
Many of us have heard Ron Koertge say read poetry as the first part of writing, every day. That is especially true when we are hacking through a writing problem. Ray Bradbury agrees with Ron. In Zen and the Art of Writing, he says: “Read poetry every day of your life …Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue and your hand….What poetry? Any poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms. …You say you don’t understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children.”
Try a new writing space. Go to a library or a coffee shop where no one knows you.
Clean off your regular writing space.
Recall something that makes you laugh.
And finally, whatever it is that you do, trust that the answer will come. While you are chopping, cleaning, dancing, laughing, walking, your brain is working. Last summer in her student lecture “How Understanding Our Brain Can Make Us Better Writers,” Kate Fitzgerald said, “As we trust that the process is working we relax.” As we relax our brain makes more and better connections.
Trust–and take care, and take tea, if you end up with a cold.
"As we relax our brain makes more and better connections." Yes! When we relax, we open ourselves to the world. We notice its beautiful subtleties, the details, the dialogue around us, ironies, and juxtapositions. And when we notice, well then we're doing the real work as writers. Thank you for this post, Jackie! Feel better! ~Mell
Thank you. I needed to read this one today. Hope you are feeling better.
I just want to follow Jackie around. That's how I'd take care of myself.
I agree, Anne. Let's do it! Beautifully written essay, Jackie. Thank you.
I'd love to see you guys following me. I'd ask you to critique my latest mss.