Thank you to Colleen Story, for this inspiring interview with Melissa Palmer on her Writing on Wellness blog. We are reprinting it here with Colleen’s permission.
Giving the Body and Mind Equal Attention
Whether I like it or not, the dang human body needs sleep, even if I’m on a roll. I tend to stay up way too late writing, much to the chagrin of anyone who has to deal with me during the daylight hours.
I work out as often as I write.
The body feeds the mind as much as the mind feeds the body, so I try to give them both equal attention.
I do at least three cardio and three strength training workouts in a week. (I have to, or I’m unpleasant to be around.) I get out into the gym, turn on the Matt and Kim Pandora station, and it’s like I’m on my own little sunshine planet.
I had to give up long distance running after an injury—I’ve moved to cycling. But, I’ll share a secret with you. I get on the spin bike, pop on an episode of Supernatural, and I am in happy town. With that combo, I can do anything.
Monitoring My Writing Mood
I get very down on myself when I feel like the writing is not up to snuff and when that happens I can be a pretty negative person. In the past when I was stuck in a chapter, I would try to push through it like it was physical exercise. And when that didn’t work, I would let it get me down, not realizing that’s not how the creative process works.
So now when I feel what I call “the ickies” coming on, I focus on other things. For instance, if I feel like I don’t “have it” that day as far as writing, I’ll use that time instead to promo or edit: the more nuts and bolts stuff. I try very hard to monitor my “writing mood” so it doesn’t interfere with my real-life mood.
I try to keep perspective in check. I don’t like be down, so as soon as I feel that frustration coming on, I try to stop it in its tracks by doing something else.
I’ve always been a pretty intense person when it comes to my work. I remember my parents enforcing mandatory breaks when I was sucked into math or science or writing a story, to get me out of the bell jar so to speak.
So I do that even now. When I feel things getting too intense, or even emotionally hurt over something that’s happened with my writing, I redirect myself as much as I can.
I bake. I go dance around with my kids or go to the zoo. I play Skyrim, fangirl like a champ. Then, there’s Netflix. Woof. Don’t get me started on that.
I basically do anything I can that isn’t writing when the writing starts to feel less like a release and more like a sentence. (I just took a whole month off after the holidays to refresh the batteries.)
And lastly there’s my menagerie of animals, each goofier than the next, who never judge me for having writer’s block or criticize my use of commas. When all else fails, nothing beats a good cuddle.
Writing is one of those things; it’s so personal. It can really get to you, if you let it.
So I don’t. Or at least, I try not to.
The Darkest Moment
My memoir was represented by one of the big agencies. It had been in a years-long process of major edits and finally submission with some fairly gigantic publishers.
And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I got that horrible call.
They were dropping my project.
Poof. Just like that.
I will never forget that little bink sound from my phone, or the poor student’s face who was in my classroom with me at the time. I’ve had the breath physically knocked out of me before. (I’m a klutz.) And this was worse. The air went away. The floor underneath me felt unsteady and all I could think was: This was all a waste.
How did I get past that? Hmmm. I gave myself two days. Two full days to be a mush.
Like I said before, I give myself limits as to not get sucked into the vortex. I ate ice cream, had a beer (or two) and when no one was around I let myself cry like a kid with a skinned knee.
And like any self-respecting writer, I vowed never to touch another story as long as I live.
Within weeks I was writing my next book. Not because I’m this big strong bear-woman. It’s more because I can’t help it. I love writing and I need it. There’s no amount of wounded pride or indignation that could make that need go away. (As it turned out.)
The One Thing That Has Kept You On Your Path
My family. My husband’s faith in me lifts me up when I’m at my lowest. My parents’ memory fuels me to do all I can to live up to the potential in me they saw but never got to see fulfilled. (Again, it sounds corny, but it really is true.)
And my daughters have a lot to do with why I don’t give up no matter what happens in the publishing or book sales world. Both of them have been born with special needs that make every day living a bit of a challenge. Both of them have felt embarrassed or overwhelmed or sometimes even crushed by the obstacles they meet every day.
I thought, how can I tell them to keep trying no matter what if I don’t?
I owe it to them to never be a quitter, to never let naysayers get the best of me, and to never give less than my best to what I’m doing. It sounds corny, sure. But I have to practice what I preach. I owe that to my babies.
Advice to a Young Writer
I’m not sure if this is the hardest part, but I think it’s probably the most necessary: Get in touch with your own humility.
That’s not to say there aren’t egotistical writers, because Lord know there are. But from my point of view, it’s the most necessary tool in the chest.
To deal with critics, with the snail’s pace of publishing, even to be able to edit away paragraphs and passages you swore were perfect, you need to have a good sense of humility.
Knowing there is room for improvement is imperative. Pride can be deadly for a writer. Humility can be a lifesaver. (This is probably good advice for humans in general now that I think about it…)
Thank you, Melissa!
Melissa’s memoir, A Life Less Normal, is forthcoming from Wido Publishing. Read more about this story here.
Breaking the Cycle: Melissa’s essay “Breaking the Cycle” was first seen on Stigmafighters.com and was picked up by both “The Writing Disorder” and “Stigmama.” It recounts what a mom will go through to help her own child, even if it means facing the hardships of her own past. Find a copy here.