Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Beating Deadlines with Healthy Writing Habits Part 2: Write Happy!

By Bree Despain, @breedespain

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Some writers have stories that inspire and make you think--either on the page or in real life. Today, please help me welcome Bree Despain to the lecture hall today, with a tale of how she changed her life and improved her writing all at the same time.

Bree is the author of the Dark Divine trilogy and the Into The Dark trilogy. She rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, two young sons, and her beloved TiVo.

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Take it away Bree...

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for Publishing Crawl on beating deadlines with healthy writing habits. In that post, I talked about how after I received some dismal medical test results, my doctor told me I either had to completely overhaul my writing process or find a new career—because being an author was literally killing me—and I highlighted some of my newfound strategies for writing healthier. I got a huge response from fellow writers on that post, and many people wanted to know more about my writing routine and habits, so today I thought I would go beyond how I made my writing process healthier and talk about how I also made it happier.

As I said in my other post, my doctor’s pronouncement was huge wake up call for me. I knew I desperately needed to break out of my “books are made out of sugar, caffeine, and tears” mentality that had ruled my life since becoming a published author. Faced with the prospect of having to give up the career I love if I didn’t make some changes, I’ve spent the last year researching, consulting other professionals, and trying out new tricks and writing habits. During that same time, I thoroughly revised one book (THE ETERNITY KEY, that was just released in April!) outlined two more books, and defeated a deadline for a first draft of another book—all while improving my emotional and physical wellbeing, and losing 40 pounds. Hopefully, a few of the following tips might be useful to you—and you might even find that a happy writer is a more productive one. (Did you know your brain is 31% more productive when you’re happy?)

Bree Despain’s Tips for Writing Happy:

1. Start your day the grateful way.

Every morning after the rush of getting my kids off to school, I take a moment to pull out a leather-bound journal and write down three new things that I am grateful for. This can be anything, big or small, that I am grateful for—and believe me, some days are harder than others to come up with three. While one day might be big things like, “I sold a book!” or “My mother’s cancer surgery was a success!” there are plenty of days where the best thing I can come up with is “Today I am grateful for cheese.” It doesn’t matter. Taking time to record things that I am grateful for helps me break away from dwelling on the negative aspects of my day—as my neurotic writer’s brain is prone to do—and it’s easier to see the silver linings for what they are while they’re actually happening.

2. Record something positive.

In that same journal, I then write about something positive that happened to me in the last 24 hours. While my gratitudes are often only a sentence or two long, I try to write at least a page about a positive experience. This serves the purpose of getting my writing juices flowing for the day, while also allowing me to experience a little burst of positive emotions from reliving a good moment. It also trains my brain to find the most positive things about my day (“Hey there’s my positive experience for today!” I often catch myself thinking) instead of dwelling on the negative.

3. Reach out and touch someone

Not literally, or literally, whichever you prefer. Writing can be a solitary career, especially during a pressing deadline when I spend many hours a day by myself. If it weren’t for my family, I would probably go days without interacting with another person. (Other than the ones who live inside my books.) After all my journaling, I take a minute to reach out to a friend, peer, or family member in order to thank or praise them for something they did or accomplished. This can be as simple as a text, tweet, or an email, but is even better as a handwritten note, phone call, or in-person interaction. Showing kindness to someone else not only helps me feel good, but also helps strengthen my social relationships that might otherwise fall by the wayside while I’m on deadline. (And chances are, the person I reached out to also gets little boost to their happiness that they might in turn share with someone else. It’s that whole pay if forward concept.)

4. Meditation.

I mentioned this in my other post, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning again. Many people have recommended meditation to me over the years, but I used to write it off as new-agey mumbo jumbo. However, after listening to several Ted Talks that recommended daily meditation, I decided to give it a try—and holy crap, it actually works! I feel more clear-headed, serene, and I’ve ended many a meditation session with an answer to a plot quandary or character issue popping into my head. Before I start my work for the day, I do a ten to fifteen minute meditation session. I use an app called Simply Being to guide me through each session.

5. Change the story you tell yourself.

If you’re a somewhat neurotic and anxiety prone writer like myself, you probably have a voice inside your head that likes to tell you that you’re not good enough, or your writing isn’t good enough, or that everything you put on a page is crap and you’re never going make your deadline on time (or finish this book, or sell this book, etc.). For me, this voice goes into hyperdrive when I’m on deadline. I start questioning all of my plot choices and second-guessing every word I type. It can be crippling if I don’t either turn it off or change the words that it’s telling me.

The best way I know how to turn off this voice is through speedwriting (a topic I covered in my other post) but another effective way of beating the voice is by giving it different words to say. I do this with daily affirmations. And yes, I know, if you’re of a certain age you just pictured SNL’s Stuart Smiley standing in front of a mirror saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

Before you roll your eyes, know that I was also very adverse to this idea at first. I felt stupid and awkward—and no, I don’t sit in front of a mirror or say my affirmations out loud. After my meditation session, I take about three to five minutes to repeat an affirmation or two in my head. My two favorites are, “I am serene, confident, and powerful,” and “The writing I do today will be good enough to accomplish my goal by [insert deadline date].” Yeah, I know it sounds hokey, but I found within the very first day, that after several minutes of telling myself these things, I actually started to believe them. I was more confident in my work, I truly did feel more serene and powerful, and because I believed I could accomplish my goal by my deadline, I got my work done—and doggone it, it was good enough.

All in all, my pre-writing routine takes about an hour. This might sound like a lot of time, especially when I try to keep my writing hours compartmentalized between 9am-3pm while my kids are at school (and include plenty of breaks). However, I’ve found that a happy brain really is a more productive brain, and sticking to my routine is worth every minute. My routine (in combination with the habits I outlined in my other post) has helped me increase my productivity from about 500-1000 words a day to about 2000-5000 words a day. All while feeling happier and healthier! I hope adopting a few of these habits will do the same for you.

Note #1: Writing happy does not mean you’ll end up filling your books with sunshine and sparkles. (Not that there’s anything wrong with sunshine and sparkles if that’s what you want to write.) I still write books about monsters, the underworld, Greek gods wrecking havoc on the world, and do horrible things to my characters. You can still write like a tortured artist without feeling like one all the time. Heheh.

Note #2: For more on the power of positive psychology check out The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor and the app SuperBetter created by Jane McGonigal.

About The Eternity Key

Fan-favorite author Bree Despain continues her modern-day romance trilogy inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades with this second book in her Into the Dark series.

Haden Lord, the disgraced Prince of the Underrealm, has chosen love over honor and will do everything in his power to protect Daphne Raines, the human girl he was supposed to bring to the Underrealm. Haden’s choice is put to the test as the Skylords and a figure from his past arrive in Olympus Hills with a plan that could destroy all of the realms.

Embracing her destiny as the Cypher, Daphne begins to understand the immense power of her musical ability to control the elements, but she must come to terms with her feelings for Haden and what she must sacrifice in order to protect him and her friends.

Believing the Key of Hades is the only thing that can stop the Underrealm Court from releasing the monstrous Keres on the mortal world, Haden, Daphne, and their friends set out to find the Key before Persephone’s Gate opens again on the spring equinox.

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  1. Don't forget the physical stuff too.

    Eat unprocessed, whole foods
    Get enough sleep
    Avoid addicting or behavior changing substances

  2. Thank you. These are helpful suggestions, and it's good to be reminded that meditation increases happiness and efficiency.

  3. I don't do the gratitude writing but I do like to start with the positive. I used to meditate but it seems that it's become a warmer month thing with me because I love doing it outside. Yes, the weather is warmer so it's time to get back into that habit. Yes, I write with anxiety sitting right beside me. Sometimes I can ignore it, believe it or not.

  4. I really appreciate this. 2015 is my year to write smart, not scared (I'm prone to let stress / anxiety take over). This time with edits, I've given myself a whole week to think through the story and characters before digging back in. I'm going in with more of a plan than ever before, and already I feel more confident.