Spring Cleaning: Give Your Writing Space a Makeover

I have several writing spaces, including the couch, the library, and (weather permitting) the patio. But when I really need to focus, I have a designated, distraction-free place I can retreat to. I call it my “cave,” but it’s more like a hobbit hole: cozy, comfortable, and colorful. Here’s how I did itcomplete with photos!and what to consider when creating or reviving your own writing space.

Location

For most people, a writing space needs to be quiet, isolated, and close-able—meaning you can shut the door when needed and not be disturbed by noisy children, spouses, televisions, etc.

I chose a nook in my spare bedroom, partly because it was one of the few unused areas in my 800-square-foot apartment, and partly because it has a window. (I’m not sure why, but I’ve always believed there’s a special creative energy that comes from placing a desk under a window. Or maybe I just like looking up from my writing and being reminded that there is, in fact, a world outside the one on the page.)

Workspace

This is how much flat space your desk or table offers. More is usually better—personally, I like to have room for my laptop, a notebook, and a mug of cocoa at the very least. I would have loved a nice big L-shaped desk, but since space is at a premium in my apartment, I had to settle for something relatively small. I found a cute little desk at a thrift store for $20, then spent a weekend repainting it and replacing the hardware.

And don’t forget your desk’s necessary sidekicks: a comfortable chair and good lighting. Seriously. If you’re going to do most of your writing here, you need a place to sit that won’t give you chronic back pain. And if your room doesn’t have an overhead light, you’ll need to add a desk lamp or floor lamp. Otherwise, as my mother would say, you’ll ruin your eyes trying to write in the dark.

Storage

It’s important to have additional storage so your workspace doesn’t disappear under a pile of clutter (trust me, it happens faster than you’d think). Wall shelves, a hutch, desk drawers, and desktop organizers will put everything you need within easy reach while leaving plenty of room to write.

Although my writing desk doesn’t provide as much workspace as I’d like, it makes up for it with four spacious drawers. I’ve put them to good use, storing things like pens, paper, binders, staplers, writing resource books, lip balm, and emergency chocolate bars.

Décor

This is your space; spruce it up in whatever way speaks to you. For me that means bright colors, cute knickknacks, inspirational quotes, photos of my family, and any potted plants I can manage to keep alive. Many of these have some kind of meaning or positive memory attached—the owl statue I rescued from the dumpster, the glass bird my in-laws bought for me in Ireland, the inspirational quotes given to me by my mother. Obviously, you don’t want anything that will trigger negative emotions. Think rainbows and unicorns (or Hufflepuffs and hippogriffs—whatever floats your writerly boat).

Inspiration

Last but not least, my writing space wouldn’t be complete without my Wall of Encouragement. This is where I frame my successes—stories I’ve gotten published in magazines, the cover of an anthology I was featured in, an award I got in a novel contest. Any time I’m reeling from a rejection, struggling to write a tough scene, or just feeling discouraged, looking at this wall boosts my confidence and helps me get back on the horse.

Instead of a wall of encouragement, you could do an inspiration board where you tack up photos, magazine clippings, and quotes that help you visualize your work-in-progress. Or you could have a vanity shelf, filled with the books you’ve published or magazines you’ve appeared in—even if it’s empty, it’ll remind you of where you’re headed. Or you could hang up meaningful things like the first story you wrote as a child, the brochure from your last conference, a photo of you shaking hands with Neil Gaiman…whatever works to boost your writerly mentality.

Now, let’s see how I’ve incorporated these elements into my writing space…

What does your writing space look like?

Magic-Wand Words

Remember the Disney production of Cinderella, when the good witches waved their magic wands of blue, red and green? Their glitter flowed like Fourth of July sparklers, creating magic.

That’s what my blog is about this month—the magic that happens with words. In an entire novel, only a few or at most several dozen of them may appear. When they do, they connect us to the characters, embed us more deeply in the setting and emotions of the scene, and increase our enjoyment and understanding of the story. They linger in our memories.

These are a few of my favorite magic-wand words. Enjoy! May these words that so inspired me also inspire you to dig deeper in your creative reservoir. May your current work in progress sparkle!

Nora Roberts, Spellbound:  

… an exquisite simile

And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.

Nora Roberts, Public Secrets

... another one

She would remember the feel of the air against her face, air so moist from the sea it might have been tears.

 Nora Roberts, Sanctuary

… a character-enriching analogy

She walked to the water’s edge, let the surf foam over her ankles. There, she thought when the tide swept back and sucked the sand down over her feet. That was exactly the same sensation he was causing in her. That slight and exciting imbalance, that feeling of having the ground shift under you no matter how firmly you planted your feet.

Katie Schneider, All We Know of Love  

...melding scene and character

The clouds are pulled thin like cotton. I understand how they feel, out in the middle of nowhere, unsure of quite where they’re heading.

Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm

…skillful use of the senses

“I saw you in India.” Mrs. Humphrey had about her the slightly sour tang of an unchanged baby. “You took my clothes off.”

…expression of fury, revenge, stunning rhythm and great example of back-loading

He thought of the look on the Ape’s face, the relish of terror, the time it would take; he’d once seen two men hanged and quartered—the expression of the second condemned traitor as he watched the executioner cut down and butcher the first: that was the fear, that was the struggle, the prolonged kicking and spasms, that was the cringing, weeping, purple-faced, swollen-tongued, bloated sickening twitching entrails-sliding agony he was going to inflict.

Mary Jo Putney, Loving a Lost Lord

…fresh imagery

He wouldn’t need her, and that was as it should be. … When she was old and gray, the time she had known Adam would be the merest ripple in the lake of her life.

Annie Proulx, Close Range-Wyoming Stories

This passage slams the reader into the scene

“Hey, you’re old enough almost a be my grandmother. I rather eat rat jelly than—”

But he was edging closer and Mrs. Freeze saw his trick and the red-flushed neck swelled like that of an elk in mating season, the face beaded with desperate sweat.

...succinct characterization

“Think about it, give me a call.”

“I don’t need a think about it,” said Mrs. Freeze. She dropped the cap of the whiskey bottle, kicked it under the chair. She didn’t need that, either.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Memorable, humorous, backloading

“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar … mixed them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.

Barbara Bretton, Just Like Heaven

…exquisite rhythm and backloading

…she clung to his shoulders so she wouldn’t slide off the face of the earth and into some vast unknowable universe of shooting stars and fireworks and whispered warnings that some things are too good to be true.

Jacquelyn Michard, A Theory of Relativity

…another memorable simile

He had never been able to think of that except as “innocent,” as guileless and tender as a childhood Christmas.

Tina St. John, Lord of Vengeance

...word choices

The answer came swiftly, softly at first, a dark whisper that curled around him, anchoring his soul to the earth with shadowy tethers.

---

I hope you've enjoyed these magic-wand words. If you have some to share, please do!

 

Lessons Learned from My First Writing Retreat

A few weeks ago I attended my first-ever writing retreat, organized by my friend and fellow writer Natasha Watts (of RMFW’s Writer’s Rehab). I spent a weekend in a cabin in the Rockies with five other writers, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. Here’s what I learned, and what I’ll be doing next time.

1. Have a plan.

To get the most out of your retreat, you should have an idea of what you’re going to work on. This can be a specific goal, such as plowing through 20,000 words of your first draft; or it can be more vague, like researching a new project. Just make sure you spend time before the retreat deciding what you’ll work on, so you don’t waste any of your precious retreat time. It’s also a good idea to have a backup project in case you get burned out on your work-in-progress. For this retreat, my main goal was to make a dent in the next round of revisions on my novel. I also had a couple of short stories to work on when I needed a break from the novel.

2. Disconnect.

One of the biggest draws of a writing retreat is the chance to get away from ordinary life—and all the responsibilities and distractions that come with it. Take advantage of this. This doesn’t mean going completely MIA, it just means scheduling your communications rather than being in touch constantly. Check your phone two or three times a day, and then turn it off. Skype with your family for an hour after dinner, then disconnect from the internet. Don’t get on social media, and certainly don’t stay on it while you’re trying to write. Minimizing these distractions helped me maximize my productivity, and contributed to the overall calm, creative atmosphere of the retreat.

3. Take breaks.

It’s easy to think you’ll spend every waking hour of your retreat toiling diligently on your work-in-progress. But in reality, nonstop writing is rarely the best strategy for your productivity, or your general well-being. Everyone has their limit, and it varies from day to day and project to project. After a few hours of feverish writing on my novel, I sensed when I was running out of steam and allowed myself to take a break—whether to watch a movie, socialize with my fellow retreaters, take a nap, or work on a different project. When I returned to the novel an hour or two later, I was refreshed and recharged enough to dive into it again. And guess what? I made huge strides in my novel revisions, even though I wasn’t working on them 24/7.

4. Be social.

Again, you may envision yourself locked in your room, writing away, for the entire retreat. But try to suppress this urge. One of the main benefits of my writing retreat was the connections I made with fellow writers. Loosely scheduled activities such as hikes, board games, meals together, and critique sessions helped us get to know each other and share valuable writing lessons. We discussed our works-in-progress, time management strategies, conference experiences, and pretty much anything writing-related—which really got our creative juices flowing and lent a great energy to the retreat.

5. Enjoy the view.

You can hole up in a room at your own home—so while you’re on retreat, take advantage of the change of scenery. My retreat took place in a cabin in the mountains, so it was perfect for hiking, hot tubbing, taking photos, and enjoying the view. If you’re in a city, visit museums, art galleries, libraries, and restaurants. Go for walks around a park, zoo, or botanical garden. Take a class or work on an art project. These things will invigorate you and get fresh ideas flowing for your next writing session.

The biggest thing I learned from my first writing retreat is that I have to do it again. I got a lot of writing done, as expected, but I also got so much more out of the experience. If you get an opportunity to do a writing retreat, take it—your muse will thank you.

Lazy Writer’s Syndrome

Strategies to keep your story hot and productive

There’s nothing worse than Lazy Writer’s Syndrome. There are no symptoms in its early stages. It only becomes apparent when we look up from our busy lives and realize we haven’t been writing for—oh, ten days, ten weeks--ten months.computer-1053809_1280

We have an ongoing accountability system in my critique group. Those of us who choose to participate report in once a week with their new words written.  Originally, we aimed for the word count equivalent of 20 pages.

Any incentive program needs to be flexible to succeed, and ours has. When vacations, illnesses, family emergencies and the like occur, we adjust our weekly goals—or we just keep doing the best we can and turn in a wimpy report with pride because the overall goal is to keep writing new. It’s been an effective program for me.

Our reports vary from “Sent a query and wrote 300 new words” to amazing reports of over 10,000 new words. It depends on what life is presenting to us.

At times when I’m not writing new material, it’s seldom due to writer’s block. Rather, it’s because I’ve let the story get cold. When the story’s cold, the characters don’t drop in and talk to me. For those of you who think that sounds bizarre, it could also be expressed as moments when plot solutions come to you out of the blue—when showering, walking, or during the alpha state when sleeping.

If the story’s not “hot” – fresh and on my mind, as in when I’m writing new material – those character voices and plot inspirations never visit.

Never.

If I’ve allowed the story to get cold, I’m shut out. As Jeff Probst says on Survivor to the losers of the Immunity Challenge, “Head on back to camp. I’ve got nothing for you.” That’s when I languish in an “empty creative mind” state, which makes it paralyzingly difficult to fill the writer’s chair.

Here, then, are my strategies for recovering from Lazy Writer’s Syndrome.

  1. Maintain a calendar for one week.
  2. Record your activities in quarter-hour segments for that week
  3. Review and prioritize. Abandon all "perfect" goals -- neat house, varied cuisine, excessive volunteer work, new hobbies that can be explored another season/year.
  4. Maintain a calendar and enter small writing goals daily. "1 hour writing, "2 hrs writing" etc. I achieve much more success when I draw a little square box in front of my goals. This satisfies the “gold star” child in me because it gives me an opportunity to put a check in that box. I know, it’s silly. But it works!
  5. Only after #4, schedule other stuff that needs to be done. (This “rocks and sand” concept is from First Things First by Stephen Covey—highly recommended reading. It changed my life. It can change yours, too.)
  6. Consider meditation. When you come home from work, go to your special place and decompress with meditation.
  7. If you’re spent from a demanding day, consider a power nap. For me, I only need 15-20 minutes and I'm "almost" as rejuvenated as I am in the morning.
  8. Be kind to yourself. It takes planning and fortitude--and a healthy dose of tenacity.
  9. Finally, team up with a fellow writer or group of writers and agree to post your progress once a week. Once a week gives you the freedom to have a couple of lackluster days but still turn in a respectable week's end report. Call it BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) or create your own name for it.

You can defeat Lazy Writer’s Syndrome! Good luck, and if you have some tips to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Live Longer–a no-cal way to add years to your life!

It's time to read, and write good books for your fans.

In a recent Yale study, researchers found that avid readers may live as much as two years longer than non-readers.

Details of the study

It followed over three thousand people over a 12-year period.

They were placed in three groups. Group One was a non-reading batch. Group Two people read up to three and a half hours a week, and Group Three read more than that.

Conclusion

Those who read at least 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of death by about 20 percent.

Read for your fanshammock-reading-10-17-2016

Autumn has been called the second spring, when all the changing leaves sparkle and shine, much like flowers in the spring. The nights are crisp, the afternoons still lovely, and there’s a sense of excitement as the seasons change. Like me, you may have sweet memories of the first days back at school, and the marvelous smell of new textbooks—knowledge, just waiting to be discovered.  And for fiction, excitement, just waiting to be relished.

It’s also time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, a writing movement that has become worldwide (see global map of participants at http://nanowrimo.org/). It’s a club in which participants strive to write a novel in a month, where writers track and share writing progress and get pep talks and support from fellow writers striving toward the same goal.

Read your story idea file.

Autumn is a great time to revisit earlier plans. Been thinking about writing a series? Check your idea file. Like me, you may have story ideas already in there that have gathered dust and been forgotten. Now may be the perfect time to expand on it.  Add a few notes and let it percolate.

Read your interrupted works-in-progress.

What was it that intrigued you to start writing it? Has your craft improved to the point that you can now tackle the issue that stopped you, mid-book? Or you may have held two jobs when you were writing it and ran out of steam, and now it's time to take your fictional characters on the journey of their lives.

Read with your critique partners.

Write a brief story synopsis, and schedule a plotting and brain-storming session with your critique partners, who will also come to the table with their brief story synopses. Maybe now is the time to try a new genre, or write that short story or novella that’s been tickling your fancy for a while.

Read for the joy of it!  It’s easy to get in a reading rut, reading for research, industry news, best-selling lists, marketing and such. What entertains you the most? Does your reading list reflect that? They say the hammock is the least used piece of outdoor furniture. Isn’t that sad? Schedule a date with your hammock and indulge yourself with a fabulous book of fiction. It’s sure to entertain as well as stimulate new story ideas.

Read, and live longer.  Talk about a Happy Ever After!

Taming the Worry Monster

Quick - grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down a list of things you are worrying about. Don't stop to think whether they are rational or irrational. Don't try to prioritize. Just scribble them down. Do it now. I'll wait. While I wait I will contemplate this still life photo of a random penguin.Random PenguinWhat is the penguin worried about, I wonder? Does he know that worrying expends valuable energy without creating any positive result? Does he understand that one of the best ways to deal with worry is to take positive action toward a goal?

Since we can't get a look into the penguin's head, let's all focus on our own. Have a look at your worry list and pick one to work on, preferably something writing related. Got it?

Okay. Now take your pen and paper and do the following.

  1. List all of the people involved in this situation.
  2. Now draw a big, fat, scribble line through all of those names.
  3. Below the crossed out list write your own name, because YOU are the only person you have any control over.
  4. Now brainstorm a list of all of the possible actions YOU can take to resolve this issue. Remember that if the action requires participation by somebody else, it doesn't go here. Try the format Your Name + Verb + Object (optional) If you are worrying about trying to find an agent, for example, your action list may look something like this:
  • I will craft a query letter
  • I will email five friends and ask them for feedback (note that YOU are asking. How they respond is out of your control)
  • I will research agents and make a list of ten who are looking for my genre
  • I will submit my polished query letter to those ten agents and search out ten more
  • I will send out another query letter for every rejection I receive

And so on. If your worry is interpersonal, such as conflict with your agent or a crit partner or a problem with your editor, the action list still takes the same format. You can't change another person. You can't change what they think or feel or what they do. You probably have no control over editorial decisions. But you can let them know how you feel and what you think. Communication is a direct action you can take. So your list might look more like this:

  • Write a letter to my agent explaining my point of view
  • Ask my editor for an extension
  • Message my crit partner and ask if we can talk.

Maybe the thing that's keeping you awake at night is a book launch and your fear that your new release won't sell enough copies. Every writer has been there. Again, make a list of positive actions that you can take, and then do those things.

Sometimes action is the best self care. Relaxation and breathing and meditation are wonderful things, but so is knowing that you have taken positive action to resolve a problem.

 

The Writer’s Nightmare Before Christmas

The holidays are coming…can you feel your writing time slipping away?

I love the holidays, the lights, the costumes, the decorations, the family, the baking—presents. The one thing is, those months ALWAYS knock me off my word count track.

Usually this is not a huge problem. I pick back up in January and keep plugging along, but this year’s a bit different. The final book in my Ascendant Trilogy is due out Summer of 2017 and I need to get that manuscript to my editor by March to make that happen. I don’t have time to fall off the yellow bricks and into a Christmas tree.

This year, my holidays need to run different.

I had brunch today with two of the most supportive and encouraging female writers I know. (We’re partial to Linger in Highlands, fantastic food and a great atmosphere. If you haven’t been, we highly recommend!) Among the many writerly conversations we had, we came up with a few ideas to help all three of us enjoy the holidays while still being productive with our individual writing projects. Here they are.

Make writing a priority

Too often it is easy to make writing last on our never ending lists of things. It must be a priority. This often requires nothing more substantial than a shift in our thinking and the actions we are choosing to take during the day. If I think, “I need to get one thousand words written BEFORE I tackle anything else on my list” instead of, “As soon as I accomplish these other twenty things, then I can sit down and write one thousand words” I have completely shifted my priorities for the day.

Make a plan

Everyone feels most creative at different times of the day, but for me, first thing in the morning has ALWAYS worked the best when it’s crunch time. Even though I’m home writing full time now, I can easily fill my entire day with all the other things that need management and attention. Getting up at four in the morning, before my kids are awake and getting ready for school, gives me two magic hours of utter silence in my house. Plus, since I know that time is finite, it keeps me from messing around on the computer reading all your fabulous, but highly distracting, facebook posts. Maybe the evening works better for you, or your lunch break at work, whatever the time of day, set up a reoccurring schedule reminder and stick to it through the holiday months.

Set daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals

Great, writing is a priority, I have a plan to get up early, so what sort of word count promise should I make myself while trying to get ready for:

  • trick-or-treaters
  • traveling to Montana with two kids and two puppies for a week over Thanksgiving
  • getting out those Christmas cards
  • shopping for presents
  • decorating the tree
  • watching A Christmas Story, Elf, and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

How about I make an easily obtainable one? I usually crack out 1000 words a day while working on a book, but I'm going to cut myself some slack. From the posting date of this blog, there are seventy-five days until New Years Eve. If I were to only write 500 words a day, starting today until New Years Eve, I will have 37,500 words toward my new book completed. That is almost half of the whole book done before the end of 2016! 500 words is roughly 2 pages a day. I can write 500 words a day in my sleep! This blog post is longer than 500 words.

Be honest with yourself

I sometimes use the busyness of my life as an excuse to not write. Yes, there is always a lot to do in my life—but that never changes. I never obtain PERFECT LIST COMPLETION no matter how much I would love to. There is always more. So the next time I forget my priority to write, scrap that plan and hit the snooze, or decide to shrug off that 500 word count goal, I don’t get to hide behind a pile of laundry or sigh about the lines at Target. I made a choice that day, and that choice was not writing. Lying to myself about that only keeps me from getting where I want to go.

RUMINATIONS ON THE WRITER-READER RELATIONSHIP

As I write this I am still days away from the most traumatic experience of my life - surgery. But by the time you read this, not only will it all be over, I will be well on my way to recovery, if not fully recovered. I will know whether or not the mass they found in a CT scan one fateful day while looking for something else entirely, was cancer or not. The worst, whatever it turns out to be, will have passed.

This bifurcation of time is extremely odd to me. It is backwards from what a writer usually experiences. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, whether writing in present tense or past, the events the writer retells have already passed for him/her by the time the reader reads their words.

It almost feels as if you, the reader, have the advantage on me. For the first time the reader has the benefit of foreknowledge of events the writer has yet to experience. Does that make any sense to you? Would that you could tell me how it all turned (turns?) out.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure what bearing this has on writing or why RMFW members should read this blog entry. There is some insight here about our responsibility to our readers, as the ones conveying to them events they have yet to experience. Something about teasing their eagerness to know what happened, and why, while at the same time respecting momentary lack of knowledge until you eventually enlighten them through prose. Something like that.

All I know is this momentary reversal of roles, me the ignorant writer, you the all-knowing reader, is delightfully disorienting, and that fascinates me.

The Secret is Out!

After years of writing and months of revisions, my latest "baby" made her debut into the world on July 15th--Crimson Secret, Book 4 in my Coin Forest historical romance series.

It features medieval battles during the War of the Roses, the forgotten charm of "living bridges," and forbidden love. Master bridge builder Lord Penry is a known traitor, committed to destroying Joya's beloved Queen Margaret so the Duke of York can rule. Like her family, Joya is deeply devoted to Margaret. They're both right, both wrong, both lost in the heat of an unbridled passion that threatens their families' holdings, and their lives.

Okay, end of blurb. Thanks for reading.

That expression, "It Takes a Village," comes to mind. What would I do without my critique partners? My plot buddies? My RMFW friends?3DCrimsonSecret300x354

A hearty "Thank you!" to everyone who read, helped and supported me as I worked through the chapters, revisions and marketing.

It’s such a thing of beauty, this book. It’s my first print book since 2008, and I can’t stop looking at it, feeling the smooth matte finish, flipping through the pages. Ahhh.

It’s true love. (Sigh)

And yes, I still love eBooks. The novel is available in both formats. What I especially love is that the revisions can stop, LOL.

Seriously, as I did with my previous books, I’ve given this novel my all. I’ve sent out the notices. I’ve done my mailings. I’ve blogged and Facebooked and Tweeted and advertised and submitted and received good reviews, and it feels like my birthday. All I need is a hot fudge sundae (check!) and, scheduled for tonight, a stem of Cakebread chardonnay, and I’ll be certain I’ve sneaked into heaven without having to pay admission.

Love, love, love, love, love. Who but a fellow writer would understand this bliss?

As if all that isn’t enough, new ideas are floating around in my mind, ripe for the picking, for the next book in the series. I’ve ordered two research books, and can’t wait to plunge into the next story.

I can’t stand it. Did I complain recently about writer nightmares? Poof! They’ve vanished from my memory, and I’m bathing in the warm summer sunshine.

This is it. This is why we struggle to find the right words, agonize over plot points, slog through saggy middles and the daunting demands of the market. I created beautiful new characters, and they have suffered through misfortunes and teeth-gnashing angst, experienced awesome adventures, worn fabulous fashions, enjoyed heart-melting romance, and have been launched into their happily-ever-after futures. All is right with the world.

Like any good plot, this reverie won’t last. We need Conflict! Challenge! Change! Still, trust me when I say I’m going to savor every marvelous moment of this.

If you like historical romance, please give Crimson Secret a try. It's available in eBook now, and in three days, it will be available in paperback, as well.

I'm so happy, my face hurts from smiling. I'm wishing you similar moments of bliss with your writing!

Mind, Body and Writing

A friend of mine who has endured cancer treatment and chronic pain issues for the last several years recently announced that she was taking a break from writing. Cognitive issues related to chemotherapy have made story structure and continuity, even word recall, a huge challenge for her. But even more than that, I think she is tired of the struggle to cope, to be productive and meet deadlines. And maybe she’s just tired, period.

Because writing does take a certain physical stamina. It doesn’t seem like it should. After all, you sit while you’re doing it. Some people even recline in bed as they write on a laptop. I’m pretty sure most non-writers look at writing as very non-demanding physically. I’ll never forget when Stephen King was injured in that freak car accident and one of the patrons at the library where I work said something to the effect of “Well, maybe now he’ll be forced to do nothing but write and will get his books finished faster.”

Not only did the remark seem incredibly callous, as if King being injured was a positive thing, but it also seemed very stupid. Someone injured and in pain is not going to be a productive writer. And indeed, that experience took a terrible toll on King and his creativity for a number of years, as he has documented in various autobiographical pieces.

Writing can be an escape and a rejuvenating experience. But it takes energy, and energy comes from a healthy body. Many successful writers when interviewed will talk about the importance of physical exercise in their daily routine. They know that keeping the body in shape and moving helps keep the words and story ideas flowing. And recent studies have shown that physical exercise helps stave off dementia and cognitive decline as we age.

My friend needs time to heal, to learn ways of coping with the damage that chemotherapy and chronic pain have wrought on her body and her spirit. We speak of “filling the well”—through life experiences, travel, contact with other people, through living a full and interesting life. But sometimes “filling the well” involves resting. Simply being, rather than always doing.

I tend to be rather driven, especially in regards to writing. I set goals for myself and get frustrated when I don’t meet them. I was very productive the first part of this year, but then life intervened. Both good and bad things have sucked up my time and reduced my writing pace to a crawl. My lack of productivity has gnawed at me and increased my stress. And then I met with my friend and she discussed her decision, and I realized that I need to remember to nurture and care for myself physically if I want to have the energy and spark to be a productive writer.

When I started out, I saw writing as an escape from stress and a source of positive energy. But as I’ve gotten older I realize that writing requires physical energy even as it produces positive mental energy. Which means it’s important to do things that help me increase my physical vitality. Exercise is one of those. But more subtly, taking it easy can also help. There are activities I used to see as wasting time or taking me away from writing: Puttering in my garden, reading the newspaper or a magazine. Having sociological discussions with my daughter. Hanging out on the patio and listening to music with my husband.

I used to feel guilty for doing those things, but I’ve begun to understand that they help “fill the well” in an important way. Those activities relax me and reduce my stress, which rejuvenates me physically so I have the energy to write.