Everyone here at Writer Unboxed thinks of themselves as a writer; someone who loves words, appreciates beautiful craft, and spends many dedicated hours on their storytelling. But at the core, we’re more than just wordsmiths. We are creators. This is a hugely important distinction.
The word creator is far more accurate a depiction of what we do because creator gives all of that wordsmithing power and energy. Merriam-Webster’s definition of create is to bring into existence, or to produce through imaginative skill. Creators bring people, places, and events into existence. Creators evoke emotions. Creators produce worlds through our imaginative skills. As writers–creators–this is precisely what we do.
And just think of the energy that entails.
We’ve all seen the stereotypes of artists pacing and staying up all hours of the night, their houses and studios in disarray as they create that next perfect portrait, sculpture, etc. There’s so much movement happening within their studio space–the pacing and hair-pulling, sure, but there’s another kind of movement happening. The movement happens as an idea is sparked. The same thing is true for writers–there is so much movement happening inside us, even while sitting at our desks. As we create and bring something/someone into existence, there is a load of dynamic, kinetic energy being expelled.
Say you’re working on your protagonist’s motivations. Despite sitting still, you’re digging deeply into someone’s psyche, like excavating a mine, chipping away black rock to find diamonds. Those diamonds are nodes of emotion we need to tap into, in order to understand our characters hearts and souls, in order to understand what they want and what they need. This mining takes an intense and dynamic sort of energy that needs to be both focused and steady, and also extremely active. In other words, kinetic.
Which leads to my point today.
Creative energy, while often wonderful, powerful, and SO FULL OF MOVEMENT, can also be destructive, if left unharnessed. Just look at what writer’s do to their own bodies; letting our health slip as we spend endless hours at the computer gaining carpal tunnel, strained eyes, migraines, and spare tires around our middles. We snack to calm the nerves and to break up the day. We feel this restlessness as if we are unsatisfied and not centered, lost among the daily activities of our lives. Somehow, we must find a way to harness this kinetic energy in a way that helps us maintain our health and sanity, and in a way that helps us be more productive.
Here are some techniques I’m trying to develop into habits:
- Create a routine that involves movement: When I feel the anxiety coming on, or that sense of restlessness, I get up and move. I live on a circle drive in my neighborhood so when this sensation takes over, I make myself walk laps around the loop until I’m either exhausted or the feeling subsides. While walking, I often talk through a scene out loud. What is the goal of the scene? Why does my character have to face this obstacle? How can I show the way she struggles? WHY IS THIS MAKING ME ANXIOUS–WHAT ISN’T WORKING?
- Get a standing desk: Lucky for me, my husband is a tech ed teacher (and used to be a carpenter), so he built one for me. If you can afford it, I would highly recommend purchasing a standing desk. Alternate between the two desks, taking turns to give your legs a break when you get tired. But you’ll quickly find you like standing. Oddly enough, it helps me focus better, and it’s a great way to combat the ants-in-your-pants feeling.
- Avoid the kitchen at all costs: I’ve been struggling with this the last couple of years. For one thing, I’m a foodie. Cooking and baking are one of the ways I express myself creatively. This means working from home is something of a challenge for me because, A.) I will spend time making myself a nice meal, and B.) it’s one of my favorite pleasures. When that anxious, kinetic energy is moving through me, I head to the kitchen to satisfy that pseudo-craving. Sometimes, just sitting at the desk all day alone can be a little boring so I think: “Hey, wouldn’t a mocha latte be amazing right now? Or some chips, or a piece of zucchini bread and a cup of tea?” Yeah, bad. Avoid the kitchen at all costs and also, see number one.
- Keep Journals Everywhere: Keeping journals in my car, purse, night stand, and laptop bag help me be more present in my daily life outside of work. I’m prepared, you see, to immediately write down these moments of inspiration that invade my brain. If I didn’t write them down, I’d be ruminating on them, obsessing, getting that anxiety again because I’d be thinking: “If I could only be writing right now…” But that’s not the kind of mother I want to be, or partner, or friend, so I’ve learned to take a quick note here and there to capture the inspiration and rejoin the world around me.
- Create a concrete writing routine: This is pretty effective, actually. You really should live and die by your writing schedule—okay, maybe that’s extreme, but you get my drift. Maintaining a routine helps combat the jitters that come from not knowing when you will write next. It helps you to, once again, be present with those around you since you know you’ve set aside that protected time.
Ultimately, this kinetic energy is a good thing because of what I mentioned above–it comes with being creators. This energy/anxiety just needs to be recognized for what it is, as well as channeled appropriately. So this all comes while you’re actively creating. Let’s look at it from the other angle. What happens when you haven’t been writing because you never seem to have time, or you’re doubting yourself, or the rejections have kept you from returning to the page? That kinetic energy is STILL THERE, but it has nowhere to go and festers. What happens then? I’ll share a quote from a book I love dearly called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She says:
“An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy. (‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.’) Bring forth what is within you, then, whether it succeeds or fails. Do it whether the critics love you or hate you–or whether the critics have never heard of you and perhaps never will hear of you. Do it whether people get it or don’t get it.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be Plato. It’s all just an instinct and an experiment and a mystery, so begin. Begin anywhere. Preferably right now. And if greatness should ever accidentally stumble upon you, let it catch you hard at work. Hard at work, and sane.”
As creators, we have kinetic energy while writing, and kinetic energy while we aren’t, but it’s what you do with that energy that helps you be the best (and healthiest!) writer you can be. If you ignore the impetus to bring a story living inside of you into existence, it will eat you alive.
Please tell me I’m not alone! Do you have this sense of movement and anxiousness swarming your brain and your body while writing–or while not writing? How do you deal with them?