Healthy minds: how writers can stay healthy and keep writing

sign hope despair - healthy minds
Writing can be a deeply rewarding activity. It can also be terribly stressful. Just have a look at these quotes:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect–Anaïs Nin

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple–Jack Kerouac

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within–Gustave Flaubert

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God–Sidney Sheldon

As a matter of fact, unless you’re just a hack who only cares about his daily word count, the perennial quest for the right word, for the right way to say what you have on your mind, can turn only too easily into a daunting and all consuming toil.

Stay healthy, keep writing and… ditch perfection

This is why you should always bear in mind that perfection is unattainable and therefore your worst woe.

But it’s also true that between perfect copy and squalid crap opens a vast gulf every writer needs to negotiate.

And what’s worst is that the choice you make for one work isn’t necessarily going to be the same you’ll be doing for a later work. Because for any serious writer, every book is like a step on an evolutionary ladder. You keep experimenting, refining, changing. Trying out new solutions, sometimes also going back to previous ones.

As a result, although they are all from the same hand, the same mind, an author’s books are never exactly the same. Some are questionable. Others are next to impeccable. Others still simply outrageous. And so on.

hands and maps- stay healthy and keep writing

You might think this is a pity. But it’s the opposite. Because only what is dead never changes. Instead where there is life there is growth and change. Always.

From this perspective, an author’s books are like snapshots of the same mind at different times, under different circumstances. That’s also why reading all the books by an author can be deeply enriching.

Writers and the dream life

Many outsiders tend to confuse being a writer with being in the writing business. As a result they believe writers live a dream life.

Instead, when you’re a published author, and therefore in the writing business, you end up with a job that, while rewarding, can also be highly stressful. Just like any other potentially deeply rewarding job.

Of course, there are writers who have managed to write under the direst conditions. And they deserve our unflagging admiration and respect for what they did.

But as the saying goes, a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

And indeed, any true writer knows that if you have something to say, you can’t help but write about it. One way or the other.

Famous writers who faced dire conditions

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Winkler has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for the majority of his life. But this hasn’t prevented him from becoming a writer.

Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed but for his left eyelid. Yet, he wrote about this experience in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Sadly, he died few days after the book was published.

 

 

 

 

 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky suffered from epilepsy. He had many attacks but he never stopped writing. He even used his first-hand knowledge of the condition he suffered from to portray characters in his novels who suffered from the very same condition.

John Milton became blind when he was 43 years old. This notwithstanding he wrote his most important work, Paradise Lost years later.

Then there’s Scott Adams, Fannie Flagg, Anne Frank, S. L. Frank and many many others. The list is really impressively long. True testimony to the human capacity to adapt and hope.

Being remembered for such feats is remarkable, no doubt about that. But there’s an essential detail that we must bear in mind when we think about those authors.

And it’s that, hadn’t them faced those very situations, at least some of their works would have never been written.

Constraints

In fact, research has showed over and over again that constraints can work on an artist or athlete’s performance in the same way a difficult situation can.

In general no constraints at all lead to little or no improvement. Just like too many constraints are equally unproductive.

In fact, just like in many other aspects of life, to reach the ideal output, that’s to say the sweet point between productivity and quality, there have to be in place some constraints–but only enough to present the artist with a meaningful challenge, not so many as to turn the challenge into a desperate attempt.

Given that if we want to improve our performance, a constraint can always be artificially engineered, ending up with a health-related constraint as a result of poor lifestyle-habits about which we have never thought is a big no-no.

Luckily, it takes little to stay healthy… and keep writing.

Healthy lifestyle for writers and not

1 ) Move. Exercise. Moderate activity is the first and most important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to do. Provided you do it regularly and you’re willing to push yourself at least a bit out of your comfort zone.

2 ) Go out in the sun. These days people protect themselves from the sun like they were vampires. But the benefits of sun exposure are hard to deny. In fact, as Pelle Lindqvist found out, avoiding the sun completely can even be as dangerous as smoking.

3 ) Eat simple foods and avoid the highly processed ones. In fact, most of the sodium, of the trans fats, and added sugar come from packaged foods. Think of your diet as if it were a novel you need to edit. So, cut out all those over-refined parts. And keep it as simple as possible.

4 ) Have real friends in real life. I mean, social media are fine. And the blogosphere too can be of invaluable help at times.

But we are humans. We’re still made of concrete particles of matter that occupy a defined space and time. We haven’t entered any new technological singularity yet. As a result, our brains, which have evolved for million of years in a world where nothing was virtual, over the long run crave for real human contacts.

Besides, nowadays the data-driven model is disrupting society as we know it. It suggests friends, relays news feeds tailored on one’s likes, steals our attention with exaggerated headlines. As a result, people live in their self-constructed bubble of fictional reality, where dissent is practically non existent.

Instead with real friends you can’t just mute them. And if your ideas are different, you might have to prove your point in a way as sound as possible. That takes time and energy. But it also teaches us tolerance, patience, persistence. And reminds us that other people are as real as we are.

5 ) Keep playing. Because playing is a sort of simulator you can use to test and hone your skills in a non threatening setting. Playing is the way inexperienced cubs and puppies and humans alike grow into adults.

But once you’re grown up, playing is still just as useful. To keep you adaptable and ready to face ever new challenges.

You can’t live forever, can you?

Last but not least read. In fact, until they find a way to download a human being into a memory chip, (and I’m not sure I like the idea, in any case) reading is the only way we can get to live many different lives.

So given that books are never been more widespread and cheap than these days we should seize such opportunity with no hesitation.


Pictures: MasterTux – geralt – pixel2013 – Maryam62 – cocoparisienne

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