Today’s guest is Rachel Funk Heller who began her career as a journalist and worked as an independent television writer/producer for twenty-five years. She is a former CNN producer who worked in both the Atlanta headquarters and in the Washington DC bureau. She is the author of The Writer’s Coloring Book®.
Writing great fiction is hard work, both mentally and emotionally. There are times when you need to give yourself a break and have some fun—pure, unadulterated, free flowing fun. It feeds your soul, and in the long run it will help you craft better books.
Creativity, Brain Waves, and Having More Fun
Summer time. I used to love summer because it meant three whole months of no school and lots and lots of playtime. Most of that playtime was filled with fun things that let your imagination run wild. We had paper dolls, connect-the-dots, finger paints, and coloring books to fill our time. [pullquote]Turns out, finding a simple craft or playing with old toys may be just the thing you need to improve your writing…[/pullquote]The best part was that no one cared if we made purple elephants or painted red suns and orange moons. Wouldn’t it be fun to go back to that carefree time? When you could let your imagination roam free?
Turns out, finding a simple craft or playing with old toys may be just the thing you need to improve your writing, to help you get out of a writing slump, or just to remind you why you chose this path in the first place. Yes, writing is hard work, but it can also be the best fun a human brain can have.
Today we have more accurate information on how the brain works. We know it produces electrical activity that can be measured as brain wave patterns. When you were a young child your brain waves were not moving very fast. There was activity, but it was mostly in what’s called the Theta/Alpha range. This is that loose, almost trancelike space, more like daydreaming than thinking. The analytical mind had not “kicked in” yet. So, when you painted the purple squirrel in an orange tree eating blue bananas, you didn’t care if the final piece was any good, you were just having fun. Sure, it was nice when mom gave you a big hug and taped your work to the refrigerator, but that’s about as far as it went.
[pullquote]You need to find a way to get out of Beta, and back into that Theta/Alpha state, just for a little while. You’ll calm down. You’ll feel relaxed and less stressed about your work.[/pullquote]Now that you’re all grown up, and you’ve chosen the path of writing, the biggest difference is that you care too much about how the work comes out. Now there are all sorts of expectations related to your work. You have invested so much time, effort, and so much of your soul that you need to know: Is it any good? Will reviewers give it five stars? Will people buy it? Is it a “great” book?
What is happening in your brain? You are now revving in what is called high Beta. It’s great because now you can think up great characters and great storylines, but that comes with a whole lot of stress.
What’s the solution?
How do you fulfill your desire to create high quality work, without stressing to the point that you can’t even sit at the keyboard without having an anxiety attack? It’s simple. You need to spend some time slowing down your brain.
You need to find a way to get out of Beta, and back into that Theta/Alpha state, just for a little while. You’ll calm down. You’ll feel relaxed and less stressed about your work.
Here are three ways to accomplish this.
Make time for a fun hobby. Fun is the key word here. String some beads; try woodworking. Or how about knitting or even scrapbooking? Find something creative where you can get instant gratification, but something where you really don’t care that much about how the final product comes out. Don’t worry about making it “perfect,” just spend some time playing with it. While you do this, let your mind wander around. Explore story ideas, character ideas, etc., if they come to you, but don’t force it. The idea is to get back to that Theta/Alpha space where no one cares what you turn out. There is no one judging you, and especially, don’t judge yourself. Just have some fun!
Meditation. There are various forms and styles of meditation out there that you can explore. Find one that you like and that you can fit into your schedule. The goal of meditation is to get your brain wave patterns to slow down into the Theta/Alpha range. A new Harvard study shows that not only does meditation help you feel relaxed, it literally helps to re-build your brain.
Daydreaming. Okay, so if you know you can’t wake up a half-hour early to sit in meditation, set your alarm clock fifteen minutes early and use that time to simply lounge in bed. Really, instead of leaping out of bed and bolting into your busy day, give yourself that luxurious feeling of lying in bed with nothing to do. Let your mind wander. Think of your story and let it just roll around in your mind’s eye. If you get any new ideas, that’s great. If you don’t, it’s okay. Just the act of setting your creative work as the priority for your day will boost your mood, because that time is yours. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. There will always be plenty of time to worry about your day job.
I hope you find these ideas helpful, and I wish you all the best in ALL of your creative endeavors.
What was your favorite form of self expression when you were a kid? (me, I loved my spirograph!) Have you ever gone back as an adult and tried it? If you have kids, do you paint, or play with crayons when they are in the midst of a purely creative moment?