Develop Healthy Creative Habits
Creating can feel lonely and impossible sometimes, not unlike this cactus I found that grew through a rock. Long roots grew up through a crack.
I've been writing for a long time now. My first sales were to newspapers when I was in high school. They'd call, asking for my mom, which she thought was hilarious. I felt compelled to write, but it gave me anxiety, especially starting anything new. Once I got into a project, I turned obsessive compulsive, sacrificing sleep and other important things to finish. Then I'd feel paralyzed by anxiety and put off starting my next draft.
I want to share three things that have made a huge difference in my life.
1. Morning Journaling
I'd never even heard of morning journaling before I took Arree Chung's class in 2017, but my desire to develop a healthier creative practice motivated me to pull out an empty journal and write my three pages faithfully.
I'm not a morning person. I struggle with anxiety-induced insomnia, so I didn't look forward to waking up earlier. But I did. I flew through my pages in a groggy, stream-of-consciousness fashion. Sometimes, I wrote about what I was learning in class. Every now and then, I wrote about a story. I made lists. Quite often, I whined about issues that stressed me out.
It took less than a week for me to realize that I left a great deal of my anxiety behind when I closed my morning journal. This made it easier for me to focus on my writing projects throughout the day.
Decreased levels of anxiety also made it easier for me to sketch my story. I'd never been able to complete a picture book dummy before. I got hung up on drawing. Not only did I complete a dummy with multiple revisions, I shared it in my critique group and got feedback every other week. Sharing made me nervous, but it was so worth it.
As I immersed myself in the work, both writing and drawing, my morning pages focused more on my work. I even wrote a rough sequel to the dummy I'd been working on. I highlighted important conversations. I wrote poetry. I still whined about life, but everything felt more productive.
It's been nearly three years now since I started, and I'm just about through my fourth journal. Sometimes I miss days. Sometimes I write in the afternoon or evening. Mornings (right after I wake up) or evenings (right before I go to sleep) work best for me.
Last year, I had to take a break for three months because I had carpal tunnel, and I was surprised by how much I missed it.
I'm still using the journal to empty my brain and drain away my anxiety. About a year ago, though, I started writing things I was grateful for to get me through a bout of depression. And that changed the whining to something even more productive. It wouldn't be at all a stretch to say that keeping a journal is self-care at this point. If you struggle with anxiety and/or depression, I highly recommend it.
2. Creative Walks
Arree also talked about the importance of creative walks in his class, so I tried that out. I found that I had to walk at least two miles to get the ideas flowing, but it DOES work. It also decreases anxiety and is good for your health.
In “Stepping Up Your Creativity: Walking, Meditation, and the Creative Brain,” by Nicole Dean, from Brain World Magazine, she talks about a lot renowned thinkers who did their best thinking and problem solving while walking. And writers? “Dozens of famous authors — Henry David Thoreau, L.M. Montgomery, J.K. Rowling, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few — have said that walking is the only reliable cure to writer’s block.”
This creative habit is another keeper.
If you aren't already outlining what you want to get done on a calendar, this will change your life. Arree talks about it in the following video.
Do you have any creative habits we should try? If so, please share in the comments. I've been learning about meditation, but I haven't committed to actually doing it yet. If it's as amazing as it's supposed to be, you'll probably get a post on it next year.
Thanks for reading!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.