Monday, May 11, 2009
While I'm bumming around Bermuda, my friend Tiffany James offered to take over my blog for the day! Tiffany was kind enough to have me over at her blog Armchair Heroines last week, so now it's turn and turn about. Tiff is an aspiring writer with a really good handle on how to deal with the physical stresses of writing. I know she welcomes questions or comments, so don't be afraid to leave one!
Take it away, Tiffany!
First of all, a big thank you to Emily for having me here!
Before I decided I wanted to be a writer, I worked as a massage therapist. The vast majority of my clients suffered from tight shoulders, neck and back aches or carpal tunnel-like symptoms. I was constantly reminding them how hard the age of computers is on our bodies. I suggested that they stop every 30 minutes to an hour for a short stretch or ramble around the office. I reminded them to drink plenty of water and get the rest they needed, etc. Quite often it seemed these suggestions fell on deaf ears. “Don’t they want to get better?” I’d ask myself. “Don’t they see that a little effort could go a long way?” I wondered.
Fast forward fifteen months, about 200,000 words, a couple of blogs, several handfuls of classes…
About a month ago, I was whining to my husband about how my back and neck hurt and how that pain seemed to be moving into my shoulder. “Well, you have been sitting at the computer a lot lately,” he answered, oh so helpfully.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! I had become my clients with whom, only a few months earlier, I had been so frustrated. After several similar conversations with some of my author friends, I decided that maybe we authors needed a gentle kick in the pants (myself included). I mean come on, how can we do our best work when our physical foundation is hurting, aching, crumbling?
So I decided to channel my massage therapist self and pass on some gentle reminders, to help us all “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E.”. Each letter stands for a different way in which we can physically support our writing.
Most of this information isn’t new to us. We’ve all heard it before, but maybe we can see it a little differently by realizing how it applies to our work as a writer.
So, imagine yourself an athlete competing in the arduous, mentally demanding sport of Olympic writing. We’re prepping for the all-uphill marathon. (Isn’t that what being an author sometimes feels like?) And it’s one heck of a race full of obstacles (less then stellar contest results, editor and agent rejections, characters who simply refuse to talk to us) and fierce competition.
Would you jump into a marathon without any training? Heck no! You’d do every possible thing you could to prepare, to be the best you could be and to triumph over obstacles and the competition. So, slap on those sweats, tennis shoes and headband…on your mark, get set and go!
“B” for Breathing:
First, a quick trip to Biology 101. On a very basic level, breathing is our body’s nourishment. As we inhale (or inspire), we are bringing oxygen to our body and all of its systems. As we exhale we are carrying away wastes in the form of carbon dioxide. The word “inspiration” has an interesting double meaning. In addition to “breathing in”, inspiration also indicates, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”. Hmmm, sounds vaguely like what we try to do as writers – move our readers’ intellect and emotions – don’t you think? Here’s another fascintating tidbit. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin root “spiritus”meaning not only breath but soul. So, it seems breathing is important on many different levels (physical, mental and spiritual). Throw in its positive stress-reducing benefits and we’ve also got an emotional component. Pretty powerful stuff!
But enough waxing philosophical. How can breathing help you build a strong physical foundation for your writing marathon? The oxygen you bring in during breathing feeds the muscles of those crazily typing fingers (they are crazily typing, right? :0) ). It also brings much needed fuel in the form of oxygen to that most important organ, your brain. Your brain makes up only 2% of your body weight yet requires 25% of the oxygen you bring in. That’s one hard working organ! Feed it right with good breathing.
Try some deep, diaphragmatic breathing for overall relaxation. Single nostril breathing can give your corresponding brain hemispheres a kick. A somewhat increased respiration rate can improve alertness.
For more information, email me or consult these resources:
WRITING BEGINS WITH THE BREATH by Laraine Herring
8 WEEKS TO OPTIMUM HEALTH by Andrew Weil
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT by Jeffrey A. Migdow & James E. Loehr
A quick note: if you feel overly light-headed while working with breathing exercises, stop. It’s like training for a running marathon, you have to build up your strength and endurance.
“R” stands for Rest & Relaxation:
For our purposes, the term rest refers to times when we are taking it easy or “not doing” and times when we are actually sleeping. And they’re both important for successful completion of our writing marathon!
We’ve all done it – pulled an extra late night or early morning to get some writing done amidst mountains of laundry, deadlines at our “day job”, carpooling, kids’ events, grocery shopping, housecleaning, cooking dinner, cracking the whip during homework time…
But before you nix your time in the Land of Nod, think about this: sleep provides physical and mental support for your writing. Shakespeare called sleep “nature’s soft nurse” in reference to its restorative functions. While you’re snoozing your body is busy recovering from the day by fixing microscopic injuries to muscles, skin and bones as well as boosting your immune system so that you can fight off illness (keeping you at the computer where you belong instead of sick in bed). Mentally, sleep facilitates much needed time away, allowing your ideas to “marinate”. According to Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University, “Sleep makes a unique contribution” to our ability to incubate and form ideas. “When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are,” he says.
So, the next time you want to skip out on some zzz’s, think about how sleep might be contributing to your written masterpiece!
REST & RELAXATION
In his book Healthy Aging, Dr. Andrew Weil says, “The essence of rest is not doing – that is, being passive on both the physical and mental levels.” Rest makes us better writers in much the same way as sleeping. It refreshes our bodies and recharges our minds.
Rest is simple but it’s by no means, easy. We are so programmed to use every spare moment, multi-tasking and mentally checking off our never-ending to-do’s as we race through the day.
Try to find fifteen or twenty minutes today for rest, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, swinging in a hammock, soaking in a bubblebath…whatever facilitates being passive, doing nothing for you. Or try some progressive relaxation, which harmonizes your brain waves, revitalizes and refreshes you (which, by the way, revitalizes and refreshes your writing)!
“E” is all about Ergonomics:
Cumulatively, we writers spend hours and hours at the computer…that leads to, at the least, aches and pains and, at the worst, progressive motion injuries (“trigger finger” for frequent mouse users) or sustained position problems (neck pain, “frozen” backs).
One thing you can do to dramatically increase your odds of avoiding these hassles is to have an ergonomic workstation. Watch for good posture and ninety degree angles at your ankles, knees, hips and elbows. You can achieve this position by raising or lowering your seat, using a stool for your feet and, among others, getting a stand for your laptop.
“A” means Atmosphere:
Ever gone to a restaurant and felt like a jet-setter? Ever visited a spa and relaxed the minute you stepped in the door? The atmosphere evokes the experience.
What experience is evoked when you sit down at your computer? And it doesn’t matter whether your computer is in a secluded office or a corner of the busiest room of your house. Do you feel like a brilliant, talented, successful author? Or do you feel like a schizophrenic multi-tasker? Is the view pleasing to the eye? Or does it further stress you out because all you see is unfinished business?
Evoking the appropriate atmosphere can be as simple as putting some fresh (or artificial) flowers on your desk to as extensive as repainting, consulting feng shui or going on a shopping spree for new desk furniture (for those of you who are independently wealthy). Think about what colors, textures, patterns, and/or items soothe you while also making you feel confident and successful. Maybe you worked really hard for a degree. Hang your diploma. Maybe you pulled off a spectacular party. Put out a favor from the party. Or perhaps, you associate the color red with success. Add some red to your desk or your office. This is incredibly personal. Make discovering how to create a success-evoking atmosphere part of your self-discovery.
If you do nothing else, clear the clutter! Clutter sucks out your energy and inspiration. That doesn’t necessarily mean dealing with the clutter – maybe pack it away in nice boxes that fit your taste so that you aren’t staring it in the face as soon as you sit down to write. (Then deal with it a little at a time…see below).
Give me a “T” for Timer:
OK, so I’m straying just a bit from my original plan of creating a physical foundation for my writing, but hear me out. As authors we are spread pretty thin – marketing, promoing, and, oh yeah, writing. Many of us have multiple roles, holding down full-time day jobs, raising children, managing a household, striving for a healthy relationship or marriage and, oh yeah, writing. That creates a lot of stress.
I’ve found using my little timer (my best friend – in a weird time management way) significantly lessens that stress.
You can get a heck of a lot done in fifteen minutes! I can pay a few bills, make a couple phone calls, empty the dishwasher, switch over loads of laundry, return a few emails or write a page (OK, a paragraph on a mediocre day or a sentence on a really bad one) in fifteen minutes. If I set my timer several times and knock a to-do or two off my list, I can sit down and write a little less fragmented.
Give it a try. What do you have to lose (other than some stress and a couple to-dos)? For more sage advice on using a timer and breaking projects down into small pieces, check out www.FlyLady.net .
“H” for Healthy Eating:
(Emily popping in here for just a sec. Can we try to not talk about healthy eating while I'm on a cruise? I'll do better when I get home. I promise!)
I know, I can hear the groans…I’m not going to beat you over the head with this. I love my Cheese Nips and Starbuck’s as much as the next gal, but we know healthy food and lots of water are good for us. It’s good for our writing too.
And for a real “kicker”… “E” means Exercise:
I hate, loathe and despise exercise, but some of my best pages have been written after a quick fifteen minute walk around the neighborhood (I take my timer)! Get a little aerobic exercise several times a week. Your body and your writing will thank you.
Also, don’t neglect stretching. It’s your key to remaining injury free! We are training for a marathon, remember? There are books written about how to stretch at your desk. Find your timer, work for thirty to sixty minutes then take a two minute stretch break. It works – take it from a woman just coming off a painful back problem!
So, had enough? Feeling primed and in peak condition for your writing marathon? If so, I’ll see you at the finish line, multiple books and cheering readers in hand!
Want more information? Have questions? Got an inspirational story about physically supporting your writing? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at Tiffany@TiffanyJames.net . And watch for “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E. : Creating a Physical Foundation for Your Writing” coming to a conference near you!
Thanks, Tiffany! Some really good suggestions there (even the healthy eating!) If you'd like to learn more about Tiffany's writing, or see what a really good pre-published author's site looks like, please visit http://www.tiffanyjames.net/ Be sure to pop back tomorrow to see a picture I found at RT that is my inspiration for Crispin Hawke, my newest hero in STROKE OF GENIUS!