Develop Healthy Creative Habits

A Cactus Growing Through a Rock

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. 

My Second Morning Journal

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.

3. Calendaring 

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!

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

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.

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30 thoughts on “Develop Healthy Creative Habits”

  1. I have been practicing my creative work for years, so getting up in the morning isn’t hard. I can paint and draw easily, but writing is the hard part, and I have to force myself to write. I am glad I took Arree’s course because I started practicing my morning journaling. I feel much better about my writing and see an improvement. Morning journaling has helped me on my road to becoming a published writer. Thanks, Mirna,

  2. The morning journal and creative walk are ingrained habits for me, but I’ve never come up with a good calendar system. Could you suggest a few ideas? Especially for apps. ..they seem like they’d work best!!

  3. Oh I second what Maral said about the calendar. Would love to be able to be consistent with using a calendar. I guess I CAN start with a google calendar, right? I love this post. Thank you Myrna.

  4. Creating a purposeful schedule is a huge problem for me. I’ve much to do with no idea where and how to start. So don’t accomplish anything. SAD! A calendar would be such a great tool for me. I canNOT believe I’ve never thought of actually going through with putting that Professional Development calendar in action. Loving your posts. Keep them coming.

    1. Long bike rides can also help in the creative process. I’ve had some really great ideas or worked out entire chunks of dialogue while out riding. The problem is not transcribing what’s in the brain to paper because sometimes ideas are lost.

  5. I have difficulty staying on top of a calendar–thanks for the tutorial. Journaling and being in nature have been very helpful , not just for writing, but for overall well-being.
    thanks so much for this!

      1. Thanks for reconnecting me with the importance of morning pages! I am trying to do more walking and the calendar idea has worked for a bit then I fall off. I will be using this time at home to allow these other good habits to integrate

  6. I started journaling a few months ago. It has made a world of difference in dealing with my anxiety.

  7. Cynthia Garcia

    This just makes me so happy that I know I am where I am supposed to be: In the “I-Collect-Journals” club! Luckily for me, I a have been a marathoner for years so waking up early is a norm. I mean early. It is this time that I find myself to be the most fluid in my writing. So battling between running and writing sometimes clashes. To help with this I keep a journal or notepad next to my treadmill, my bed, in my purse, in the bindings of books, and yes, ahem, in the bathroom. However, this doesn’t go over well when doing a long, early run. I can’t carry a paper and a pen while running. I have, in the past said I would remember, but I never do. So I try to give myself word clues to remember what I thought about while on my run – or record it on my phone. I also have two blogs: a personal one for essays, poetry, and short stories, and one for picture book review – both are baby steps and are for creative outlets.
    I write or draw out my schedule for the day first thing every morning (I TRY) in one journal. I also like to write about my day even if it’s a few lines. I love looking back in my journals. They often spurn new ideas. Personally, running is my best way to get my mental juices flowing. Also, reading helps. I think it’s important to find the best time for what works for you and do something, even if it’s just a little bit. I have a lot of starts without the finishes. I feel confident this community will get me more committed to completing my ideas. Thank you, all.

  8. Thanks Arree that helps. I do get up around 5:30 am, but I am a slow starter. I make me a cup of Earl Grey tea and visit with my husband. I plan to put more effort into a schedule.
    Rhonda K.

  9. I started writing morning pages years ago when I came across the book Artist’s Way. It still helps me to recognize recurring themes in my life and see where I’m stuck. Sometimes I ask myself a question like “Why do I hesitate to…?” Next, I answer “because…or maybe because…or actually it’s because…” And if my inner critic shows up, I let it spill out over the page and release it’s negativity
    to which I say thanks but no thanks.

  10. Susan Gilbert

    Thanks for sharing Myrna. I have found that creative baths work for me! I can soak up my epsom salt and essential oils while I let my mind wander. It works well for me. Then when I get out I jot everything down in my journal.

    1. Myrna Foster

      Thank you for sharing that. I’ve never tried taking creative baths. I get some fabulous ideas in the shower sometimes. One time, I had a poem come to me when I was showering, and I just kept muttering it to myself until I got out and could write it down. I ended up selling it to Highlights, lol.

  11. I deal with the insomnia and anxiety issues you speak of. I can never imagine myself as a morning person because of how long it takes me to actually fall asleep. I do journal but haven’t made it a daily ritual. I love my planner but find just like social media stuff, it takes a lot of time to plan…..I need to break down my day so that I can add this time to my day more consistently. I usually have these bursts where I will do it and then I run out of energy, take a break from the routine and find myself back where I started. I know I need to fight through. I’m learning to not be so hard on myself as long as I am breaking off a piece every day, I feel better about my progress. I do want to be more organized and productive though. After finally getting through the free series of classes, I am pooped! Because this, “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.” is exactly where I am now. I’m doing a lot of negative self talk like, “how will I be able to keep this up” but I am looking forward to what comes out of it. Just need to implement some of these strategies to remain consistent throughout the process and avoid burning out. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Myrna Foster

      You’re welcome. I’m sorry you struggle with some of the same things that I do. Don’t beat yourself up if you find you’re inconsistent. Making the effort when you can will still make a difference.

    2. I have had many times in my life that I struggled with being awake for various reasons, including anxiety.
      About 4 years ago I discovered something that helps me at least 90% of the time. It not only puts me right to sleep, but sends me into a very deep sleep pattern so I wake up in much better condition. I have learned that I need to know I have at least another 3 hours of sleep time available, or waking up can be extremely difficult.
      The process is to take a full, deep breath, to the count of 3 or 4 (whichever works best for you and your counting speed) and then exhale over 6 or 8 (double whatever you counted in, counting out at the same speed). Do this 3 times in a row. Before you know it, you will be waking up.
      This has seen me through financial stress, health issues, and a very bad time period dealing with my mother’s sudden lapse into complete dementia, where I had to spend 7 weeks not only dealing with her health and mental issues, but determining what to do with her estate. If this breathing can deal with that, it can take care of pretty much anything!
      I still use it whenever I either can’t seem to go to sleep, or wake and can’t go back to sleep. It rarely fails me.

  12. Linda Elliott

    Thank you for this article, I realized that I do the first two, but definitely need to start on the calendering. Walking is my absolute favorite, and I definitely need to get more consistent with my journaling. What helps get my creative juices flowing when I feel like the thoughts won’t come is reading books. I find that reading others’ works can strike up ideas.

  13. Great tips! I try really hard to stick to a morning routine, a lot of the time it doesn’t work. However there are some “perfect days” when everything seems to work: time for journaling, time to exercise, time to do stuff from the to do list. Those days are hard to come but it’s amazing when they do. Thanks for the post, great ideas!

    1. I rarely feel like I’m perfect at any of this, especially working from home (while homeschooling my kids) during these uncertain times. Making an effort helps, though. This morning, I journaled and meditated, and I felt so much better afterwards. It’s like practicing mental hygiene.

  14. I envy those who can take long walks. I did that when I was younger but since arthritis became my constant companion, I can no longer do that. I do use my iPhone for a calendar of events or I would miss a lot of good webinars.

    Thanks for everyone’s sharing. I also have trouble going to sleep at bedtime so glad to know I’m not alone.

  15. That’s great: three simple proven practices. I’m still trying to make morning journaling a habit. It seems to get pushed aside when things pile up. I’m feeling more motivated about the walks that I keep telling myself I will get to take. Calendaring has made a huge difference for me. It really helps to spread out all my “have-to’s” into manageable time periods so I can focus on a bite at a time. I use a large wall calendar as well as several google calendars that I can see all at once or one at a time on my phone.
    The other practice that really helps me is playing the piano. Whenever I get stuck, fell over-whelmed or need to reconnect with my creative self, I sit at the piano and play. It’s like the music flows through me and I am able to think more creatively and clearly. It calms me and gives me that creative high of the theta wave flow state.

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