Stop the tornado
By Bonnie Vanak
Earlier this month, I was in my hotel room in Nicaragua, staring at the muddied waters of Lake Managua, and thinking about my own muddied life. There was Hurricane Ike, a 135-mph storm potentially buzzsawing toward my Florida home, I had a book due in three weeks, and I was about to leave to interview a child whose intestines burst from parasites.
Ask me about my stress levels.
Physicians warn us that chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, weaken the immune system, lead to headaches, insomnia and digestive problems. As writers, we face stress from all aspects of publishing. It can come from a rejection or even acceptance of a contract. Deadlines, worries and anxieties about a book’s performance, reviews, contest results, landing an agent, getting published and staying published all can cause stress.
Stress can eat you away. It has done so to me for a long while.
I work as a writer for a large international charity, traveling to impoverished countries to document stories of the poor and raise money to help them. I’m also the author of eight romance novels. Combining a lifestyle of a demanding day job with the stress of writing books under deadline, plus living in a hurricane-prone state during a busy storm season, means my stress levels bounce up and down more than the stock market.
I started writing romance as an escape from the emotional stress of seeing heart-wrenching poverty for the day job. Two years ago, I got a new agent, and more contracts. Suddenly I was writing werewolf paranormals in addition to the Egyptian historicals and producing three books a year instead of one. More deadlines, more books, and I loved it.
Unfortunately, it meant writing started to become more stressful instead of the needed escape.
The trip to Nicaragua this month was last minute, replacing another writer who was ill. It also threw me off the writing schedule necessary to delivering the book due in October. When I left Miami, I was fighting a nasty sinus infection, worried about making it back home in time to catch a plane to Knoxville for a planned writing trip, fretting about the Nocturne werewolf book’s deadline, and concerned about a congo line of hurricanes in the Atlantic.
The book deadline worried me the most.
The trip began in the lush mountains of northern Nicaragua, hunting down stories of women living in poverty. I interviewed women who walk two miles to do laundry at a polluted river because they lack a water well, and visited families living in crumbling adobe homes. We drove over rough mountain paths with straight vertical drops looming ominously to one side.
All the while, I’d climb back into the truck and when we hit a road that had pavement, I’d take out my Alpha Smart and write the Nocturne. In the hotel at night, with the fan lazily stirring the humid air, I’d write.
Then came the drive over the mountain road. We left Matagalpa at night for Jinotepe, a city near the Honduran border and ran into a dangerous patch of fog. It was so thick, it created white-out conditions and our driver had to slow down to five miles an hour to see the road’s edge. Off to the side were steep cliffs without guard rails.
If you drove off the road, you drove off the mountain.
Ask me about my stress levels.
A day later, when we finally made it back to Managua, I called home. That’s when I found out about Hurricane Ike. My husband was stocking up on gasoline and supplies because it looked like Ike would hit us. Our home had already been seriously damaged by Hurricane Wilma three years ago. Wilma was a Category 2. Ike was predicted to strike as a Category 4.
Ask me about my stress levels.
I was scheduled to fly home late Friday, and fly out to Knoxville Sunday for a week alone to concentrate on writing the Nocturne. Ike was due to strike the following Tuesday. It meant I’d either have to cancel my trip, or be away from home when a hurricane hit.
That night, I had a dream about tornados. When I dream about them, it means my emotions are swinging wildly out of control. I’m usually running from a killer storm. But this dream was different. Just as I was about to be hit by the tornado, I turned around, held out my hand and said, STOP.
The tornado stopped.
I woke up and realized I had the power to stop the tornado.
After a series of phone calls, I shifted the Knoxville trip back by a week. The load off my shoulders lightened. Hurricane Ike was beyond my control. But there were things within my control, including my emotions. In taking charge of what I could control and stopping the tornado of emotions, I reduced my stress levels. I was able to focus on the job at hand, and when I returned to Florida, relax with my husband.
When we found out Hurricane Ike would miss our area, we relaxed even more.
It’s not easy to control your emotions when events spin wildly out of control. However, consider the alternative. Stress can wreck your life, cripple your ability to produce, and infringe on your writing. When you have methods of coping, you can feel better and concentrate on your writing.
Here are some tips for managing stress:
- Take charge of things under your control. When I accepted an offer to write two more Nocturnes for Silhouette this year, my editor asked if I could deliver the first book by October. I said yes, but if I had to do it over, I’d tell her no. I didn’t anticipate traveling during a month I knew I had to finish the book and a hurricane bearing down on my home at the same time. However, I’m a Floridian. I knew the deadline would come at the height of hurricane season. Next time, I’ll avoid that kind of tight deadline and the stress that accompanies it.
- Realize there are things you can’t control, but you can control your reaction. Life doesn’t stop simply because you write. Relatives fall ill, hurricanes appear on the horizon, and small, but critical and time-consuming events happen. What you can control is your reaction. When you feel the stress building and you freeze, unable to write, take a break. Make a list of the items you face that are causing stress and see if you can control any of them. Even taking charge of a small item can make you feel in charge and reduce your stress levels.
- When faced with a disaster, or a life-changing event, assess your priorities. Try deep breathing to stay calm and then tackle the most important item first. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from family or friends. Even having a close friend to talk with can help.
- Avoid your automatic stress triggers. Get upset when you log onto certain internet boards? Stop visiting them. Have people in your life who always cause you stress? Limit your time with them.
- Buy music that soothes you. I purchased a meditation album on I-tunes and downloaded to my I-pod. At work on breaks, I walk and listen to the music.
- Try prayer or meditation.
- If you feel simply overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time, jot down a list of all you need to accomplish. Assign priorities to each task. Determine the difference between the “should” items and the “must” ones and leave the “shoulds” for when you have more time. Cross off each task when it’s done and you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
- Don’t keep your feelings bottled up, but find healthy ways to express them. Keep a journal, talk with someone who understands or write a letter. At the same time, if someone is disturbing or angering you, wait until you are calmer to address the situation. Overreacting by screaming in anger will only make you more stressful. Try communicating in a respectful manner and change the situation instead of avoiding it.
- Organize your time. Don’t cram your life with so many activities you have no time to write, and no time to live as well. Leave plenty of time to accomplish everything you must. You can’t do it all, and if you try, you’ll only be burdening yourself.
- Find balance. As writers, we need down time to replenish our creativity as much as we need time to write. You can avoid burnout by balancing your life. Take time off from writing to indulge in activities you enjoy, and free your imagination.
Stress can cause havoc for writers, make you unable to produce and even cause illness. But if you learn to take charge of what you can control, you can stop the tornado and find a healthy balance in your life and your writing.
is the author of Egyptian historicals for Dorchester, and werewolf paranormals for Silhouette's Nocturne line. Her newest Nocturne ENEMY LOVER
will be out in Novemer and is available to pre-order now at Amazon.
Today was a good day
Introduction by Norah Wilson
Today’s blog is a very special one. I have a friend--a Golden Heart finalling, Daphne DuMaurier Award winning, amazing talented writer friend--who recently battled cancer. She’d often said how important it was for writers to take joy in the creative act of writing itself, since we’d be in a sorry spot if we derive all of our writing-related happiness purely from external sources. I asked her if she’d like to blog about this for the Noodlers during Writers Health month. Her initial gut response was something along the lines of Ack! No way! Of course, she kept that reaction to herself until she could give the idea a second and third thought. I’m so pleased to report that she DID write a blog for us, but as you’ll see, the whole experience is still too fresh for first person. Without further ado, here it is:
Once upon a time
there was a woman who decided she wanted to write. She wrote and wrote and wrote. For ten years she wrote stories no one wanted to buy. Only he
r friends read them. Which was okay because she was having a good time, she was learning.
One day her life took a tragic turn. Within the space of a year, she watched three people she loved die. She stopped writing, although her stories were still in her head. And then because carrying the burden of her world demanded a price, she grew seriously ill. She realized to survive, she had to let go of the past. She couldn’t envision a future.
Eventually the woman grew stronger and healthier. She resumed her life but her world was different and she questioned everything. When she thought it might be time to start writing again, she had to ask herself why? Only her friends would likely read what she wrote. The answer, she discovered, is she likes who she is when she writes. Through the act of creation, she is in communion with herself.
There is no happy-ever-after ending to this story. But today, the woman wrote.
Today was a good day.
This Week on The Wet Noodle Posse
Noodlers finish up Writers' Health Month, and we begin a new topic, dear to our hearts, Golden Heart Contest Preparation.
Here’s what’s on the calendar for this week:
Monday, September 29th: Norah Wilson “Today Was a Good Day”
Tuesday, September 30th: Guest Blogger Bonnie Vanak, Author of Egyptian Historicals for Dorchester and Werewolf Paranormals for Silhouette Nocturne
Wednesday, October 1st: Priscilla Kissinger “Golden Heart Preparation Month Introduction” & Raffle winner for September Announcement
Thursday, October 2nd: Debra Holland “Why Enter the Golden Heart Contest”
Friday, October 3rd: Noodler New Releases for October
Labels: Bonnie Vanak, Debra Holland, Golden Heart, Norah Wilson, Priscilla Kissinger, Writers' Health
Staying healthy isn't exactly free. At the very least, it takes your time, and writers often don't have a lot of that. Here's a scenario... Your book just hit the NYT bestseller list and you received a seven-figure advance on your next contract. Is there some purchase you'd make toward your health, whether it's a change of location, a piece of equipment, or a live-in massage therapist? Dream big, kids. A dream is very close to a plan.
Me, I'd hire a personal chef to make sure I didn't eat the same stuff every day and develop new allergies.
Labels: health, Writers' Health
by Michelle Buonfiglio
Buongiorno, Noodlers! Talk about rejuvenating and invigorating! I couldn’t be more honored to be visiting with you as part of Writers’ Health month. I mean, nobody’s more desperately in need of writers’ health tips than I…
See, there’s this time-honored maxim in the Buonfiglio family that speaks, I believe, to the solitary nature of the writer’s life, verily, our existence as humans who write because we’re driven to. Simple and succinct, the adage affirms thusly:
Bathing is highly overrated.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that any of you
work for days on end in the same attractive pair of cut-off sweats and ratty tee-shirt or, I don’t know, pajamas, thinking you could go one more day without soap and water and could make that old ball cap become your lucky writing hat if need be, so the UPS guy doesn’t think your life is quite as pathetic – and unhygienic – as it really is.
But on the off chance that you do work that way – and your internal body-image mantra has become “does this chair make my ass look fat?” -- it means you spend days on end in your home, strapped to a screen. And probably you recognize what I consider the most insidious threat to writers’ health: Solitude.
Solitude isn’t terrible, in and of itself; Our comfort with it is part of why we’re good at what we do. But with solitude comes isolation, especially in the Digital Age. Not only do we focus our energy and what seems like our very souls onto the word-processing program, we focus that same intense passion into our hours “wasted” online and time spent returning those maddening emails in which nuance is rarely understood or communicated. The worst part of the latter is never feeling satisfied we’ve garnered the information needed to feel we’re “getting right” this thing we’re spending all our time doing in isolation.
Unfortunately, the digital relationship is rather one-sided; we end up in the unhealthy position of being the givers, yet don’t feel much love in return -- and even less of that vital elixir for the writer’s soul: approbation.
There’s a lot of shame attached to a writer’s need for approval, her wanting a pat on the head for work well done, and even work not yet done. Yet there’s nothing we need more when isolated than human connection and support or, short of that, the remarkable kind of connection the Internet’s allowed us to have with friends, as proved by what’s been created here at Wet Noodle Posse.
Ah, but how do we make the connections, or even allow ourselves to reach out and ask for friendship, support and approval when we’re so full of the pride that keeps us writing toward that next milestone?Well, you tell me: How do you reach out and get the emotional nourishment you need? How do you reach out to others or recognize when a colleague needs a “connection?”
When you can't write...
by Linda Hall
I am so pleased to be invited to guest blog for your fitness and health month. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the posts- such great advice! Noodler Norah Wilson asked for my thoughts on the subject of what you do when you can’t write – when you physically
Friday, February 29, of this past year I fell on ice and broke both bones in my right wrist. It was a pretty bad break and couldn’t have come at a worse time. (Or is there ever a right time?) I had guests coming on Sunday, a house to clean and I was bumping up against a deadline, and oh, did I mention that I’m right-handed? I can’t so much as draw stick figure with my left hand.
I spent the first few days at home in a morphine haze. The house ended up not mattering, company was rescheduled, and my package of edits from Harlequin sat in their envelope on my desk. At first I thought I would just do the edits. I would enlist my husband’s help and together we would muddle through the massive re-writes. So, I didn't tell my editor. This was a new contract and I didn’t want to blow it. I e-mailed my agent, however, told her that my right arm was totally out of commission, but not to worry – my husband and I would get this book done if it was the last thing we did.
A day later, my sweet agent called me and gave me a stern talking to. “I’ve talked to your editor. They’re moving the release date ahead.”
When I protested, she said, “Linda, you’re right-handed and you can’t write
. It’s all taken care of. Don’t kill yourself.”
A nice email from my editor also made me feel better – somewhat – about my plight.
As the days wore on, I realized just how incapacitated I was. I couldn’t even blow dry my hair properly or put on eye makeup. I felt like a frump, and learning to eat with my left hand left many a soup slop on my shirt.
I was in a cast for seven weeks. I wish I could say that I endured it with grace and thanksgiving for all that I would learn from this experience. Not! Oh, there was some of that, I suppose. But mostly, I was just mad. Why couldn't I have fallen on my left
arm? There were days when I was completely and utterly frustrated. Here I was a writer, and I couldn’t even add an item to my grocery list.
But even when we’re angry and frustrated, we can learn lessons if we listen and keep our eyes open. Here’s what I discovered:
1. The QWERTY keyboard is in your head not your hands. I was forced to move my mouse to the left side of my keyboard. It was awkward, uncomfortable, frustrating (you try it!). But, after about a week or so it started to be less so. As I began my one-handed typing, I realized that my left hand was automatically finding the letters that my right hand normally typed. The letters and words were all there - in my head.
2. I learned to listen. I am a note taker. I cannot sit in a meeting or church without taking notes. That’s my learning style, I guess. I’m also a journaler. With my right arm out of commission I simply couldn’t do that. I had to force myself to listen, to concentrate. For some strange reason, I found that if I cocked my head to one side, I could hear and remember better. Go figure.
3. One of the surprising benefits of using my left hand on the mouse was less shoulder pain. Long hours hunched into my keyboard, my right hand crazily on the mouse, as I scramble to a deadline, always left me with so much shoulder pain that I would reward myself with a massage when I finished a book. That hasn't happened since I broke my arm. I have a feeling it’s because I’m using my left hand and arm more, even now.
4. Maybe I’m increasing my brain capacity. After I broke my arm a friend sent me a link to an anti-aging article in Canadian Living
magazine which suggested that to keep your brain fresh, try using your non-dominant hand for small things around the house.
5. I learned that this is a right-handed world. Simple things, like using scissors, or a can opener are incredibly awkward when you try to use them left-handed. It gave me an appreciation for our southpaw friends.
6. I learned the benefit of voice recognition software. Now, I won’t be without it. MacSpeech was newly available last year, and I ordered it for my MacBook. By the time I received it in Canada, however, I only had a couple more weeks in my cast. I loaded the program, anyway, and have been working with it ever since. I’m finding that it’s wonderful for first drafts. I put the headset on, stare into space, visualize my story and characters and just start talking. Come to think of it, maybe that’s helping with the shoulder pain.
It’s been a while and my right arm is better, but not perfect. But, I’ve learned that even through frustrating circumstances, there are always lessons we can learn.
BLACK ICE, ACFW Suspense Book of the Year!
SHADOWS IN THE MIRROR, winner of the Word Guild award for best romance
SHADOWS AT THE WINDOW, July '08 - an RT Top Pick
A Day in the Life of a Cystic Fibrosis kid.
Many of you are aware of the Unleash Your Story fund-raiser for Cystic Fibrosis that the WNP has been supporting during the month of September.
I'm the mother of a CF child, and I promised I’d write up a little about what it’s like to have a child with Cystic Fibrosis. If you'd like to support our efforts to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis research, click here for my donation page.
We're trying to raise $3000 for CF research, and we're so close--at $2200 today! Please help by clicking here to donate.
First, you’d never know by looking at my Pirate Boy that he’s got a fatal genetic disease. He looks like a normal, healthy ten-year-old.
Some CF kids are thin and slight, and many are fair and pale (my son is more fair than his sisters, but I’m fair-skinned, so I’m not sure if that’s genetics or not). They also get what’s called “clubbing” on the tips of their fingers. Their fingers can get a little thicker at the tips.
Do this: put your two thumbs together, knuckle to knuckle. See the elliptical space between your nails? Lots of CF kids don’t have that space; their fingers are thicker at the ends. It’s not hugely noticeable unless you’re looking for it.
Anyway, for those of you who are wondering exactly what CF does: in a nutshell, it causes the body to produce a thick, heavy mucus that clogs the organs–especially the lungs and pancreas. This means that any sort of bacterial infection in the lungs is super serious, and that what might be a simple cold or flu can turn into a major problem for a CF kid. Usually, it’s complications with lung infections that cause the death of a CF patient.
Also, the clogging of the pancreas means that the digestive enzymes can’t move from the pancreas to the small intestine, and therefore fats and some other nutrients can’t be absorbed. This means that CF patients need to eat large, high-calorie meals and take digestive enzymes every time they eat…anything. Any. Thing.
So for Pirate Boy, I get him up for school in the morning and we do his morning breathing treatment. This consists of an albuterol treatment through an inhaler and spacer, along with a nebuilzed (misty) dose of Pulmozyme. Both of these inhaled medicines work to open the lung’s airways, and then to break down the mucus that could be clogging there. Also, Pirate Boy puts on a special vest that is attached to a machine that vibrates his chest.
He wears this vest for 20-30 minutes twice a day. This, along with the lung medications, works to keep those lungs open and the passageways clear, and to break down the mucus. It all works together.
Pirate Boy usually reads or draws or plays with his WarHammer figures, or pirates (he’s not called Pirate Boy for nuthin’) during his treatment. He’s used to it, and although most of the time he does it without hassle, there are moments.
So then, every time he has a meal or snack or anytime anything goes in his mouth (except water), he needs to take his digestive enzymes. He has to take them as he’s eating, or they aren’t effective. He also has to eat a high calorie, high fat diet. This becomes a problem with us for a few reasons:
1. The rest of us don’t need cheese or butter or whatever on everything we eat!
2. Pirate Boy is a veggie eater…and he doesn’t like Ranch dressing. (The nutritionist would think she’d died and gone to heaven if he would eat his veggies dipped in Ranch dressing. But not my Pirate Boy. He likes them fresh and raw and unadorned.) He doesn’t like cheese on his broccoli or cauliflower. Or on his hamburgers. Or fries. He doesn’t like tartar sauce on his fish. The kid eats wayyyy too healthy! (Ironic, isn’t it?)
3. We’re always nagging him to eat, eat, eat. I know he gets tired of hearing this, but it’s so important for a CF kid to eat often and well. Since they have to overcompensate for their malabsorption problems (ie, the fat and calories not digesting properly), it’s important for them to eat extra. And not only that, but being at a healthy weight makes it easier for them to fight off any lung infections when/if they come.
He’s old enough now that he gets his own snacks, and sometimes he forgets to take his enzymes. (Not always; he’s getting better.) If he does, what happens? Well, the food pretty much goes straight through him and out the other end. We can always tell when he’s missed a dose of enzymes!
So, this means every time he goes to a friend’s house or to any sort of event, he needs to take enough enzymes with him. And he needs to remember to take them. (That’s the hardest part.)
And then the kids see him taking medicine whenever he eats, and he does get tired of explaining why he takes them. Fortunately, he’s not at the stage where it bothers him or makes him feel “different” (although I know that is coming)…but as he puts it, he simply gets tired of saying that it’s medicine that he has to take to help him digest his food.
It’s really interesting and heartwarming to me that people who meet Pirate Boy recognize that there’s something different about him. And there is–and I don’t mean his CF. There’s an aura about him, a sort of glow, an energy or a deep happiness…something. I’m not kidding, and I’m not saying this because I’m his mom. He has a “way” about him…that’s the only way I can describe it.
When he was a baby, I went to a psychic at a psychic fair. I told her nothing about myself except that I was married and had two children. She said, “Your son. Does he have asthma? Or something with his lungs?”
“Er. Yeah. He does.” At first I thought she was going to say he was going to die or something!
She looked at me and said, “This boy is very special. He is going to really make an impression on a lot of people. Really make a difference in their lives…to a lot of people. He’s really special.”
Well, I already knew that. But she said that, and it’s stuck in my head for years now…and I’ve found it to be true. There’s something about Pirate Boy. Anyone who’s met him can tell you that.
So I thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart for supporting our endeavors here to raise money for him and for other CF kids–kids who aren’t at their optimal weight, who are in the hospital every quarter, who just can’t seem to get healthy. Thank you and God bless.
Labels: Colleen Gleason, Cystic Fibrosis, Unleash Your Story
EXERCISE FOR THE BRAIN
For me, daily exercise is more about the brain than the dress size. If I go two days without walking, biking, or moving in some form, I begin to feel sluggish and writing becomes a struggle. About two years ago I decided to make exercise a priority and I’ve never been happier.
All month on the Wet Noodle Posse we’ve been talking about staying healthy and positive. FOR ME, exercise is the key to staying happy and healthy. Exercise in ANY form rejuvenates me. I’ve been trying new things like hiking and kayaking (see picture). Exercise doesn’t have to take a lot of time either. Jog to the mailbox and back. Walk the dog. Walk the kid. Take the family kayaking or hiking for a few hours next Sunday. It’s a FUN and inexpensive way to get outdoors and see the world.
According to Wikipedia
, exercise is beneficial to the brain by:
- increasing the blood and oxygen flow to the brain
- increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and promote
synaptic plasticity (helps strengthen the connection of two neurons)
- increasing chemicals in the brain that help cognition (the processing
There are so many conflicting reports on how much exercise is good for you. I’m not a doctor, but I say do what feels right for you. And, of course, if you have health problems, consult a doctor first!
It’s easy to exercise every day because so many daily activities count as exercise. For instance, gardening counts! So does housecleaning or walking up and down the stairs. I spent two hours on Saturday pulling weeds and pruning. That was my exercise for the day!What do you do to keep yourself moving? What’s your favorite exercise?
Labels: exercise, Writers' Health
This week on the Wet Noodle Posse
Writers' Health month continues as fall begins.
Monday, September 22nd: Theresa Ragan "Exercise"
Tuesday, September 23rd: Colleen Gleason "Being a CF Kid--Unleash Your Story"
Wednesday, September 24th: Guest Blogger Linda Hall (Romantic Suspense Author)
Thursday, September 25th: Michelle Buonfiglio of Romance B(u)y the Book
Friday, September 26th: Q & A (Readers Ask Questions, Noodlers Answer)
Labels: Colleen Gleason, Linda Hall, Romance B(u)y the Book, Theresa Ragan, Unleash Your Story
Q & A Friday!
Happy Friday to all! We hope you've enjoyed this week's blogs covering several aspects of Writers' Health. Now is the time for questions from our readers. Is there a question about Writers' Health that you'd like to ask?
To get the Q&A started, I'll throw out a question inspired by one of our blogs this week. Guest blogger Jennifer St. Giles mentioned the song "The Impossible Dream" describes what an author goes through on the way to making her deadline. I have often felt that Peter Gabriel's "Walk through the Fire" on the Against All Odds soundtrack fits my process and journey. What song lyrics fit your writing process?
Labels: songs and writing
Julianne MacLean on Staying Fit
Hi ladies! Thanks so much for having me as your guest this month. I’ve been reading some of the other blogs here about health issues, and you all have so many helpful tips, and bring up interesting, important issues.
Health is a subject dear to my heart, as I have had to struggle with a number of issues throughout my life (oh, how I love junk food), but struggle I do! I’ve managed to stay slim and I am now more fit at 42 than I was at 30. But it’s never been an effortless affair. I’ve always had to work for it.
I come from a creative, artistic family, and that often seems to translate into a sedentary lifestyle, especially when you’re an introvert, which is very common for writers. I suppose when so much activity is going on inside your head, it’s enough to keep you stimulated and entertained. You can sit and stare at the wall for hours and not get bored.
Unfortunately these days, like Trish said, the computer has brought this sedentary state-of- being to the general population, by keeping people in their chairs, even for “playtime.” And with technology, everything is more efficient – even food preparation. Processed convenience foods are so much quicker. (Which is actually a total lie in my opinion, because you still have to stand at the stove and cook Hamburger Helper; I can stir fry fresh veggies and cook a piece of haddock in the same amount of time).
So many elements of our unhealthy lifestyles are simply habits, which we can change. One change I made – something I never thought I could ever do - was take up running, which I started in my early thirties. Seriously, no one in my creative family was ever into sports. Are you kidding me?? Going for a walk was all we ever did, and only on a nice day to admire the color of the sky. (Down below I’ll outline how I got started with running. You can, too!)
I’m very grateful that I married an athletic man, because I unwittingly became a member of a very active family. My in-laws (now seventy) ski in the winter, swim in the summer, and WALK to their gym year round to work out with weights and take fitness classes. They’ll even tramp through a foot of snow to get there. It was an eye opener for me to see everyone in that household embrace regular physical activity in that way.
I now run five days a week. I can take a day off, but my rule is to never go two days in a row without it, unless I’m at a conference or something. It has become a regular part of my day. I usually run on a treadmill as opposed to going outside because it’s easier on my joints and muscles, and weather is never a factor to give me an excuse not to do it.
I run for 30 minutes, then walk for ten more. I listen to my favorite music on my headphones, which inspires me, and watch Home and Garden Television on mute. I do my best plotting when the endorphins kick in after 25 minutes. Seriously. All plot holes get filled, and any stuck wheels get unstuck.
And if you think you don’t have time to exercise, YOU DO. I used to think I had to prioritize when I was on a deadline, and naturally the writing came first. What I’ve discovered is that when I give up the exercise to produce more pages, I am not more productive. Last year I made a decision to skip my regular run for a whole week to “up” my page count, but my page count stayed exactly the same as when I stole that hour-per-day to exercise. I didn’t accomplish anything extra, and I gained a pound!
Oh, there’s so much more to say about staying healthy, so many tips and recipes, and I didn’t even mention metabolism. Okay, I’ll just say this: people think skinny people are skinny because they were born with a fast metabolism. There may be some truth to that, but YOU CAN – AND SHOULD – BE IN CONTROL OF YOUR METABOLISM.
Think of it this way - your metabolism is like a roaring campfire, and you want it to burn hot and fast. You must FEED it fuel so it doesn’t go out. Skipping meals to lose weight is the WORST thing you can do. You need to eat a healthy breakfast first thing in the morning, and NEVER skip a meal. Have a healthy snack between meals, whether you’re hungry or not. Don’t let the fire go out!
Here’s how it should be:
It ain’t rocket science, baby! Just make sure your snacks are healthy, not junky. Good choices are:
Plain non-fat yogurt with a handful of blueberries and a sprinkling of sliced almonds
An apple, sliced, with all natural peanut butter spread on the slices
Any piece of fruit or berries
Raw veggies and low fat dip (I use Kraft Light Cucumber Dressing)
A handful of natural almonds, without salt
It takes about three weeks to get your metabolism where it should be if you do this. Add the exercise on top of that, and pounds will burn.
Finally, I promised above to tell you how you can get started running, even if you are a couch potato who gets winded climbing a flight of stairs. That was me once, but not anymore! Anyone can do it this way. (Though if you have specific health issues, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program).
Here’s how I did it:
I started by walking 2 minutes, running for 30 seconds, walking 2 min, running 30 sec, for 20 minutes total. I won’t lie, it was tough. I did that 3 times in a week.
The second week I increased it to walk for 2 minutes, run for one minute, walk for 2, run for one - for 20 minutes total.
The third week I walked for one minute, ran for one minute (again, very tough each time you increase, but worth it). Do this for 20 minutes total.
The fourth week I walked for one minute, ran for two minutes…. Get it? Keep increasing your running time by one minute per week.
Your goal is to run for 10 minutes straight, walk for one minute, then run 10 minutes again. If you get there - Congratulations - you’re a real runner!
Following that, you can increase your time by 10% each week, but no more than that. Now I’m up to 30 minutes (I still walk for one minute after every ten), then I walk the final 10. I’ll never go over that because I don’t ever want to risk an injury. This is quite easy for me now, and I like it that way.
I’d love to hear other stories about how you started an exercise program if you weren’t active before. Making the change is the toughest part, but once it becomes a habit, you feel great.
A WRITER’S LIFE: COPING WITH STRESS By Debra Holland, Ph.D
To write for a living exposes authors to the unique stress of this profession. This is not a job where you show up a 9 am, do the work someone assigns to you, and go home at 5 pm. Writers are creative people who aren’t allowed to just sit at a keyboard and enjoy wrestling with their muse (which in and of itself can be a stressful process.) They must also cope in the publishing world, regardless of their affinity for business.
Writing is a profession that requires you to multitask. To be a successful author, you must also be good at sales and publicity, accounting, networking, public speaking, dealing with the public, arguing with your editor with just the right degree of tact, plus many other things.
Writing requires the self-discipline to spend long hours at home on your computer, regardless of what you’d rather be doing. When you write, you cannot leave your job behind at the office. In fact, many authors have a day job, and still have to carve writing time out of the rest of their day. Even when you write full time, family, friends, household tasks, and other commitments pull at your time and energy. It’s not the same as having a structured schedule where someone else supervises you.
For most authors, they ALWAYS have writing hanging over their heads, either to meet a current deadline, or come up with new proposals/books. The “I should be writing” guilt is difficult to shake off, thus making it hard to completely relax. Story ideas or characters sometimes don’t leave you alone, not letting you sleep, or be completely present when you interact with others.
To be a published author means your cherished work is exposed to public scrutiny, not just with a small group of people, but nation, and maybe world, wide. Not only do you have the internal and external pressure to do your best work, but once it’s published, then anyone, no matter how ignorant, can criticize your book. Reviews, gossip, sales figures fly across the internet, phone lines, and other media. And since you can’t please everyone every time, there is ALWAYS someone who doesn’t like your book, and of course you get to hear or read their critique, which can be hurtful and shaming.
As an author, you release your book from your control, giving your creation to people who will not appreciate it in the same way you do, nor take the care which would lead to its best success. You don’t control much of the process--if and when it’s bought, how much you make on an advance, your print run, your covers, the amount of publicity the publisher does for you, etc.
For most authors, the writing income is uncertain. You must make financial decisions and budgets when you don’t know when the next chunk of money will come, and how much it will be. Worry about money is one of the top causes of stress, and the number one topic couples argue over.
Our profession is very competitive, yet we aren’t necessary the ones doing the competing. It’s the publishing professionals who are making the choices, and the consumers who buy our books. There are even lists to shout to the world where we stand. And even if you are not competitive by nature, it’s hard not to compare your writing output to someone who might be able to write more books a year than you, or feel a twinge of envy when you hear of someone else receiving a hefty advance or making the New York Times list, especially if you know your writing is just as good or better. Every time you read a good book, it’s difficult not to compare, and have self-doubts.
When you write for a living, you have to cope with fear. Fear that you can’t come up with a new story idea, write it well, meet your deadline, sell, make enough to live on.... The list goes on and on.
Negative rumors sweep through our industry. “The mid list is shrinking.” “Everyone’s having a hard time selling.” These are examples of some common rumors. It’s hard not to get caught up in other people’s fear. It’s easy to forget that even if the rumor is true, it doesn’t have to apply to you. You can still do well, even if no one else is.
THE EFFECTS OF STRESS
When your body activates the stress response, your brain signals the adrenal glands to release the hormones cortisol and norepinephrine, which pour into the bloodstream, releasing glucose and fatty acids to provide energy to the muscles, and trigger the flight or fight response. Your heart rate increases, and your blood pressure, breathing, and metabolism go into hyperdrive, all so you can react quickly in a high-pressure or threatening situation. Continuous exposure to stress hormones take a toll on the human body, mind, and spirit.
If you experience frequent or unrelenting stress, you might remain locked into a negative pattern of stress response. Your body cannot sustain this type of alertness without side affects, often leading to long-term damage. The relentless exposure to daily, chronic anxiety is the most toxic form of stress. Stress wears down your immune system increasing your risk of illness. Stress damages neurons in the brain, causing memory problems. Stress can lead to weight gain, interfere with sexual performance, and lead to heart attacks and premature death, peptic ulcer disease, and insomnia. Stress can lead us to act irrationally and make poor decisions. High cortisol levels result in increased appetite and fat deposits, typically in the cervical area, trunk and abdomen. In the average person, stress, poor nutrition, and sleep deprivation contributes to a decline in memory which starts around age 40.
A person under stress may experience negative psychological responses such as fear, anger, frustration, worry, depression, irritability or despair.
The antidote to stress is the relaxation response. During the relaxation response, your endocrine and nervous systems activate changes to slow your heart rate, improve your circulation and digestion, and relax your muscles. This counteracts the stress response.
10 LIFE TECHNIQUES TO HELP REDUCE STRESS
1. Take Deep Breaths. Breathing is the quickest way to trigger the body’s relaxation response. When you breathe, make sure your stomach expands and contracts. Also, relax your shoulders and the rest of your muscles.
2. Practice visualization. Change what you are thinking about to a peaceful scene. A walk on the beach or through a forest is good.
3. Process your feelings. Don’t suppress or act out your feelings. If you are in the middle of a stressful situation, and it’s possible to walk away, do so. Then take the time to think through what you are feeling. If you need more help with processing, then journal or talk to a close friend, family member, or therapist. Don’t make any decisions until you have done this. Once you’ve processed your feelings, you can decide how to handle the situation.
4. Avoid procrastination. Procrastination leads to anxiety and lack of self-esteem. Whatever project or situation you are avoiding continues to hang over your head. If you have to rush to finish the project at the last minute, it won’t be done well.
5. Eat Healthy. Stress can increase your appetite and make you crave foods that contain high calories and few nutrients.
It’s important to consume plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish.
Eat breakfast. Make sure your meal is low on sugars and high on protein.
Plan ahead so you have lots of healthy snacks that you can grab and munch. Nuts, protein bars (look for low carb, low sugar ones), veggie sticks (which you buy precut at the store), olives, cheese sticks, yogurt, peanut butter (have your own jar so you can take out a spoonful.)
Limit consumption of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and sugar. These cause the body’s stress response to become heightened. (Although an occasional dose of chocolate is ok.)
6. Drink plenty of water. Dealing with difficult situations depletes the body of water, leading to drowsiness, listlessness, and more stress.
7. Engage in pleasurable activities. Make time to do the things you love. By having a balance between work and leisure activities, you can experience greater satisfaction in your life.
8. Take charge (which is different from taking control.) Ask yourself what you can do to minimize the pressure. Make a list of steps. Take one at a time.
9. Take vitamins and minerals. Stress causes the body to burn more vitamins and minerals, specifically vitamin B complex, magnesium, and zinc; these nutrients are needed for blood sugar balance. When their levels drop, stress levels increase. Also, the adrenal glands require more vitamin C and pantohenic acid (part of the vitamin B complex) during stressful times.
10. Exercise at least three days a week.
Numerous studies have shown that moderate physical activity helps modulate mood, reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and program the brain for optimism instead of pessimism. Moderate exercise can help reduce the body’s production of cortisol during stressful times.
The greater your level of fitness, the less brain tissue you will lose as you age. Aerobic exercise pumps more blood to the brain, bringing vitalizing oxygen and nutrients to cells, slows the rate of normal brain-cell death, and increases the production of brain cells.
Labels: Debra Holland, stress and writers
A FABLE, AN OXYMORON OR JUST A TALL TALE? By Guest Blogger Jennifer St. Giles
No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. Yes, you are in the right blog. The subject in question as I struggle to keep my eyes open and make coherent sentences is A Writer’s Health. My first reaction to such an oxymoron is to laugh. I mean really, for a writer to have real health would imply that he/she had a stable, rational, and only moderately stress inducing occupation. That will never be the case in the Wild Wild World of Publishing. One minute you’re on a bestseller list, the next minute you can’t sell a book. Then when you finally do set a hard deadline for a book, Murphy’s Law and every obnoxious goal destroying imp crawls out of the woodwork and conspires against you.
You think you’re going to set regular working hours where everyone respects that a creative mind if not genius is at work.
You think you’re going to eat healthy, small, but frequent meals to keep nutrients and energy in your body for maximum brain power.
You think you’re going to take five to ten minute breaks every hour to stretch your muscles and get your blood flowing.
You think you’re going to have a set exercise time to release all of those knots of tension.
You think you’re going to pace yourself perfectly so every day is pleasant, ordered, and productive.
But that rarely ever happens because oft times Writing is a Fabled Quest that can be best expressed by Joe Darion’s lyric for Don Quixote’s unforgettable song in Man of La Mancha.
To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...
This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...
And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm, when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...
So when I hear stories of writers that have perfectly normal schedule with a lucrative career, who always diet right, exercise three times a week, have time for tennis or golf, and scrap book on the weekends after they’ve gone shopping or white water rafting with their five kids, I file that story away along with Pecos Bill taming the west while riding a twister.
Because in truth one can never truly harness creativity as one does a plow horse and writing is all about creativity. So a healthy writer realizes this and does what he/she can to minimize the fall out. There will always be the crazy rush and the deadline hell.
Currently that is where I am at, working on Bride of the Wolf with a Blind hero chained in the dungeon and a heroine in the clutches of a vampire bent on tearing apart her soul. I haven’t figured out how who will save who yet, but I’ll get there. Just remember that in all the craziness there are moments when a writer can sit back, relax. and enjoy the rewards of a story well told.www.jenniferstgiles.com I also have some great gothics on the shelf, so check them out, too.
Happy Reading and I hope that you found a glimmer of advice in this rambling. And I invite you to check out my paranormal Shadowmen Series. Touch A Dark Wolf, Book 1. Lure of the Wolf, Book 2, Kiss of Darkness, Book 3 Coming 4/09. Bride of the Wolf Book 4. Coming 5/09.
Thank you for letting me share.
Jennifer St. Giles
Labels: Jennifer St. Giles, Writers' Health
Think Positive! by Diane Gaston
It is vitally important to develop a healthy body, but we also need a healthy mind, one with a positive outlook on life. A positive outlook has been scientifically shown to improve school performance, improve immune function, hasten recovery from surgery, even increase the chances of recovery from cancer. There are many self-help books that advocate a positive outlook, including the hugely popular book and video, The Secret
, and, of course, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking
How, you ask, can we think positive in the writing field when 99% of the experience is rejection? We’re rejected on query letters, partials, full manuscripts. If published we get rejected on proposals or criticized in negative reviews. We enter contests and get trashed by judges or scored just low enough to miss the finals.
How can a person stay positive amidst all this? Much is out of our control, too. You might write a terrific book only to discover that publisher’s biggest author just delivered one with a similar premise. Or you get this close to selling and the line closes. Or the publisher folds.
You can’t change the writing world, but you can change the way you think about it. You can train yourself to think positive. Here are some tips:1. Be aware of your automatic thoughts
Automatic thoughts are those things we say to ourselves in response to the things that happen to us. Notice how often those thoughts are negative. We all have them.
For example, you receive a rejection letter from a publisher. You throw it down and think, “I’ll never sell!” That’s a negative automatic thought.2. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
Don’t let those rejection experiences get you down. You are allowed to say, “That stinks!” but it is a different thing to say “that stinks” than say “I’ll never sell.”
A positive thought could be: “I’m just like Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King and JK Rowling!” Or “Won’t this editor be sorry when I hit the NYT bestseller list.” Or “What can I learn from this?” “What do I do next?”3. Reframe the experience
Instead of defining the experience in a negative way, find a way to think about it positively.
Before I sold I thought of myself as on a journey to publication. Everything that happened, good or bad, brought me closer to publication. When those rejections or abysmal contest scores came in, I made myself think, “I’m one step closer!”4. Repeat positive affirmations
I have a friend, Noeline, who taught me about positive affirmations, things to repeat to yourself to keep you in that “positive thinking” mode. Things like:
Never never never give up--Winston Churchill (my favorite)
“Follow your bliss!”
“God wants me to be happy.” (Noeline first gave me this notion. What a revelation! I’ve repeated it often to myself)
“I deserve happiness.” (same thing without a religious context)5. Visualize positive results
This weekend Noodler Trish Milburn
spoke to Washington Romance Writers. She told us about an empty picture frame she kept above her monitor for a photo of herself next to a bookstore shelf containing her first book. She actively imagined that photo.
Here is that photo. Trish with her debut book, A Firefighter in the Family
, on bookshelves now.
So, think positive, believe you will succeed, believe you deserve it and picture it happening. You will feel better, be healthier, and will exude confidence in your inevitable success.What negative automatic thoughts plague you?What do you do to keep yourself positive?Do you have any positive affirmations you would like to share?See Diane’s new book video here! Diane’s Scandalizing the Ton is available now on eHarlequin and coming to bookstores in October.Diane is also participating in the Unleash Your Story challenge as part of the Wet Noodle Posse Team, raising money for Cystic Fibrosis. Help her earn her donation goal here. Read Noodler Colleen Gleason's story about her son with CF here.
Labels: A Firefighter in the Family, Diane Gaston, positive thinking, Scandalizing the Ton, The Secret, Trish Milburn
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
This week we continue our month-long topic of Writer’s Health. Remember that responding to a post puts you in the running for this month's reader's choice raffle: a first chapter critique or bookstore gift certificate. The more you post, the better your chance of winning! Also, if there's a question about Writers' Health you're dying to ask, let us know. We'll be sure to address it on Friday.
Monday, September 15th: Diane Gaston “Think Positive”
Tuesday, September 16th: Guest Blogger Jennifer St. Giles (USA Today Bestselling Author of Gothic Historical and Paranormal Romance)
Wednesday, September 17th: Debra Holland “Stress and the Writers’ Life”
Thursday, September 18th: Guest Blogger Julianne MacLean (USA Today Bestselling Author of Passionate Historical Romance)
Friday, September 19th: Q&A (Readers Ask Questions, Noodlers Answer)
The Posse would like to extend cyber hugs to the Hurricane Ike survivors, those still in the storm's path, and to those readers who lost loved ones in the Los Angeles rail tragedy.
Labels: Debra Holland, Diane Gaston, Jennifer St. Giles, Julianne MacLean, Writers' Health
Q & A
It's Friday, and you know what that means--question and answer time.
Yesterday, Colleen wrote about healthy eating, which we should all strive for, but she also mentioned that she occasionally indulges in dark chocolate. So what do you indulge in, in moderation?
Me, you ask? I love apple pie or blueberry cobbler a la mode. But I don't eat this often, I swear!
Labels: Writers' Health
Brain Food: Eating to Feed Creativity and Clarity
The mental image of a hard-at-work author sitting at a desk with computer, or pen and paper, or typewriter, often seems to include a half-full bottle of whiskey...or a steaming cup of coffee...soda cans...even a smoking cigarette. And, in my world, there's always chocolate too.
But in reality, those items (except for the chocolate! Really! Read on...) serve only to give one an artificial high or boost, and in the end cause more problems than they're worth--even if they help you get through that project.
Ask Stephen King. (Or read his book On Writing
.) He talks about using artificial substances to promote his writing. Anyway, I digress....
I know there are times when I have to finish a project (or a word count or page count) and I need to push myself. I used to turn to Diet Coke and chocolate, or anything I could grab from the kitchen. Comfort (ie, junk) food. Anything quick and easy to keep me going. I'd worry about health and losing weight later.
But in the last year I've realized that eating healthier actually keeps my brain fresher, it also provides more clarity and inspiration. It makes writing easier!
I've given up my Diet Coke (cold turkey), and not only has my skin never looked better, but I sleep better at night...and I feel better.
Here are some examples of what I call "brain food" that can help you keep your mind sharp and clear, and give you a natural boost when you're working those long hours to get a project done. (Although...a good night's sleep of 7-8 hours is of paramount importance too.)
1. Get rid of the caffeine and artificial sweetners.
(I know. I can hear your groans from here. But it helps...trust me.) If you get off that artificial high, you'll feel better and sleep better in the long run.
If you need caffeine, drink green or white tea. Sweeten it with a bit of honey or natural sugar, or even agave nectar. Green and white teas are loaded with anti-oxidants...and they seem to help people lose weight. A win-win situation, don't you think?
Stash brand tea is some of my favorite.
2. Eat whole foods.
That is, eat foods that are still in their original form. Berries--especially blueberries (they're truly a wonder food!) are a great brain food, but they're no good if they're smashed up in granola bars or dried with a lot of sugar, or canned in syrup.
3. Ginseng, peppermint, and ginger
are great options for clearing the mind. You can add them to tea (by ginger I mean the fresh root you find in the produce section, not the powder you add when you bake) or buy supplements. I love a peppermint tea in the morning: it clears my sinuses too, and it smells so good.
4. Omega 3 Fatty acids.
You're hearing a lot about them, and there's a reason for it. They're healthy and they keep your brain clean. You can either eat a lot of fish and/or sunflower seeds, and some nuts, or you can take supplements to help you get enough of the Omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Whole grains.
(This goes back to the "whole foods" concept.) Not that spongy white bread you get in the store...look for breads or flatbreads that list "whole grain" or "whole wheat" first on the list of ingredients.
6. And, yes, chocolate
. (Yay!) But make it dark
chocolate, and don't overdo it. By dark chocolate I mean chocolate with at least 60% cacao in it. (It'll say on the package if it is.)
Here's a great slideshow
at WebMD.com that shows you how beautiful Brain Foods are--see the variety of color and texture? If you're eating a rainbow of foods, you're doing well.Here's one of my favorite quick recipes for a breakfast smoothy:
+ 1 cup skim milk
+ 1/2 banana
+ handful of frozen (without added sugar) blueberries or strawberries (fresh is fine, too, of course)
+ a teaspoon (or the insides of a capsule) of ginger or ginseng
+ Toss it in the blender, and you have a fabulous smoothy that includes healthy dairy and brain food.
(You can substitute unsweetened soy or unsweetened almond milk too.)
orGreen Smoothie Energy Drink
+ 1 cup water
+ half an avocado
+ an apple
+ fresh sprouts (broccoli)
+ generous handful of spinach
+optional: a bit of spirulina (a seaweed supplement that comes in a powder; don't add too much if you don't like the taste of seaweed--no more than a half teaspoon)
+ Toss all in a blender and have a very green smoothy.I also like to make this for lunch:
+ couscous (1 cup of instant cooks in five minutes)
+ black beans, drained
+ cut up avocado
+ pine nuts
+ cut up veggies--spinach, red or yellow peppers, broccoli, tomatoes--whatever you want, and the more the merrier!
+ fat-free feta cheese
+ Mix it all up and add a sprinkling of balsamic or tarragon vinegar. Yummy and smart!What are some of your favorite brain foods? Share! I'm always looking for great recipes.
Colleen Gleason. Visit my personal blog
for more fun and frolic!
Cruising and Other Relaxing Nightmares
Right about now, I'm only six days away from the trip of a lifetime, which includes 5 days in Spain and a 7 day cruise of the Western Mediterranean. In Search of Heroes, I call it, because in a way it's like continuing the adventure I started in 2004 with my trip to England, which was the trip of a lifetime then. And when I get back, a major thing for me to do will be re-vamp my blog, which I will call-- ready for this? In Search of Heroes! Isn't that what romance is all about, anyway?
Writers don't take enough vacations. They take trips, sure, but do they take real vacations? When aren't they studying people in a search for new characters, or evaluating the scenery for settings? Do they ever go into an old building, even the Sistine Chapel, without saying to themselves, "Hm, how can I use this?"
So I'm paying big bucks (okay, big bucks for me) for a nice relaxing tour from Barcelona through Malta, Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice and likely Monte Carlo, and maybe even a few other places. In thirteen days. Complete with two trans-continental-
trans-Atlantic flights. And I have a story to finish in the meantime, which seems to just get longer and longer at the end. Relaxing, huh?
We'll climb Montserrat in Barcelona (yeah you say, in what, a wheel chair?) hop a bus down to Tarragona, eat paella until we hate it, walk the city of Mdina, hike up Campanian hills to mountaintop villages, spend ten hours a day combing through ruins, and maybe inadvertantly catch an Italian sunburn. Yeah, relaxing.
Truth is, writers don't ever really relax. We get invigorated instead. We can look at a cracked plaster wall and suddenly we find just the right words to describe bricks instead of plaster. We'll be ordering in a fine restaurant, but secretly listening to the intonation in the waiter's voice. Museums are irresistable-- if the exhibits can't totally overwhelm us with new ideas, there are people all around us. Kids saying funny things, middle-aged women whose faces say what words don't, that oh, they wish they hadn't worn those shoes. Lovers completely absorbed in the amazing beauty of the Hope diamond, yet finding minute fractions of seconds to touch in discreet ways.
Sure, we lay down on massage tables or stretch out on decks beside magnificent swimming pools with the incredible Mediterranean Sea gleaming all around us in the most magnificent color of blue that man has ever seen. But we're secretly all wrapped up in this book of the next. We close our eyes, and to the world we're one more lazy beach bum. But not in our heads. We're testing the feel of the sand beneath our towels or how it squishes warmly between our toes. And we're seeing heroes and heroines making love at the edge of a lazy surf with the tropical sun setting behind distant trees and spreading long golden shadows where it doesn't turn the sea to sparkling like diamonds.
Other people relax. We hunt for new books. Other people have vacations. We have our searches for heroes. They pity us for our obsessions, I think. But do we care? No. We pity them because they have only one life to lead. Isn't that sad?
Get Up From That Desk
By Trish Milburn
We writers get the advice to BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard) all the time, and it’s good advice if you want to be productive. But I’d also like to advise you to get up from that chair at regular intervals. Your health could depend on it.
Like others before me have said, I’m not a medical professional. I don’t even play one on TV. But getting out of the chair a few minutes each hour, to me, is common sense. Why?1. Blood clots
– Recent studies
have shown that workers who sit at their desks for long periods of time without getting up are at a significantly higher risk of developing deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs). If these clots dislodge, they can travel to the lungs and heart and cause a pulmonary embolism or heart attack. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want a blood clot to be what does me in.2. Obesity
– The term “couch potato” has been around a long time, but I think as many or more of us are computer potatoes. Not only do we work at our desks, but we play there too. Combine work, e-mail, blogs, computer games, etc., and you’re looking at lots and lots of hours sitting in a chair. If we don’t get up and move, we might soon either need a bigger chair or a bed at the hospital.3. Eyestrain
– All that staring at a computer screen can lead to headaches and eyestrain. In fact, I have a headache right now, the root of which is likely staring at this computer screen.4. Productivity
– How many of you notice your productivity goes up if you get up from the computer for a few minutes every hour then come back to your work in progress? I know mine does. This is especially true if I’ve taken a half-hour break to walk on the treadmill. It gives my brain a break while doing something healthy for my body.
If you get so engrossed in your work that you often look up and two hours have passed without you getting up from your chair, invest in a kitchen timer or alarm clock for your office space. Set it for however long you want to work before a break – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, whatever, but I’d suggest an hour or less. Then set it again for the amount of time you want to be on your break – 10, 15, 30 minutes.
Another thing you might try is working standing up for a few minutes. Set your laptop or a hard copy of your manuscript on a taller surface like your kitchen counters, and work there to give your body a break from all that sitting.
Remember, getting published or continuing to sell books after you’re published doesn’t mean a lot if you’re not around to enjoy it. I’m certainly glad I’m still around to enjoy today – the release day for my first book.
Labels: Writers' Health
Desk Ergonomics -- Esri Rose
Mark Twain did a lot of his writing in his bed. My guess is that a little writing in bed messed up his back, and then he had to write in bed.
The more time you spend writing, the more important it is that your workspace works with your body, not against it. Here are the basics, keeping in mind that I’m not a doctor and have only my own experience (and whatever I’ve read) to qualify me for giving advice.
1) Don’t look down. Your computer monitor should be lined up with your line of sight when you’re sitting up tall. My laptop sits on a couple of phone books, with a separate keyboard plugged in.
2) Your elbows should bend at a nice right angle when you’re typing, and these same elbows should be at your sides. Your wrists shouldn’t be resting on anything but thin air.
3) Feet on the floor, and I mean all of your feet, not just the toes. Try not to cross your legs while you type. Oy, the things that does to your back.
4) Sit up tall. If you’re a healthy person, you should be able to sit without your back touching the chair, and it’s good to do that as much as possible. For those times when you’re pooped, a chair that supports your lower back is nice, as is a chair seat that tilts slightly forward.
Those are the basics. I own a laptop because I enjoy an occasional change of scene, but I try not to do too much work away from my ideal setting. If I'm on the couch, I put a lap desk under my laptop, which raises it, and I make sure my lower back is supported. When I brainstorm by writing longhand in a notebook, I try to do it at a fairly high table, like the kitchen table. When writing at a table, keep both feet flat on the floor, and bend more from the waist than the neck.
One last note: if you’re right-handed, consider mousing with your left hand. Way back when, I got tendinitis in my right wrist. My response was to start opening doors and using a computer mouse with my left hand. The tendinitis cleared up. You can buy a lefty mouse or reprogram your existing mouse to be left-handed. (PC users, go to Start menu, Control Panel, Mouse.) It took about a week to get used to the switch, and if I’m at someone else’s computer, my right-handed mousing skills are still flawless.
Esri Rose writes contemporary romantic-suspense novels featuring Tolkien-style elves. Her first book, Bound to Love Her, was a May 2008 release. The second in the series, Stolen Magic, will be available May 2009. You can visit her at ElvesAmongUs.com.
Labels: computing, ergonomics, writing
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
We have a great line up this week, our second in Writers' Health month.
Monday, September 8th: Esri Rose “Desk Ergonomics"
Tuesday, September 9th: Trish Milburn “Get Up from Your Desk Regularly”
Wednesday, September 10th: Delle Jacobs “Cruising and Other Relaxing Nightmares”
Thursday, September 11th: Colleen Gleason “Eating Right (Brain Food)”
Friday, Septermber 12th: Q&A (Readers ask questions, noodlers answer)
Don't forget that this month the raffle prize is Reader's Choice--either a first chapter critique (25 pages, 25 lines per page) OR a $20 gift certificate to the online bookstore of the reader's choosing. Each response to a blog post increases your chance of winning.
September Noodler Books!
New from Harlequin American - A Firefighter in the Family
by Trish Milburn
Miranda “Randi” Cooke left her family and her hometown on the Gulf Coast of Florida behind when a mistake she made as a firefighter led to tragedy. Now her job with the state fire marshal’s office has brought her back to Horizon Beach. Not only will she have to hunt down an arsonist, but she’ll also face the estrangement from her family and have to decide if she wants to give her love for former firefighter Zac Parker a second chance.
Just Say No
“Just say no” isn’t only an 80’s anti-drugs campaign catchphrase; it’s a mantra to recite if you are the kind of person who overextends herself volunteering.
Yesterday Karen Potter blogged about making sure we live a balanced life that includes time to write. Consider my blog an addendum to hers. To live a balanced life, we sometimes have to say “no:” no to the dust bunnies proliferating under our beds; no to being room mother for our child’s homeroom; no to chatting on the phone during writing time; no to baking homemade cupcakes for the soccer team; no to heading a committee that will suck much of our writing time.
Keep It Steady
Visualize the balance Lady Justice holds. You’ve got to keep your obligations, especially volunteer ones, level—especially if you’re currently living a balanced life. In the past, I said “yes” to just about everyone who asked me to do anything. I wanted to make everyone happy. In doing so, I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t do justice to all the volunteer activities in which I was involved. If I was doing an adequate job with one activity, it was because I’d let another one go until I was super-stressed trying to catch up with what I’d let drop. To regain my sanity, I learned to say no, and that I wasn’t a bad person for saying it. Now, if I say “yes” to a new activity, I drop one of the old ones. I didn’t take on chairing the sewing committee for my daughter’s ballet company until I’d completed my term as an RWA chapter president. I keep the balance level.
Love It or Leave It
Make sure the time you spend volunteering is enjoyable. An added bonus would be if your volunteer job makes the most of your talents. I wouldn’t claim to be the best seamstress because I’m not, but I do know how to use a machine and follow a pattern. I love sewing and learning about costuming. I also enjoy organizing things, so chairing the NEAB Seam Team was a good fit for me. On occasion I write press releases for the ballet, which I also like because it exercises different writing muscles than fiction. If you’re not getting something beneficial out of the time you’re spending volunteering, why are you doing it?
How about you? What have you said “no” to recently to protect your writing time?
Labels: Maureen Hardegree, Writers' Health
Striving for Balance
As women we all wear many hats. We are our mother’s daughters, our husband’s wives, our children’s mothers, our bosses workers, sisters, friends, mentors, and on and on. But what are we to ourselves? On life’s priority list, where do we, and our writing, fit in?
We invented multi-tasking before there was language. As soon as primitive woman figured out she could feed kindling into a fire with one hand while she had a baby perched on her hip, both jobs became hers, and ultimately ours.
So, are we destined to do only for others? Is there even one minute in the day we can call our own?
I know you’ve heard it before, but I’m going to say it again, and this time you’d better listen, chickies. YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF EVERYONE ELSE IF YOU DON’T TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. (shouting intentional). Unfortunately we can’t just tell our families, bosses and communities they’re on their own and head off to our own personal islands. We must strike a balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves.
How do we start, you may ask? First, by understanding that we are not bad people for wanting something for ourselves. Humans need solitude to think, to decompress, to regroup. Are you setting aside enough time for yourself? You may need to take out a piece of paper and draw a twenty-four hour clock on it, and block out where your time goes, or you may need to enlist your in-house time-suckers (and I say that lovingly, because there’s nothing more beautiful than a healthy, happy family) and negotiate some “me” time. Ask yourself, do you really need to sit on the couch with your mate while he watches a documentary on the History Channel? Do you really need to watch the children/grandchildren color?
I’m not suggesting you declare your independence by camping out on the front lawn or ignoring household chores until the refrigerator is empty and there are no clean clothes in the closets. What I’m suggesting is that you decide on a course of action, perhaps one-half hour each day or one evening each week for yourself. Don’t demand this time, negotiate it over a family dinner or special dessert. Your hard-working spouse or significant other may have been wondering how to ask the very same thing for himself.
Even if you’re single you may need to have this talk with yourself. If you come home from work each day tapped out from being available for any and all disasters for eight or nine hours straight, or care for family members or neighbors, you know what I’m talking about. You may need the same schedule of “me” time as everyone else. Those who write full-time or work out of the home may be laboring under the illusion that all their time is “me” time, but don’t fall into that trap. Everyone has responsibilities, everyone has challenges (busted pipes, car trouble, clogged gutters, etc.). You still need time for creative endeavors.
Once you’ve negotiated what you need, go at it with enthusiasm, but remember, there will be interruptions and the details may need to be renegotiated as time goes on. In the meantime, use that ability to multi-task that our long-ago mothers perfected: listen to craft tapes or CDs while cleaning; dictate into a lapel mike attached to a digital recorder while walking; ask your significant other to help you act out a tricky love scene.
Everyone has the same twenty-four hours each day. Why not use some of them for yourself? We’ll all be better off for it.