By Cindy Woodsmall
As writers, we are attentive to the settings, plots, characters, and all things that make for great storytelling and honed writing. We capitalize on our characters’ thoughts and feelings, and there is nothing quite like exploring the reasoning and nuances of their weaknesses while finding the frailty of their strengths.
But do we put as much time and effort into understanding how we tick as we give to our stories and characters?
I’ve been traditionally published for ten years, and like you, I’m a lot more than a writer. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mom, aunt, friend, grandmother, neighbor, speaker, and teacher. I’ve learned that whether a young mom or an empty nester, one truth remains solid: life dishes out a lot.
The responsibility of blessings and the heartache of grief tend to slip under the doorway and into our workspaces day in and day out. We’re adults with the will to focus, so we overcome the obstacles and get the story written-at least most of the time.
The trouble is, even when you power through to meet a deadline, whether it’s self-imposed or contract-imposed, the residual effect messes with our creativity. Perhaps you have lots of story ideas, or maybe you don’t have any, but either way, you can’t manage to get words on paper.
Here are some tips I’ve learned for how to handle this debilitating situation.
1. Don’t be afraid to try a new writing space. It’s work to move desks and bookshelves, but if you have been under a lot of stress while writing, memories of that stress are now associated with the room it happened in. The good news is, it only take a little while to “air out” those negative associations with that room. So if the new writing space doesn’t work out as well as you hoped, you can move back in.
2. Find music that stirs your creativity and passion for writing. I have iTunes playlists with Yiruma, André Gagnon, Piano Guys (who play many instruments, not just pianos), and Cynthia Jordan, to name a few. Got a collection of CDs you love? You can upload all of them to iTunes and add them to your playlists. You can also purchase soundtracks from your favorite movies. (Most of them have an all-instrumental version.) Sometimes songs with words are just what I need because I have to concentrate harder to tune out the lyrics, and in doing so, I also managed to tune out everything in the world except the story I’m writing.
3. If you have a Smart TV, use it for inspiration. Put the screen where you can see it from your writing spot, and set it up to show crashing ocean waves, snowcapped mountaintops, or blooming flowers in a desert. I use Amazon streaming, YouTube, and Netflix for viewing my favorite images, and most of them have beautiful music accompanying the visuals. My favorites include Amazon’s “Living Landscapes: The Pacific Coast” and YouTube’s “Those Relaxing Sounds of Waves: Ocean Sounds.” On Netflix, any “Moving Art” by Louie Schwartzberg is wonderful, but my favorites are Oceans and Deserts.
Even more important than tangible stimulation is spiritual stimulation. You know the usual ways. So let me point out three of the less obvious aspects.
1. Guard your creative mind and heart. I’m not talking about avoiding specific “taboo” things. Figure out what stirs your creativity and make time for it. Determine what activities drain your creativity and avoid them as much as possible.
2. When grief floods your life, stick to your storyline. But if you need an outlet in order to get words on paper, allow that heartache to become a part of your characters’ emotions. Then humbly accept it when your editors or critique partners say it’s unnecessary emotional overload. Cathartic “rabbit trails” aren’t a waste of time. Allow grief to have its say. It will anyway, whether during the workday or by waking you at night. It can’t be ignored or devalued just because it’s inconvenient and unwelcome.
3. Forgive quickly, and take the high road. Settle your emotions and stay focused. If there’s a person in your life who is always a taker and never a giver, that’s not a relationship. It’s a ministry. If you feel God wants you to be faithful to that ministry, then do so. Otherwise, don’t allow yourself to be used for something you weren’t created for. That’s a certain recipe for never-ending drama.
We would never go a week without considering what our physical bodies need in the way of nutrition, activity, and comfort. My prayer is that you will see your creativity as a priority-and treat it as such. Stop and consider what you’re demanding of it, and then take action to give it proper nutrition, activity, and comfort.
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA best-selling author who has written seventeen works of fiction. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal listed Cindy as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.