When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world

I’ve had to make a conscious choice about my writing in recent months. Write? Yes, absolutely! But I’ve needed to prioritise which writing to focus my time on. The truth is I enjoy researching and writing blog posts. But in an already tightly scheduled life, every minute I spent preparing posts was time I was stealing from work on my novels.

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“We’re all busy!” I hear you cry. Indeed we are.

“You must post on a regular schedule,” many blogs proclaim. Indeed in an ideal world that is probably true.

“Blogging will make you a better writer …” Writing regularly will make you a better writer. Variety is good and blogging is but one great way to do this. Most importantly we must be writing.

“It doesn’t take long …” I have found that depends on the topic – some fly onto the page, others need a lot more thought.

I started blogging in 2013 and my fiction writing slowed down. Dramatically. Since I’ve taken a deliberate break from blogging, I re-found my momentum. I’ve been more focused and writing with greater clarity. I’ve finished the first draft of my second work-in-progress, completed a couple of rounds of editing on my first novel and gone back to do one on my second. This stage, although exciting, requires a major investment of time and emotional energy. As for most writers, juggling writing, family, work (I have three part-time jobs all of which I love), the usual chores and a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise can be challenging. What I have come to realise is it isn’t just about the time. It is also about the mental space to develop ideas and let them percolate; to process and, at times, stand back to gain perspective. To recharge the emotional energy bank. And to deal with the other challenges that life throws our way, especially if prone to be more of an intuitive type. Sometimes we just need to say “Enough!” I applaud you if you are doing it all and managing well and I thank those of you who have shared that you couldn’t. I came to the point that I had to accept my own limitations. As a GP, I’m constantly talking up work-life balance. Writing is a tricky one because it is as much a passion as an occupation. So maybe it’s more of a work-life-creative balance. If the need to prioritise strikes a chord, how might you do so?

  • What must you do? These are things that have to be given your attention (warning: do not let negotiable items slip in here). I put them at the top because I know they distract me if I don’t work out a plan to do them. Sometimes it’s best to do them asap to liberate yourself, otherwise scheduling time to do them later can free you to fit in regular time for other pursuits …
  • What do you most want to do? You may know immediately or you may have to reflect on this. There can be more than one but it can’t be everything … anything that isn’t a burning desire should go into the next category.
  • What’s negotiable? Being a fan of writing down what I need/want to get done to release them from my brain without fear of forgetting, I usually have a longish list. Sometimes something gets to promoted to one of the categories above, others slowly get ploughed through when I have a free minute, am too tired to write or need a short break from something else. They do get done but in my own time and not in competition with the more important items.
  • What you have achieved? Acknowledging what you have done is energising. Even crossing something off a list is satisfying, or even better, starting a new list because one has most items completed. Big achievements need even more celebration.
  • REVIEW your priorities regularly. You can shuffle them and sometimes they need adjustment to meet life’s demands.

Why am I writing a post now?  I’ve come to a natural hiatus, needing to take a step back for some distance before more editing and with ideas for my next novel gestating (yep you guessed it – in the form of a list of ideas!). Writing this popped up in my most-want-to-do category this week and here we are …

How about you? Have you had to prioritise your creativity?

What happened? What did you find useful?

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.

Disclaimer

© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith

Is excitement a new strategy for writers?

I have been intrigued by posts recently about the study Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by Alison Wood Brooks.

Brooks identified that most people try to calm down to handle their performance anxiety and contrasted this with asking participants to ‘reappraise their anxiety as excitement’ by either stating “I am excited” or encouraging them to get excited. Experimental studies were conducted across karaoke singing, public speaking and maths performances and found that although the subjective symptoms of anxiety did not lessen, individuals who reappraised their anxiety as excitement improved their performance on independent assessment. Not just talked to themselves differently, but also did better.

This piqued my interest and got me to wondering (as I yet again vacillated about my scheduled writing task), do I suffer from performance anxiety around my writing and may this help? I love writing but like many of us find, sometimes the words flow delightfully easily once I get started and other times I can sit in front of an open document and struggle to get even a single word out. Getting started is often key. When I avoid my desk or when the words don’t flow, could a level of anxiety be underlying my hesitation even if I feel relatively calm? I do think attitude makes a difference but how is that shifted? Once you get ‘on a roll’ certainly excitement seems to be a self-propelling force.

Of course I then had to google (instead of write) and indeed I found a search on ‘performance anxiety writing’ (also writers/writer’s block) returned some interesting reading.

Opinion varies between the stance that ALL writer’s block is due to performance anxiety through to the two being completely different beasts. After considering the posts I read, my own experience and those of my creative friends, my take is that performance anxiety IS a real and probably quite frequent contributor but not the only cause. When I am simply too tired or distracted by a major event, my writer’s block isn’t always caused by performance anxiety. I strongly believe I need to show up to write but I also know there are times which aren’t conducive and sometimes I need a break too.

There also ensued a wide and sometimes contradictory range of strategies to deal with either/both, often in combination. There was a lot of overlap so I haven’t referenced them but broadly they include:

  • Set a deadline(s);
  • Set an achievable goal eg just write for one hour or x many words;
  • Commit yourself to write;
  • Schedule or quarantine time ;
  • Have a routine;
  • Be flexible;
  • Take a break;
  • Try to force yourself NOT to write;
  • Do something else creative;
  • Plan what you will write – from sketching out that day’s writing to the complete body of work;
  • Stream of consciousness/ free flow writing;
  • Writing exercises;
  • Write anything;
  • Eliminate distractions;
  • Set yourself free – Write for yourself and don’t worry about what others think (personally I think this is essential for a first draft to let your true voice develop);
  • Acknowledge it may not be your best material but just get something down;
  • Positive affirmations (e.g. “I am a writer”); and
  • Examine your issues/blocks.

Yup, it’s a long list, probably incomplete, with a number of opposites. Obviously different things work for different people. Interestingly none suggested feigning excitement… If excitement was mentioned, it was around how exciting it is to overcome writer’s block.

So what the hell, I thought, let’s give it a go… I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I sat down and told myself that I was excited to have found the time to write. That much at least was true. “I am excited,” I thought.

And in my highly scientific (not!) experiment with a sample of one, it worked. I couldn’t stop myself when the time came to do something else and I finished feeling genuinely excited by what I had achieved.

But acknowledging the bias that I was perhaps excited to have found a topic that inspired me more than some of the others I was considering, I decided to hold off publishing this post in order to try it again, this time on my Work in Progress, a novel.

I felt a little more confident starting as I had made a few notes around where I thought I might take it as they had occurred to me since I last wrote. Surprisingly I went to a completely different place in the story. When I stalled or after I was interrupted I reminded myself that I was excited and pushed on. I don’t know if this might have happened anyway nor do I have an independent assessor to tell me if I performed better but I feel that I did. My new mind-set on trial was a significant change. It felt like a powerful strategy to call up.

My experiences concurred with the study’s practical implications as Brooks describes:

“My findings demonstrate the profound control and influence we have over our own emotions. The way we verbalize and think about our feelings helps to construct the way we actually feel. Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention that can be used quickly and easily to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance.”

I know I’ll be approaching my writing with more excited thinking in future. Even if an idea isn’t bubbling I can create excitement around just making the time, and I hope the results are… exciting.

As Brooks indicates, there are many opportunities for further research. It is such a simple strategy and I think it would be fascinating to see if it translates to increased success when handling any confronting situation or change, be it thrust upon you or a choice. Perhaps tackling a new job, stopping smoking (or another habit), starting an exercise program, changing to a healthier diet or possibly any task about which we hesitate.

Have you ever tried telling yourself that you are excited to overcome your writer’s block and/or performance anxiety?

If you have (or you are willing to test it out now,) how did it go?

I’d love to hear how you get on. Actually I’m keen to know your thoughts on anything related to writer’s block and/or performance anxiety!

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.

Disclaimer

© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Image Copyright: Vector Image by StockUnlimited)

Where health and creativity intersect

Being a doctor and a writer, it’s probably no surprise that I am interested in how two of my passions overlap.

There are clear links between creativity and wellness:
• The benefits of appreciating the creativity of others, how it makes us feel and what we can learn from it – art, music, photography, film and literature for example.
• Fulfilling your own need to be creative – be it one of the more traditional creative pursuits, or cooking a new dish, planting a garden bed or writing a Facebook post or tweet.
• The role of creative activities contributing to a range of benefits including to aid in learning and sharing of ideas, to reduce isolation, to foster companionship, to promote improved health and well-being, and even to reduce medication use and assist healing.

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Photo by Mia Holton

There are comprehensive reviews of the literature which demonstrate the evidence, particularly those by:
• Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff (Arts in health: a review of the medical literature, Arts Council England, 2004);
• Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health.2010 February;100(2): 254–263.);
• Dr Patricia Fenner, Dr Bruce Rumbold, Dr Jean Rumbold et al (Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care? 19/6/2012) and
• Christine Putland (ARTS AND HEALTH – A GUIDE TO THE EVIDENCE Background document prepared for the Arts and Health Foundation Australia, September 2012).

So the science is there with more research underway.

Strangely enough the “mad artist” seems just as common a stereotype as the “mad scientist”. Perhaps this is more about the eccentricity that others perceive when someone follows their calling to the exclusion of other pursuits. Or maybe we are all a little mad?

Ironically some of the most creative people I have met have been the best adjusted and are often multi-talented.

The things that will benefit us the most are often the ones we most actively resist. If you think you are not creative, are you the one suppressing your creativity the most?

Some will struggle to get started, to even come up with a creative pursuit they would like to try. Just try. If at first you feel that you can’t, expose your creative self to the creativity of others. For example, you could check out an art gallery, the theatre or a concert or explore poetry, art or music online. If you have kids, do something crafty together. It’s okay to play with different ideas – have some fun. If you feel blocked, try something else.

Many of us will have to grapple with our internal critic, whether just starting out or well along the creative path. Doubt is normal. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter what the quality is. If you don’t try you will have nothing to show. Start something and see how it evolves over time.

We all know to be healthy, we need to exercise and eat well. But do we understand the role that creativity plays?

Being creative is healthy and it is healthy to be creative. Encourage creativity in ourselves and in others; from the cradle to grave, in our buildings and in open spaces, in students and in professionals.

It’s almost like a marriage vow: from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Does creativity matter to you?

What is your creative vow?

How you might make a change that promotes health and creativity ?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook .

Disclaimer
© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)

From Books and Band-aids to Blogs

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How daunting is it writing a first blog when there are so many great blogs out there?

I feel thoroughly enriched by reading many blogs. Even when they touch on the same subject, I find each one reinforces the others, often offering a different take and building further understanding of the issue. And what a joy when you read the line that gives you an aha moment or truly resonates.

I thought looking for a good blog would be like finding a needle in a haystack, to use a cliché that is not very relevant today. But the art of blogging that I have observed is one of being efficient with words and concepts and hence valuable key messages are not hard to identify.

What also amazes and impresses me is how willing people are to share their knowledge and ideas so freely, both to write their blogs and respond to comments. In some cases, even to connect in a more meaningful way.

In the first few weeks of participating actively in social media I have been fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to have coffee with a local academic GP leader to discuss collaborative opportunities, to Skype with a GP in England who shared some visionary ideas around electronic health records and to join a national initiative that will have enormous potential to create positive change in health, Change Day Australia.

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I am hugely grateful for the time that people give for the greater good. I’m not sure these would have arisen via my usual networks, and certainly not so quickly and easily.

The collective momentum has potential beyond anything we could have dreamed of in the pre-digital era. It is also important to ensure that quality information is available, particularly when there are some dodgy sources out there.

Anyone who knows me knows that I usually have something to say. So why not say it on the most public platform of all, the internet? And join this fantastic community of individuals sharing their perspectives with anyone who cares to read it.

I hope to bring together my experiences as a doctor, a writer and a very ordinary human being, as we all are at the heart of it, to contribute to the greater good. My mum has recently reminded me that as a child all I wanted for treats were books and Band-Aids so perhaps my callings were evident from a young age!

I hope you will join me for my next blog on where health and creativity intersect. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.

How has your life been enriched by a blog?

If you blog, what has been your journey?

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

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Photo by Mia Holton

Disclaimer
© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo of Jacquie by Mia Holton,Change Day image thanks to changeday.com.au )