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Monday, May 1, 2017

I SPY: Writing Rehab

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Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I Spy something beginning with ...

Writing Rehab

Some call it refilling the well. Some call it getting back on that horse. Some call it fighting your way out of the abyss you've fallen into.

Whatever you want to call it, recovering your creative spirit after some time away from writing can be difficult. I blogged last year about burnout. I’ve also blogged about finding the *write*balance. But this past year tested my limits in new ways, and I felt like I lost my creative energy.

When I blogged about burnout in February 2016, I was in the midst of pushing myself to my limits, trying to put out three books within about 6 months (plus another 14 months total, if you include planning and some initial writing phases, but the bulk of the intense editing and production occurred within that last 6 months).  Little did I know at that time that right around the corner were financial issues for our family, as well as physical issues that required major surgery and eight weeks of recovery. Add to that three growing children who have needed an increasing amount of parental time, especially a middle child who’d just hit the pre-teen years and was testing our boundaries right and left… Well, you can imagine how the writing took a backseat to the rest of life, and the creative burnout was just beginning.

And that’s okay. Well, not exactly okay. Burnout is never fun, and it wasn’t "okay" at first, but it had to become okay or I would have completely lost my mind. (If you inserted echoing, maniacal laughter here, it would be totally appropriate.)

But I’d learned from my days as a counselor, and from life experience, that times of trouble were often a sign of changes to come—and usually those changes were for the better...eventually. So I kept the faith (most days) and trusted (some days) that it would all work out. And March and April of 2017 have been infinitely better.

What did I learn from this 18-month crisis period? That sometimes you just can’t be creative. Creativity takes massive energy. Psychic energy. And when you don’t even have physical energy, how can you have the psychic energy? You may have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, and writers are not immune.

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This hierarchy indicates that if your basic physiological needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and safety are not met, then you can’t reach the higher needs like esteem and self-actualization. And I believe that writing is a form of self-actualization. It’s trying to understand who people are (via characters) and why we exist (via stories).

Recalling this hierarchy helped me get through some tough times. After all, if I’m in physical pain and working hard to meet those basic tiers at the foundation of the pyramid, how can I expect to focus on the pinnacle?

Regaining my creative self is a work in process, but I feel I’m finally getting there. At first, I gave myself permission to take three months off (from writing, anyway). I focused on my physical health and my family. And then I tried writing again. I gave myself permission to write whatever I wanted, so I skipped around on various projects, trying to find my voice again, and trying to be thrilled with 100 words on a good day when I used to be able to write 3000. Trying to find that story that impassioned me.

Nothing did.

So I gave myself some more time off and permission to keep playing around, celebrating those100 words a day, even if I knew they would eventually be deleted. And I focused on getting my physical health back (which was getting close to requiring surgery at that point). And on getting my financial upsets settled (which included relocating my mother-in-law). And on putting my family time front and center (giving that middle child the time and energy he needed).

So here are my "REHAB" tips:

R:  Rest/Read

Get enough sleep, but also rest the mind when needed. Reading craft books as well as reading for fun (when I finally found it fun again) was helpful.

E:  Exercise

This includes physical and mental exercise. Getting back into a routine where I was up and moving a couple hours a day, either via walks, a yoga app, getting the house clean, or whatever, was really helpful in feeling like I was meeting a goal where I was in control. Also, the reading of craft books was part of my mental exercise, as was getting those 100 words a day. Gradually increasing those goals (both physical and mental) re-developed old habits.

H:  Health and/or Help

Finding that balance between rest, exercise, and hobbies that feed the creativity was imperative to overall health. But I also knew I had to seek help, because I was feeling really alone. Whether through counseling for depression or finding friends who would listen and understand, it was important to reach out and let others know I could use a hand.

A:  Assess and/or Actualize

Daily, I try to assess what would make me happy. Life is too short to live in misery if you have other options. I try to choose daily goals that help me reach that self-actualization tier. Activities that help me believe in myself and my talents again. I tell myself daily that I can do it, and set goals that reinforce that fact. (Note to self: Don't bite off more than you can chew! It only leads to disappointment.)

B:  Behave and/or Breathe

I regained a writing habit by rewarding myself when I met my goals. This is helping me get back into the writing habit. But I also have to remember to breathe. It's just life. We don't have to be perfect. We don't even have to write if we don't want to. But breathing...yeah, that's kind of necessary. In fact, that's the first thing on the hierarchy of needs.

So, it's April 2017 now and I feel good about myself again, and gradually, the creativity is coming back. I still struggle, but I’m trying not to be hard on myself. Trying to take it one day at a time. Trying to focus on how far I've come since this time last year.

Gradually, I’ll get there. And I’ll be stronger knowing that if this ever happens again, I’ll get through it with the "REHAB" tricks I've learned.

What things do you do to restore or refill that creative well? Any REHAB tips?

Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.


Rita said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing Anne-Marie. Needing the well refilled is someplace we have all been or will be. Glad you are feeling better and hope you get back to where you want to be very soon.

jean harrington said...

Anne Marie, this is such a wise and common-sense approach to what life has to offer. Everyone, writers and non-writers alike, can certainly benefit from your list. I think copying and pasting it on the wall in front of my computer might be a good idea. Thank you.

Elise Warner said...

Thank you for the tips and the sharing. We don't know what life will hand us and it's good to have something to turn to in addition to friends.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Rita - thank you, and thank you for being one of the friends I can lean on. ;) It does help to know one isn't alone.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thanks, Jean! I hope you find some helpful tidbit if you ever have to refill that well.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Elise, that's so true. We never know what life has waiting around the corner for us. Friends and faith that we'll make it through are the best companions! ;)

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