Turning Whine into Gold
If Facebook posts are to be trusted, all a creative writer needs to be productive is coffee, chocolate, and wine. Rather than flow rich with ideas and possibilities, the creative blood of many writers is a biochemistry experiment gone awry.
You already know why we rely upon caffeine, nutrient-poor snacks, and a well-deserved depressant in the evening to ease us toward sleep. Which is elusive, because the processed foods and wine we’ve consumed have secretly messed with our hormone cycle and at 3 a.m., BAM! Eyes wide open. Anxiety about our ineffective lives sets in. Perhaps even before last night’s wine is fully metabolized, we start caffeinating again.
Meanwhile, the brain fog resulting from these practices obscures the path to completing our novels. Many of us are skidding toward the end of 2016 with an energy balance in the red. The trials of the writing life—whether that means the tight deadlines and marketing demands of the published or the myriad uncertainties of the unpublished—have left us feeling exhausted, emotionally spent, and used up.
We are left wondering what happened to that creative life we intended to live. The morning pages, the artist dates, the photography walks. Reading whatever tickles your fancy. Stimulating conversations with other artists at a Parisian sidewalk café.
Oh. That would take time. And energy. Which makes me wonder if our beloved armchair addictions may be draining us more than nurturing us.
What if we replaced some of that coffee, chocolate, wine—and the time we spend talking about them on Facebook—with food and activities that actually nurtured us? We’d have the energy to be more productive. And once we are more productive, space would open in our schedules to engage in activities that renew our creative lives. That would be its own reward, and we wouldn’t “deserve” so much stuff that harms peak performance.
(This is a theory, mind you. Still working on implementation here.)
Creative writing is problem solving
Think of the advice you might give your teenage son the night before he must engage in a massive amount of problem solving. Say, taking the SAT. Add stakes: the outcome of the test will likely affect were he spends $200K+, the next four years, and his career beyond. Would you tell him to make sure he goes drinking the night before, stays up late, and then hops up on junk food and coffee the next morning?
Of course not. So why are we doing it? Think of all the problem solving required in our writing time alone: plot issues, word choice, scene structure, chaptering, pace, voice, and so much more. Then there is the energy required to keep you on an even emotional keel despite the head games inherent to a writing life. The energy required to come up with new ideas. The patience and stamina required to deal with day jobs, kids, spouses, elder care. We need healthy brains to effectively solve these problems.
I have a graphic representation of the creative life on my bulletin board. One arrow points to the top of a stick figure’s head, and says, “Fill your brain with all the information,” and another arrow points to the chair behind him and says, “and then sit a spell.” If your creative life is stuttering, how often are you filling your brain with new information and creative stimuli? How often do you give yourself time to sit a spell?
The irony here is that we all want to lead a creative life, but don’t give ourselves the time, inspiration, and nurturing that will allow us to do so.
What if we made the time?
If you are feeling stuffed, hung over, and sluggish after the holidays, you are ending the year at an emotional, psychological, and physical deficit. As we turn the corner, why not think about starting 2017 in the black?
What if we used the force of public commitment and state, right here and now, that we absolutely do have the time we need to nurture ourselves, accomplish our goals, and live the creative life we want—all while loving our families and friends?
It’s outrageous, right? But so is the notion that we will make enough money to become full-time writers, and we’re banking on that–while letting our health degrade.
So many voices fill my head right now. You will not part me with my coffee. Chocolate is healthy for you. I read about a woman who lived to be 110 and she had a glass of wine every day. And I’m well aware we all have ridiculous demands on our time that make us feel trapped. No need to share those, or to make excuses. Let’s head into 2017 with renewed optimism and commitment, shall we?
In the comments, write the words “I plan to recommit myself to a creative life by finding time to…” and then write one measure you could take to reinvigorate your writing life and/or improve the way you nurture your physical self. Let’s see if we can goose each other toward a more creative 2017!
Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” will appear in the forthcoming guide from Writers Digest Books, Author in Progress, available now for pre-order.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads workshops and speaks often about writing.