Top 3 Self-Care Practices for Creators

To stave off creative burnout and stay in the game long enough to succeed.

If the concept of self-care — with visions of bubble baths — has become cliche and uninteresting to you, let me give you some fresh context.

As a creative, protecting your creativity with buffers of rest is the best thing you can do for it, especially if you rely on your creativity for even a portion of your income. 

Say it with me: My creative brain exists to solve my problems, not to amplify nebulous fears that can be dealt with, once expressed in a tangible form.

Let’s face it, creative endeavors, like writing a book, take time and need some degree of sustained effort. As time wears on, you won’t have it in you to put in that sustained effort unless you keep re-charging your wellspring of creativity. You need to match productivity with rest to not burnout.

Since it’s hard for me to prioritize self-care, I think of it as a tool to avoid the death line risk, identified by James Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their seminal work Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.

Why should you practice self-care?

Business strategy can be great life strategy. Productive Paranoia is one of my favorite concepts from Great by Choice, a book that studies 10 Xers, companies that 10 Xed their initial success.

Collins and Hansen assert that you can grow and keep learning from your mistakes, only if you survive them. I think of creative burnout as a kind of death line risk: if I’m not careful, I might give up on the grind before I become a novelist.

Think of self-care as a way of buffering up your reserves, just as 10 Xers tended to buffer their cash reserves — when catastrophes hit (bad luck, political events, economic downturns, etc.) these companies already had decisions, disciplines, and buffers in place allowing them to weather the storm and survive.

Self-care is a practice — an ongoing one— like many of the strategies I recommend. You must keep topping up. So here are my top three —

1. Morning Pages

Morning Pages is a practice developed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Morning Pages is different from journaling due to its structure and, paradoxically, lack of structure.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages — they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.

— Julia Cameron

The structure comes from the rule that you must write 3 full pages in longhand every morning, preferably as soon as you get up. The lack of structure comes from Cameron insisting there’s no wrong way to do Morning Pages — you can write lists, rant, worry, etc. It all counts.

I know three pages may seem like a lot, especially when you’ll be hand-writing them. From my experience, the upfront investment in time is well worth it.

Use those three pages to achieve tabula rasa — empty your mind. The greatest thing that paralyzes creatives or artists is their own inner critic or internal editor. Steven Pressfield calls it the resistance, in his The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle.

Trapping the inner critic on a page

One of the biggest benefits I’ve enjoyed by doing morning pages is the silencing of the inner critic. Or more accurately, temporarily trapping the inner critic on the page, so that I can switch to problem-solving mode.

Morning pages are, as author Julia Cameron puts it, “spiritual windshield wipers.” It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.

— Tim Ferriss

In my case, once I write down all my worries about a chapter of my novel, a scene, or the whole book, I have done it — I have expressed my worries out loud. I have let my conscious mind shine a light on them.

Since they’ve finally been expressed in a tangible form, my brain no longer feels the need to repeatedly pester me with my fears or the vacuuming. All of it, the creatively important and the mundane has been expressed. Your mind can rest at ease.

And now, your analytical brain can step onto the scene. This part will make lists — grocery lists included— and brainstorm strategies. Even if I can’t solve a novel problem immediately, brainstorming on paper, captures all the ideas that will not work.

A notebook is a good place to have bad ideas. It’s also a safe space to share your secrets. To think the unthinkable. To say the unsayable…

— Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist

Once I know which ideas will not work, my creative brain is free to ruminate and eventually come up with a solution — a grand creative solution — that it couldn’t have come up with if it was oppressed by nebulous fears.

Say it with me: My creative brain exists to solve my problems, not to amplify nebulous fears that can be dealt with, once expressed in a tangible form.

2. Exercise, specifically walking

A walk doesn’t seem like the exercise of champions but trust me, this simple activity can be revolutionary for your creativity. Feel free to experiment with other forms of exercise like dancing (I am experimenting with this one), but I mention walking since it isn’t high intensity (increasing risk of injury) and is an easy habit to slip into.

What makes exercise a critical self-care practice is that it has a myriad of positive effects on your physical, emotional, and mental state. Exercise is a tool to optimize for the long haul. It takes time to build skills, and skills ultimately help you succeed. In the meantime, you need to preserve the vehicle of your creativity — you.

The 3 benefits of exercise on your creativity

I find that if you walk, you start to integrate what has occurred to you from the other tools. You might walk out with a problem, but as you walk, you come into a solution. You just get a different perspective.

— Julia Cameron

I’ll admit I didn’t know about the creativity improvements until I started writing this article. Personally, I use walking to stave off anxiety, which is my particular poison.

Note: Please consult a physician before embarking on an exercise regimen, if appropriate (I am not a doctor).

Seek Inspiration

Every once in a while, we need to be struck by awe, by majesty, by beauty so sublime, that it makes us forget the mindset we’ve boxed ourselves into. This is especially important for the highly left-brained. Creativity isn’t something we can solve folks, I’ve tried.

When I’m stressed about deadlines or wondering whether my writing is any good, I usually have a migraine: the kind that resists medication and lasts days. A few days ago, I had just such a migraine, when I decided to read a short story — The Wishing Pool by Tananarive Due — and the story jerked me out of my migraine.

Yes, I know this is anecdotal evidence, but it’s happened before. I was amazed by the structure an author used to tell their tale and my migraine vanished. Being inspired does something to my brain. A few days ago, it shifted me from worrying about whether my short story was good enough, to being struck by the power of words. I really recommend The Wishing Pool: it delivers a punch in 4102 words — that’s writer skill!

I was amused by Tim Ferriss’ answer to Jim Collins’ question, on The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 483. The question was: what drives Tim Ferriss, now that he’s successful?

A few things popped to mind for me, and the first is an appreciation for and a search for beauty. And I find that in my own personal experience that when I search for beauty… I tend to find more truth than that when I purely try to deduce truth intellectually in a very prefrontal way.

— Tim Ferriss

It’s not the answer you expected from the bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, is it?

Seeking inspiration is the least concrete of my self-care practices and for a reason: you never know what might motivate you. Here are a few sources I’ve used —

  • Short stories
  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Music
  • Children
  • Nature
  • Watercoloring

Make your own list and tweak it. No matter what feels you with awe, be sure to include it in your schedule consistently.

Conclusion

The top 3 self-care practices for creators are —

  • Morning Pages
  • Exercise, specifically walking
  • Seeking inspiration

Remember, self-care is something you must make time for. Making the time for self-care is a crucial step in your creative journey.

Do you have any self-care practices that feed your creativity? Let me know.

When you live where you work, striking a balance between work life and personal life takes a considered effort. Many of us have been working from home for over a year now, and have likely become quite adept at being productive from our homes — an idea that may have seemed impossible two years ago. Yet, as our work productivity improves, striking that delicate balance between workspace and personal space becomes the next challenge to overcome in the “new normal.” With traditional work being reconsidered and new practices actively put in place by many companies opting for permanent remote work or hybrid structures, finding that balance will become fundamental for professionals at any level. 

A great place to start when it comes to promoting work-life balance in your home is through design. With dramatic shifts in working and living situations, optimizing the spaces in which you must live and work to best fit your day-to-day needs will enable the flow of each day to come with greater ease. The design of one’s home can increase a sustainable work-life balance and maximize “public” spaces to accommodate hosting visitors — whether for work or pleasure.

Below are a few ways to accomplish the best work-life balance through considered design within your home:

Thoughtful Separation Of Spaces

The loss of separation between work and life is a new challenge that is ultimately the result of the lack of physical separation. I believe having designated areas for work and relaxation is key to maintaining a work-life equilibrium at home. If you do not have a separate room to designate as an office, try adding standing shelving to separate the work and living spaces. Fill the shelves with books, art pieces and small sculptures to make for a design-forward wall between the different areas that showcases your collection, while also allowing light to filter through. MORE FOR YOUThree Ways Small Businesses Should Prepare For A Second Covid ShutdownA New Regenerative Food Company With Biodiversity Built InHeady Pandemic-Fueled Growth, Then Startup Becomes A Public Benefit Corp.

Hideaway Furniture

Out of sight, out of mind. With constant access to your computer, it can be tough to shut off when the day is done. This can simply be combated by inventive furniture like fold-up desks or open-shut spaces that hide work setups away when it is time to unplug. Consider trying a fold-up desk, or a desk that can be rolled or tucked away, to open more space in your home and help you stay balanced. 

Designate Your Personal Spaces

Post-work unwinding can be hard to do, especially when you are steps from the “office.” No matter the size of your space, ensuring there are designated spaces within your home that are dedicated solely to relaxation is paramount. This can be achieved by transforming your bathroom into your own personal at-home spa, setting up an at-home workout space or making sure your bedroom is a technology-free oasis filled with books, plush bedding, soft lighting and no desktops in sight. 

Public Spaces

In the past, meetings were held in stuffy offices — often bereft of design features and generally utilitarian. Now, even our personal spaces may turn into conference rooms. An impressive Zoom background is your new “event outfit.” Colleagues and distant relatives alike now see your home, and it is important to present oneself well.

With changes in travel habits, hosting guests in our spaces is likely, as many may prefer the comfort of a friend’s home to a hotel when traveling to a new city, or in lieu of a trip to a crowded restaurant. If you are hosting more than ever before, keeping the more public rooms in your home uncluttered, clean and functional is more important than ever. You can ensure that your public spaces are suitable for hosting without guests feeling like they are intruding or sitting in your workspace by applying hospitality logic to your rooms: The foyer inside the door is your “welcome moment,” a living room becomes the lobby or hotel great room and the kitchen is a place where everyone can connect.

When your home is more than just a home — also an office, personal gym, spa, entertainment space and more — it is easy to feel you have little control over your space. But with these design points in mind, your home can transform into a transitional space allowing for seamless conversion through all its many needs.

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