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January 12, 2012

Behind the Book — The Seven Things I Need When Writing

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — jennifer @ 7:14 pm

As I’m writing this next book (and any book), there are several things essential to my creative welfare. In no particular order, they are:

1) Daily exercise. If possible I exercise as many days as I write, which, right now, is five, sometimes six. I do it in the morning after breakfast, before I begin my work, so that my head is clear and energized. If I miss a day for any reason (and sometimes the day becomes so busy that you just can’t break away), I feel mentally as well as physically sluggish, and my work can suffer.

2) A good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, this can be challenging because we have three cats, two of whom insist on sleeping with us every night, and one of whom insists on tapping me awake each morning (the time varies– sometimes I get to sleep till 7:00 am, sometimes she wants me up at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00…). Still, I do my best.

3) A healthy diet. As much as—- God knows—- I appreciate junk food (and I do) (oh, I do), it doesn’t fuel the brain like healthier food. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that I turn my nose up at the occasional cookie or pizza or, my favorite of all, movie popcorn. At times, you find yourself craving these (particularly, it seems, when you are writing about people on Arctic expeditions who are eating nothing but seal blubber), and I think you need to indulge yourself now and then.

4) Loved ones. With less time each day to socialize, I somehow become closer to my closest and most beloved family and friends (this includes kitties, of course) during a hectic schedule. I reach out to them more and on a deeper level because it is so necessary to feel connected to people in that way when you are going through such a strenuous period (such as researching and brainstorming and outlining one book while editing and paying all sorts of attention to another that’s getting ready for production). They help bolster you, and they make you laugh, and they give you nice breaks on the phone or on walks or on Creative Days when you need them.

5) Boundaries. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and don’t let anyone guilt you into making plans if it’s not good for you. When you know you must get up and exercise every day, followed by seven or eight or ten or twelve hours of intense researching/plotting/outlining/writing, the last thing you might want to do is feel obligated somewhere else. Case in point, I once signed up for a flamenco class when I was working on my second book, Ada Blackjack, and at first I loved it. But as I got deeper into my book, I began to resent that one morning a week when I knew I had to show up for class. Even though I enjoyed myself when I got there, I would begin on Thursday to dread that Saturday class because I knew I was Obligated to Go There.

6) The ability to ignore emails. Feel free to let them sit in your inbox or answer them with one sentence. Emails are one of the most dangerous things for a writer because 1, you are there at your desk all day where they are readily accessible, and 2, if you answer them, you must write, which means you use up some of your precious, invaluable writing energy that could and should be going toward your project. As Washington Irving once said, “I sometimes think one of the great blessings we shall enjoy in heaven, will be to receive letters by every post and never be obliged to reply to them.” (Which doesn’t mean that I don’t love reading emails or wish I could answer them more thoughtfully.) (In other words, please do not stop writing to me, even if I am one of the world’s worst correspondents!)

7) Guilty pleasures. If you don’t have any, for God’s sake get yourself some. And if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, stay tuned here for a future installment. Guilty pleasures—- or needful distractions—- are so vitally important to any writer that they deserve an entire post to themselves.