Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Caring For Your Instrument

Anyone who plays a musical instrument knows that lesson one, before you even learn how to pull the bow or wet the reed is learning how to care for the instrument--putting it together, cleaning it, tuning it, and carefully transporting it from one place to the next.

You might be thinking, I do care for my instrument! I carry my laptop in a padded bag and I do plenty of data backups, to sticks as well as CDs or external drives.

Bravo! Regular backups are important. Your computer is your lifeline, so you must take good care of it at all times.

But there's more to writing than your computer, or a nice fountain pen, or a beautiful PaperBlanks journal.

I'm talking about your body, mind, and soul.

Body: You need your fingers to type or write your story. You need a strong back to sit with butt-in-chair for long stretches. You need to be able to go anywhere or do anything to research the places your characters will go and the things your characters will do.

Mind: Writers are idea people. Every word we put to paper lives in our minds first. Every scenario we throw at our protagonist requires thought on our part.

Soul: This is the tricky one, because it involves abstract terms like faith and balance. I'm not going to get all preachy because writers come from every walk of life and every religion (or no religion at all if that's the way you lean). But without this vital piece of your psyche intact, the words might be as blocked as a gridlock-stalled highway.

So, you're wondering now, how to care for your instrument? The answer is simple: take care of yourself.

For the next section of the post, I might sound like a cross between your doctor, your mother, and your coach, so writer beware.

You must exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.

Harrumph, you say, I don't have time. No one has time!

You must make time, just like you make time for writing.

Park the car in those empty sections at the back of the mall, skip the chip-and-pop aisle at the grocery store, and don't cheat sleep to get words on paper.

Many writers will use exercise to help move past writers' block. Any kind of exercise from going for a walk, to swimming, to cleaning the bathrooms. (The last one is double-helpful, because at the end of it, you'll have clean bathrooms!)

Stimulate your mind with every possible input.

Read, not only fiction (to see how the good writers do it) but non-fiction that will fill your plots with believable premises and your worlds with colourful and exotic locations.

Watch movies and television, but not passively. Think about what dialogue works and what doesn't, think about plot twists that excite you.

Surf the internet for cool facts and interesting stories.

Go to art galleries, museums, rock concerts, and live theatre.

I've touched on this mind-stimulation concept in my posts on Living in the Shrubs and Inspiration.

This is the tricky/personal one.

If you're feeling "off" sometimes emotions like depression, grief, joy, longing, etc can help to strengthen your writing. But too much emotion, too much loss or confusion or regret can make the blank page haunt you day and night.

Do whatever you need to do to nurture your spirit.

Only you know what works best for you, but anything from attending church, synagogue, mosque, temple, to meditating, to seeing a therapist, to chatting with friends and/or family can help to keep your spirit balanced.

Most authors thank their spouse in the acknowledgement section and that's because your spouse/partner plays a large role in keeping your spirit balanced.

So take care of yourself. Your body, your mind, and your spirit.

Dump the booze, toss the cigarettes, turn out the light, and hug your significant other. Your writing instrument may work that much better tomorrow when you sit down to write.

Do it now
Write down everything you eat, all the exercise you get, and all of the sleep you manage for three consecutive days. Choose one area to improve and spend the next three days eating healthier, getting an extra hour of sleep, or going for a walk.

Spend the next week trying to learn one cool fact each day. To make it a little more fun, report your findings to your spouse, kids, mom, roommate etc each evening, so that you're accountable.

Try guided meditation. There are plenty of free podcasts on the internet. I've found these particularly helpful. Alternatively, attend a religious ceremony of your choosing, especially if you haven't done so in a long while and you miss it.

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