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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writer, Heal Thyself: First Aid for Creative Types from Julie Dillard

So many of life’s worthwhile adventures include RISK.  We might suffer scrapes and bruises on the journey, whether it’s climbing a mountain, falling in love, parenting, or choosing the life of a writer/artist… 

A Cautionary Tale about a Girl Who Stood on a Chair to Hang Art
While I haven’t scaled Kilimanjaro and I’m hopeless when it comes to matters of the heart (running for one's passport is apparently not "a healthy choice"), I do have experience with effective first-aid for kid ouches. I have ice packs shaped like frogs and bunnies, bandages of every size, ointments, sticky sweet pink, purple, and red concoctions, thermometers, and a slew of books about what to do with that seal cough or goose egg.

Surely we risk-taking creative types deserve a toolbox full of comforts and cures, too, but what to put in it? Ice packs in the shape of character arcs? Bottles of fantasy-inducing potions?

I got a referral to some creative specialists and asked what they would put in a first-aid kit for various writer injuries and ailments.  There were a number of references to the healing properties of whiskey and pale ale, of course. Heather Petty touted the magical properties of Swedish Fish candies (and having read her work, I do not doubt their powers).
Gummy Muse?

In the course of my research, Kristen Crowley Held shared her experience with a writer's "first aid kit made by her husband:

Dan once made me a writer's kit when I went off to a cabin in the woods to write by myself. He checked out a bunch of books on writing/books on the subject I was writing about from the library and included them in a box with some chocolate and a note that I keep in my wallet to this day.
Mustache + Glare= Impact

(Swoon, huh? I know I wasn't the only one who made a point of leaving THAT up on the screen for a horribly neglectful spouse to "happen upon." Cough.)

Presuming you are not married to Kristen’s winner of a husband either, we just might need to (sigh) stock our own writer/illustrator first aid kits.

Next time you face

·         waiting-induced rashes of the psyche,

·         “we just bought a book exactly like it” scalds

·         conflicting rejection vertigo (I love the plot, but not so much the  character/I love the character but not so much the plot),

·         sluggish plot movement (plotstipation), 

·         or the common cold of the writing soul—self doubt,

 see if one of these cures just might deserve a place in your “artist’s first aid kit”:


Editor/Mentor extraordinaire Harold Underdown shows how it's done
  • Snack break (posting pictures of it on Facebook optional)
  • Walk it off (Nature + Escape)
  • Clean or organize (bonus points if you beautify your working space). Charlene Ellen swears by a broom and a yard full of leaves to brush off the mental cobwebs.
  • Change  (Abandon your laptop for a giant sheet of butcher paper, etc.)
  • Meditation (I've been wanting to do this forever for presence of mind and stress relief--anyone use meditation to good effect? I'd love to hear about it!) Om.

My Biggest Fan

Fill Your Habitat with Creativity-Inducing Things:

Craig Lew's Muse

Favorite pens/tools (Craig Lew vows nothing inspires like a fountain pen)

Pets (because they know how AWESOME you truly are) 

Writer’s notebook or a sketchbook (No censorship—just brainstorming. Let go of the pressure to produce and just play.)

Kristen Held told me of a friend who lights a scented candle whenever she writes, so now when the smell of cinnamon-infused wax wafts through the air, a Pavlovian response kicks in and the muse shows up. (I’m so adopting this. Where is that coconut cream pie candle?)

Nathalie Mvondo (Multiculturalism Rocks!)  agreed that the candle thing works, and she reminded me of the healing/helping nature of music. Work on a playlist or station for that project to get your groove on. Tried Pandora yet? I actually have a station called "emotional writing music." Yep. 

All these things remind me of the importance of a happy habitat for writing. What would help make your working space more inviting and productive?

Second Opinions:

When the writing or drawing life has you under the weather, get a second opinion. Phone a friend, set up a writing evening, enter a contest, or sign up for that conference you're on the fence about--artist friends are the ultimate first responders.  Take that risk of reaching out and branching out. It'll be good for you--and your work.
With a little collaboration, you, too, can feel, well--

First Aid Manuals: As creative types, we're naturally drawn to books, right? 

Here are a few books you might take a look at for your first aid kit:
The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron (Thanks for the recommendation, Marilyn Hilton!)

Steal Like An Artist : 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon 

How Not to Write a Novel :200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--a Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

What acts, rituals, items, or books have you found helpful for writer comfort and mental health?   I'm stocking up!


  1. This is great advice, Julie! For all the successes we might enjoy--big or small--there are even more disappointments. These are times when one's determination is tested, and I've found that I'm very determined to continue writing. When I have a boo-boo, I let myself feel sad for no more than a day, and then I move on. There's always a goal to work toward, another chapter to write, (as you mention) a contest to enter, or a new idea to draft... The community of other writers and artists is also soothing and uplifting and energizing! Thanks again! xo

  2. Fantastic advice, Julie Bear!
    Life is a roller coaster and even more so when you are a writer.
    Stubbed toes, bruised egos, trampled feelings are all a part of this and having a way to relocate your center is essential. Smittens says, "It's all about me!"

    Not sure what that has to do with anything other than it's time to play mouse bot.



    1. So glad to be sharing the roller coaster with you!