Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 4 of 11)

Watch your eating habits. That’s not easy for most of us. Not only are we bombarded with ads for food—especially desserts and junk food—but our social lives center on food.

Food appears at most social and business functions. Whenever a colleague or friend wants to meet, why is it always for lunch or dinner?

Statistics say 34.9 percent of Americans (78.6 million) are obese and that results in heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Such ailments come primarily from overindulgence and consuming junk food.

If you seriously care about your body and extending your productivity, you need ways to control your eating. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort. And all healthy-and-lasting good weight-loss programs involve exercise (see my previous blog).

My first suggestion—and this is what worked for me—is to reeducate your taste buds. I never considered a meal complete without meat and dessert. Slowly I moved away from both. I found ways to eat healthier and learned to like food that was good for me.

I added vegetables to my meals and raw salads. I never gave up anything, but because I learned to like rutabaga, spinach, and any kind of beans, my choices changed. I now weigh a couple of pounds less than I did when I was 21 years old. But more than the weight, I’m healthy. And I enjoy my life.

I’ll give you one example. We lived in Africa for six years, and I missed ice cream more than any other food. As I learned to experience a healthier way to live, I gradually cut down because I ate more nutritious meals. It’s now been at least four years since I’ve bought that dessert.

I’m opposed to diets because they don’t work, at least not very long. Worse, they’re based on deprivation—you have to give up foods. And being human, the tendency is to want what you can’t have.

I change my eating habits
by educating my taste buds.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 3 of 11)

Get physical.

Begin an exercise program. The usual excuse is, “I don’t have time.” I sometimes say, “But do you have time to get sick?” I don’t add, “And if you don’t keep your body moving, it will betray you and make you sick.”

Think of it this way: God created our bodies to be in motion. Those of us who sit in front of a screen for long periods of time need to activate those muscles.

Start by deciding on an exercise that suits you. Walking is the easiest for most people. Other than a good pair of shoes (essential) you don’t need much more. I chose running years ago and still do it.

My friend Larry Leech plays golf; a neighbor gets on the tennis court twice a week. How about ballroom dancing? Bowling? The what isn’t as important as finding an exercise you enjoy and then doing it regularly—at least three times a week.

Instead of exercise being a waste of time, I’ve learned that I’m healthier and more creative. I’m nearly 83, have no physical problems, and take no meds. Daily I thank God and credit my exercise programs and my dietary habits.

I sharpen my tool (my body) every day. I also do a few isometric exercises during the day when I take a break. Nothing for more than five minutes, but enough to recharge me.

Because I care about myself and my productivity,
I find ways to get physical every day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 2 of 11)

Reward yourself. 

For a long time I rushed from project to project, but I didn’t make provision for rest time. Once I became aware of that, I decided that whenever I finished a place worthy of self-reward I’d honor my efforts. It could be at the end of a difficult chapter, completing the book’s outline, or finishing the first draft.

My rewards are simple, such as taking two hours to watch a film on TV. Going for a long walk through the woods. Calling a friend and saying, “Let me take you to lunch.”

One writer gets a massage after he completes every 50 pages. My wife was an editor and whenever she finished a difficult manuscript, she took a long, hot soak in the tub.

Building in those small compensations can keep us fresh. Schedules are important and we all have responsibilities, but once in a while we should do something that breaks our routine.

It can be as simple as driving the longer way to get to our destination or spending an extra couple of hours reading. It doesn’t take much to divert ourselves—and it pays off if we do it intentionally and for our own good.

As a serious writer 
I discover ways to reward myself.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 1 of 11)

“Why do you polish your tools every time after you use them?” I asked my dad when I was about six years old.

“Makes them last longer.” Dad was a man of few words, but I understood. At the time it seemed like a lot of extra work. When I was older I understood the lesson. As I thought about this topic, the principle applies. If I care for myself—my body, my mind, my spirit—every part of myself—I’ll survive and be productive much longer.

We writers tend to neglect caring for ourselves, and that’s true whether we write full time or only an hour a day. We can learn to care for ourselves, so let’s start with something simple: “Self-feeding means I’ll remain productive longer.”

If we’re serious about writing—and doing it long term, we need to think about caring for our instruments. Our brains and our body are our tools. This series is about keeping our tools sharp.

Let’s start with something simple: Feed yourself.

It amazes me when I talk with some writers who don’t read much. “I can’t be a writer and a reader,” one man said. “Just not enough hours in the day.”

He didn’t mean that he never read, but he treated reading—especially books—as something he did when he had extra time or wanted to relax. He didn’t see that as a vital part of his learning experience.

You can unconsciously learn when you read others. I’m not the analytic type and don’t try to dissect sentences. I think of it as absorbing. I get the feel of the structure and the author’s use of words.

About a year after I began to write, I realized the importance of reading to keep myself growing. I promised myself to read at least one book a week for the rest of my life. And I’ve held to that. Instead of stealing time from my writing, opening a book for an hour has become a powerful self-teaching tool.

One writer said, “If you keep going to the well to fill up your bucket, eventually you pull it up empty unless you find ways to fill the well.”

My advice is read everything. Read constantly. Take in every kind of nourishment you can. If you want to be a successful writer, read successful authors.

I want to be a successful author.
I read to nurture myself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 7 of 7)

Your voice has both an inner and an outer dimension. The outer is your style or your way of writing.

The inner dimension is the message giver, the nudger, or the guide that you experience as critic, friend, or God. You need to learn to listen to your inner voice and decipher its message—positive and negative. Then you learn to respond in ways that enhance your writing.

Finding and honoring your voice is really about self-acceptance and self-love. When you’ve learned to honor your voice, you appreciate voices that are different, and respect the unique range of voices. You'll never write like your favorite authors—but then, they'll never write like you.

Here's something written by my friend Jeff Adams, and it captures the idea beautifully.

In the movie, Hook, a grown-up Peter Pan has forgotten how to fly. The lost boys, led by Ruffio, question whether or not this man is their hero. One little boy isn't so quick to disbelieve. Robin Williams's face contorts like silly putty in the boy's hands. He peers into Robin's eyes in search of a glimpse of their former leader. In wonder, the boy exclaims, "Oh there you are, Peter."

Jeff Adams concludes with these words: Peter forgot who he was. It's easy for the rules to suffocate our voices. We must continue to learn, to practice the craft, and hone our skills. But we must not forget who we are. If we do, our voices will become cold and analytical. We will forget how our words should soar.

My words can soar if I heed my own voice
and ignore the others.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 6 of 7)

So how do you find your distinctive voice?

Here are a few things to think about.

First, write the way you talk. Be as natural as possible—but be grammatically correct. People need to be able to hear you on the page. The greatest compliment I receive from readers who know me is, "I could hear your voice as I read your book."

That's the affirmation that helps me know I'm succeeding.

Second, remind yourself that your voice is unique, And every true voice is unique. Every voice—your voice—has something valuable to say, and it becomes more effective and worthwhile when spoken in your own words.

Third, as you accept your voice, it begins to sound authentic and true. From there you have the freedom to expand and grow.

Think of finding your voice as a sacred quest. Respect your search.

Fourth, consider your voice as a gift from God, which it is.

And no one can write the way I do except me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 5 of 7)

Until you are able to accept your voice as legitimate and adequate, you'll continue to cheat yourself and attempt to sound like someone else. Finding your voice means writing from your soul—from deep within. It means facing your imperfections and uncertainties.

The challenge becomes more difficult because not only do you need to discover your voice, but to value it. When you find your voice, you can seek to expand your potential as a writer and tap into the deep place within yourself where both pain and passion dwell.

Both pain and passion.

That's not easy or natural—it comes from facing your fears and struggling to know who you are and what you feel. You need to become intimate with your inner critic and accept that it does have things to tell you—but it’s not everything.

Face your inner critic and don't run from it, and it may lead you to honor your inner voice.