A Handful of Writers & Their Pastimes

Feature art and image courtesy of Christopher Wiley.

Leo Tolstoy played chess. Madeleine L’Engle played the piano. Jane Austen played cards. Mark Twain was into scrapbooking and inventing–he combined these two hobbies to invent the scrapbook with adhesive pages.

This week, I want to encourage you to get away from your desk and out of the house. All writing and no living makes for some dull fiction. Hobbies, outside interests, physical activity–all these things will make you a better writer. Some of the best hobbies for writers include reading, traveling, photography, and people watching. Any of these activities will expand your ideas about the world and help you to see the world and the people in it from a different perspective. They will also fill your mental arsenal with images, sounds, and smells.

I’ve lately been fascinated with asking my writer friends what they do when they aren’t writing, and the results both surprised and delighted me. I got a few more responses in recent weeks, so here’s an encore post–five more writers and their other interests. I hope these inspire you to take some risks, take a break from writing, and seek out more fun in your own life.

Linda Romano: Writer, Cyclist & Runner:

Writer Linda Romano escaping her desk for a bike ride.

Observing the environment stimulates my creative process and helps me focus. When an idea feels important, instead of relying on memory, I try to jot it down somewhere. If not in a small notebook that I keep in my car, then texts or emailed notes to my phone. The phone has become an easy way to talk to myself!

Biking, running, and most outdoor activities have kept me sane over the years from events that occurred early in my childhood. I was fortunate to grow up in the beginning of Title IX when sports for girls were more available. It became an opportunity to engage in a community activity with a sense of comradeship, especially with other girls and women. Since then, I have learned to use physical activity as an escape to reengage my mind on new thoughts and avoid mental tailspins. More recently it has been an opportunity to engage with people of all ages. When I return to my desk and write, it feels like a fresh start. A sentence can take on a new form. A new idea may be triggered that wasn’t present earlier. Even a walk around the block can make a difference.

When she isn’t taking a spin around Northern California, writer and engineer Linda Romano is hard at work on her memoir.

Joe Garrity: Writer, Director & Improviser:

I got into improv, trepidatiously, as a writer first. Previously I had considered improv a sport only for professional actors, capital P Performers. I learned through watching many live shows during a semester in New York what a wide range of people took part in the practice: introverts, extroverts, listeners, talkers, leaders, followers. And I learned that none of these attributes actually belonged to anyone forever. We each contained multitudes. Shortly after college I stepped into my first improv course, a night class held at the Berkeley YWCA with retirees and computer programmers. I was terrified but slowly became acclimated to the central idea: courting terror. Disarming it. Practicing equanimity. Through one class, into another, from a theater in San Francisco to one in New York, I followed a winding path toward a friendlier relationship with my imagination. It became easier to reserve judgement, to honor feeling, to sit in uncertainty. To really laugh. Now I find myself in Los Angeles, studying at The Groundlings theater just down the street from me, where so many of my heroes have trained. I’m right where I want to be, in a scene I couldn’t have written.

Joe Garrity is a writer, director, and editor originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. He wrote, directed, and starred in the award-winning short film Twinsburg. Joe is directing Sunday Night at Jane’s by playwright Emily Powers for this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Tickets go on sale May 1st.

Christopher Wiley: Writer & Artist

Art and photography by Christopher Wiley.

Sensory experiences spark inspiration for me. Creating art becomes tactile, visual and problem-solving encounters for my brain. It is relaxation, a brief vacation from the assemblages of words on a blank page. It encourages uninhibited mind wandering that allows me to tap into unfiltered thoughts, ideas and feelings. Art also makes good practice for experimentation. I’d say that my art is craft-oriented, relying on mostly found objects and materials. Discovering and using found things for art projects gets me to see these discarded objects in a new way. Putting unusual or unlikely objects together in the physical world is a great exercise for expanding a writer’s mind. It cultivates my writer’s third eye that urges me to see—and express—the world clearly and creatively.

Art and photography by Christopher Wiley.

Christopher Wiley’s short play Irreversible Binomials recently premiered at The Post Theatre Company at Long Island University. Several of his poems recently appeared in Bending Genres and Peculiar.

Lindsay Jamieson Gallagher: Writer, Pianist & Snowboarder:

Playing the piano provides a perfect break when I’m writing. I mainly play the same few pieces (occasionally I learn something new, and an old favorite drops off the rotation), so practicing has an immediate effect; I can hear myself improve. Unlike with writing, I know the notes, so I can change the tone, the pace, the emotion. That resets my brain.

I can’t do this as often, but I also love to snowboard. How else can one access a snow-covered Narnian forest? On snowy tree days, I’m through the wardrobe, which will never stop being my ultimate fantasy. Also, when I’m in extreme terrain, which I prefer, I am one hundred percent in the moment. I’m a chronic overthinker, so the sudden silence in my brain is a tremendous relief. Sometimes this happens when I write, but not as frequently; danger forces the switch. I tend to have lots of ideas after I access that (underused) portion of my brain. And more optimism. At the top of a giant mountain, there’s no past (regrets) and no future (worries)—there’s only that rock and that cliff and that tree.

Lindsay Jamieson Gallagher‘s short story “Family Map” recently appeared in Kelp Journal.

Mick Guinn: Writer, Recording Artist, Gardener, Cyclist, Polymath ….

I was told recently (by a professional who should know) that my curse is I’m a polymath, which has nothing to do with math, which is good because I’m just “okay” at math, unless it’s financial woe math where I’m wont to articulate and exaggerate in great algebraic detail––which still doesn’t make me good at math––but doesn’t rule out the possibility of polymath. It could just be my ADHD. However, if the polymath diagnosis is correct, it may explain why my careers and pastimes are strewn all over the place like socks that never made the hamper.

As a recording artist and lyricist of questionable talent, I often unconsciously create wildly rhyming sentences with cadences like dances that call too much attention to themselves. All the while, pining for something more akin to the liquidity of lyrical prose to drop on the page. Most of the time when my butt is bolted to the chair as instructed, weeds call me out of it. The pullable, not smokable, kind.  Gardening’s in a different part of what’s left of my brain, giving the write brain a rest. I’m particularly obsessed with pruning, which feels like editing. Cycling sans earbuds does something similar. That’s when I hear the voices. I used to throw pots for the same unthinking reason. I guess the best pastimes for me are ones that use the unused parts of my brain.  Or the knees I need to take a walk with now.

Mick Guinn is unsurprisingly unpublished at this time, but currently completing work on a 3000-page coming-of-age memoir titled, Based on a True Story, which he hopes still is.

WRITER TIP: How do your outside interests enrich your writing life? Consider not only the direct connections, but indirect benefits. If running is your thing, you don’t have to come back from a run with a full-blown story idea. As Collin Mitchell shared last week, running and other physical activities release endorphins and keep us mentally and physically healthy. Other activities might exercise our right brains or help us keep our mental edge. All these things will make us better writers and will keep us in top writing form for many, many years.

Writing and Writing on Running

Please enjoy this guest post by writer and runner Collin Mitchell.

Much has been written about the relationship between running and the successful writing life: there are the obvious comparisons between the slog of marathon training and producing a novel, the way fresh air and exertion clears fog from the brain, and the age-old idea that any kind of pain makes one stronger.

Generally speaking, I have no argument with any of this.

So why write more about running and writing? What else is there to say, really?

Writers, perhaps more than most people, can appreciate the link between mental stimulation and an agile mind. Riding a bike or people-watching at the mall are decent ways to get words on the page—or at least delay them. We all want something (in this case, writing the Great American Novel), yet it’s the path we choose, or are forced to take, that’s the more interesting point of the story.

So, what of the pursuit of writing a novel, or anything, really? John Gardner has said that the primary subjects of fiction are human emotion, values, and beliefs. Is running an embodiment of this idea while also serving as a means by which to write?

By some stroke of fate, running found me. It’s also one of the few things I know how to do as well as eat or go to the bathroom, so I consider myself lucky that something which fell into my lap has proven to be natural to my disposition. The Japanese author Haruki Murakami intimated something similar in his musings on running. Much in his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, appeals to me—the workaday approach to running and writing, the satisfaction with boredom. In short, we both need (more like, crave) the empty, benign space running provides. But here, I’d rather reflect on an anecdote that doesn’t describe me at all. Murakami writes:

I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.

Each of these traits is a “no” for me. I began running at twenty-five because a friend, who had just finished his first marathon, encouraged me to give it a try. His accomplishment made me jealous in the best way, and I went for it. I’m still running nearly fifteen years later. My writing life had a similar trajectory. After years of avoiding the desire to write, I finally got started after a friend asked me to contribute something for a zine he was putting together. That same friend, (over years, mind you) cajoled me into working with him on a film, then movie scripts, and finally an animated TV pilot that got some attention in a handful of Burbank production offices. And then, after all that, when this same friend got his MFA and connected me with a paid writing gig, it finally occurred to me (boy, am I dense) that I should take myself a little bit more seriously. Unlike Murakami, I specifically don’t do whatever I feel like and almost always, wait for permission to move forward. Of all the things I wish I could change about myself, this is number one.

So what do writing and running and me have to do with each other? Well, we were pushed together, like reluctant kids at a junior high dance. Over the years we’ve found that if we have to be here (read: in life/on earth) we might as well stick together. Like the scrappy outcasts in an ‘80s movie, we’re gonna get through this and hopefully get to the end, with a pizza and a pitcher of Coors Light to celebrate.

Mostly, I don’t know what I want to do with myself on any given day. If I could walk around the neighborhood from sunup to sundown, I would. But this won’t work with my current lifestyle (marriage/kid), so running has to get the job done—it’s more efficient. Similarly, I would love to read all day, but some priggish sense of duty and productivity doesn’t allow me to do that. So, instead, I do something slightly less indolent, and I write. Which means I have to push a lot of inertia aside.

Running gets my feelings in check, and together we wrangle in the aimlessness of living. Anger turns to indifference, or better, empathy. Frustration turns to mild annoyance. With any luck, enthusiasm raises its eager head.

But more than this, running is about remembering who I am. The real me, or the ideal me. The me who can transform an old story idea into something resembling a plot. The me who has the imagination to finally get some lines of dialogue out. The me who cares enough about himself, even if just for an hour, before the endorphins drop, to make something with my time. This is the me who is ten years old again and doesn’t care about what others think or how much money I’ve made or any of those other distractions.

Running makes me familiar with myself again and asks, gently, if I might want to take a step forward, pursue my wants. For a moment, those narrative emotions, values, and beliefs are in stark relief. If I take a moment, and walk through the mental opening a good run provides, I can have a story to call my very own.


Collin Mitchell is a graduate of the UC Riverside Low Residency MFA program and the author of The Faithful, a historical biography of the opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. He contributes to Publishers Weekly and Los Angeles Review of Books, and he lives in Redlands.

More Writers & Their Pastimes

Feature image courtesy of Mackenzie Kram.

Sylvia Plath kept bees. Madeleine L’Engle played the piano. Flannery O’Connor raised peacocks. Emily Dickinson was an award-winning baker. Franz Kafka collected porn.

I can’t remember what triggered it. I think it may have been a book I was reading, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Whatever it was, I recently began noticing that my writer friends all have really cool hobbies and other creative outlets. I asked them to share how these other pursuits feed their writing. The responses I’ve gotten have been fascinating and enlightening. This is the last of three installments (at least for now) of writers talking about their other interests. Enjoy!

Rodney E. Schmidt: Writer & Hiker:

My writing and pastime activities run on different freeways that never intersect or run parallel. I write paranoid fantasies about Luddites and opportunists who try to shine in a bleak world, while my hobbies consist of me hiking through the mountains or deserts alone. Like I said, binaries. I’ve wandered so miles across this planet, and during that time, I’ve never thought that I needed technology to make my moment any better. Nor has there been a time when I’ve written about a dystopian future filled with nature and solitude. Maybe the dyad keeps the balance in my mind, influencing my plots, placating my fears. In both fiction and reality, I’m allowed to explore. And in both science fiction and nature, forces more significant tower over me. Maybe there’s a bigger connection than I thought.

Rodney E. Schmidt’s short story “Like and Follow” recently appeared in Caustic Frolic.

Paulla Rich Estes: Writer & Nature Enthusiast:

Walking my dog in the woods near my house, I witness the seasonal changes of Maine—the fall colors, winter snows, spring blossoms, and summer growth. But there’s a point on the path, twenty minutes to a half hour in, where something in me shifts. After mentally ticking down my checklist for the day, my brain exhales and I begin to write. Ideas crop up that I voice-text to myself, and I allow nature to help find the book inside me that’s waiting to be written.

Paulla Rich Estes’s essay “Extraction” recently appeared in The Coachella Review.

Writer Paulla Rich Estes and her companion Dinah.

David Olsen: Writer & Surfer

Surfing is an interesting sport. It seems super niche and sort of inaccessible. At least it did to me for years. I started surfing in earnest in my thirties. The ocean’s crushing jaws, great white sharks just beneath the surface—a close friend of mine was even attacked in Marina years ago—made the ocean seem like a counterintuitive place to find solace. But that is exactly what it has become for me. A solace from the land-world. Out beyond the breakers, reality becomes something new, something silent, and something potentially deadly. It is an experience like no other. And it is in this element, this tranquil, glittering reality beyond the breakers, that I feel truly alive. I think everyone needs a space like this, especially creatives. A space where it feels like you can be alone with just your thoughts and connect to the natural world. Sometimes it’s not about the wave riding, it’s just about existing in that realm for as long as you can, before you have to come back to the real world. I am always a little bit disappointed to have to come back. I always want just one more moment, or one more wave.

David Olsen is a writer and the Editor-In-Chief of Kelp Journal. His work has been widely published, including an essay in CrimeReads, “How Surf Noir Changed My Life.”

Mackenzie Kram: Screenwriter, Filmmaker & Aviation Enthusiast:

To me, airplanes represent freedom, creativity, and enlightenment. As a writer, a lot of my stories have been influenced by aviation and airplanes. For example, most of my characters are either flight attendants or in relationships with flight attendants. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re already halfway there.” Connecting the dots with this quote, aviation brings me the spark I need in my writing, allowing me to relate to characters and write screenplays with hints of aviation throughout. My screenplay, Airport Mime Hunt, was partially influenced by my love for airplanes and airports, specifically the Portland International Airport. When faced with writer’s block, or whenever I hit a brick wall in my writing, I go out and plane spot. Sometimes, I even spend all day plane spotting at Palm Springs International Airport or plan my schedule around spotting an inaugural flight (new route or new airline).

Whenever I fly, I try to make trip reports whenever I get a chance, allowing me to use my filmmaking skills while bringing my audience along for the ride. Like writing, I always know what I film, when to film, and where to film, giving me the right cues in making trip reports. Now with my new job as a ramp agent, I get flight benefits, allowing me to spend even more time around airplanes and flight attendants.

The photos on Mackenzie Krams popular Instagram have gotten likes from the airlines (AHA!, Allegiant, Frontier, Sun Country, Swoop, and United). The airplane photos below, as well as the photograph at the top of the post (an Alaska Airlines Jet taxiing at the Palm Springs International Airport for an early morning takeoff) were all taken by Mackenzie Kram.

Two Alaskan Airlines jets at Palm Springs International Airport. Photo credit: Mackenzie Kram

An American Eagle jet and an Alaskan Airlines jet side by side at the Palm Springs International Airport. Photo credit: Mackenzie Kram

A Sun Country jet making a sunset landing.
Photo credit: Mackenzie Kram

Andréa Ferrell Gannon: Writer, Class-Taker & Verb Hunter:

Kill for time for a hobby…. Before being locked in with teens all week, then alone with my memories and manuscript all weekend, I tried painting and improv. Yes, both are useful for stirring writerly juices. The most surefire way to get me writing though is working under great writer-teachers; I’m a big class-taker.

Looking forward for inspiration, since my life will calm down in June, I’m considering a summer job outside of my current field–something somewhere where gobs of different people are. I just want to stare at them!

And learning the new skills for the new job will give me new verbs. I love me some new verbs for revving up the ol’ writing!

Andréa Ferrell Gannon’s opinion piece, “First Came the TikTok School Shooting ‘Challenge.’ Then Came the Fear” recently appeared in the Washington Post.

L.A. Hunt: Writer & Rebel Flaneur

I see the most extraordinary things on my walks through East Hollywood and Silverlake—nature flourishing, life unfolding, time passing. And sure, I walk for health. But mostly, my mind wanders. And to my surprise, a different reason altogether has emerged for why I walk; it’s the time I get to devote to myself. See, I spend most of my days and nights and early mornings and late evenings, and every moment in between, taking care of other people. I am a mother, after all. And a teacher. Two of the most demanding roles on time, effort, and breath. When I breathe at work, it’s out of frustration or under pressure. When I breathe at home, it’s out of worry or from guilt. But on a walk, by myself, my breath is free, easy. Uninhibited. Of course, as a writer, the benefits of walking are incalculable, for obvious reasons. But I don’t walk for my writing anymore, because even that, in a way, is for something else outside of myself. I walk as an act of rebellion now. I am a radical. No one knows this. But on my walks, every breath I take is because I choose to breathe. I can also choose not to breathe which, by the way, is not recommended by any sane medical doctor or person with a brain. But the choice. It’s mine. I breathe in not because, if I don’t, my classroom will fall apart or my family system will break down. I breathe in because I am in the moment, I am a woman who feels every woman before her who didn’t have the choice to breathe or couldn’t breathe or was suffocated. I breathe in because I relish the choice to do so. On my walks, I smile. I laugh. I think. I cry. I sing out loud. I talk to myself. I argue. And I do it all as me without the external expectations of being a mother, a sister, a wife, a teacher, a writer, or a friend. I walk, and I breathe; they’re both free. Or rather, freeing. I know, radical, right?

L.A. Hunts essay “The Tree of Life” recently appeared in GXRL magazine.

East Hollywood and Silverlake as seen on the author’s walks.
Photo credit: L.A. Hunt

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: For the last few weeks, I’ve been asking my friends who write about the other things they do creatively or just for movement or fun. The first week, writers Amy Reardon, Nicholas Belardes, Anna Reagan, Trey Burnette, Jackie DesForges, and Laurie Rockenbeck talked about the creative pursuits that feed their writing in 6 Writers & Their Pastimes. Last week, we heard from Matt Ellis, Chih Wang, Ioannis Argiris, Sara Grimes, Jaime Parker Stickle, and Ashley Corinne in 6 More Writers & Their Pastimes. Next week, I have a more in-depth dive into the ways running benefits a writer.

6 More Writers & Their Pastimes

Feature image of writer & aerialist Chih Wang courtesy of Brandi Cooper.

I got such a great response to my request for the ways my writer friends’ pastimes inform their writing that I thought I’d share a half dozen more this week … and a half dozen more next week! Here’s part two of writers talking creative pursuits, hobbies, and side hustles.

Ioannis Argiris: Writer & Stigmatophile:

Collecting tattoo imagery is a process that inspires my writing work when I’m capturing a mood. I try to find images to connect to that emotion, like courage (panther head tattoo) or anger (dagger), and I think about how the lines and colors that make up that graphic affect my writing. Seeing so many variations of the images expressed by many wonderful tattoo artists helps me find the words I can try out on the page.

Ioannis Argiriss short story “U-Haul” recently appeared in Kelp Journal. His new zine, encinal nights: speculative stories, features four short stories and will be available in April at local Bay Area bookstores and online.

Chih Wang: Writer, Editor & Aerialist:

My other big thing I love to do is aerial hammock, but I’m not sure if it actually helps my writing. When I’m frustrated and feeling low about the progress with my novel, I can sometimes turn to aerial where my progress is much more obvious. Learning a new skill in a one-hour class reminds me that I can still accomplish things and perhaps that bleeds over to my writing morale.

Chih Wang is a freelance copyeditor and is the copyeditor for Kelp Journal. You can reach her at cywediting.com.

Aerialist Chih Wang. Photography credit: Brandi Cooper.

Sara Grimes: Poet & Stand-Up Comedian:

Cutting my teeth in comedy has been a useful tool for developing my poetic voice. When I am feeling depleted in one area of my creative life, it allows me to pivot to another outlet. I have days when inspiration strikes to write a comedy set. On those days, I may be sitting at a coffee shop, and I can feel my consciousness expand and welcome in thematic material to riff off of. It will often start with one joke or idea, and then my writing acumen will come in handy to develop that into a larger bit woven together thoughtfully. This gets the creative juices flowing, and maybe later that day, I will be walking my dog through a neighborhood on the precipice of spring, and I will be inspired to write a poem about it. Then, I will sit down and apply the same balance of craft and lyric flow to my poetry.  There is a sense of rhythm, movement, and pacing to both forms of art.

In this clip, I think the role of emphasis and syntax in both genres is heightened as well: “QR Codes Are the New Classified Ads”

Sara Grimes’s poem “Isolation” recently appeared in The Dewdrop‘s “Isolation Shorts.”

Jaime Parker Stickle: Writer & Podcast Host:

I started a podcast to be able to sit with other artists once a week and talk about all the things, all the jobs, all the money-making gigs we do and have done in pursuit of our careers as writers (and other artists). It really feeds my work as a writer in so many ways–hearing incredible stories from fellow artists inspires me to keep working and not give up. It honestly aids the way I build characters, especially in my screenwriting. I’m often motivated to write characters that I think the actors I have on the show would play with grace and humor and ease. And that is so exciting to me.

The podcast has become such a passion of mine because of how much fulfillment it provides to me creatively, and it keeps me tethered to a community of artists, where I may otherwise feel isolated as a writer. I know my writing is better because of it.

Jaime Parker Stickle is a writer and the co-host of Make That Paper! Podcast.

Writer and podcast host Jaime Parker Stickle

Matt Ellis: Writer, Musician & Air Wave Wanderer:

One of my favorite MFA lecture moments was when thriller novelist Ivy Pochoda likened plot building to releasing a herd of rabbits to run. Her revelation was both mind-blowing and daunting. I’d written long enough to know that once your characters had their own lives and voices, they could drive the story in new and surprising ways. Easy, right? For a successful career, all you need is to create a vast stable of fully realized characters and keep churning them out like a dungeon master with three bags of dice. Oh … but wait … they also need to be both wholly original and identifiable to your reader simultaneously? Reality check, please.

Like many people, I spend far too much time in my car. While switching off the stereo can invite the creative journey that only bumper-to-bumper boredom can bring, getting lost in those mental excursions can invite real-life danger and drama. My solution—reality podcasts! You want authenticity in your writing, let fact drive your what-if explorations. I don’t find the gold in mining sensational stories or the peaks of meteoric rises. Those are already too well known and lean toward the cliché. I’m obsessed with grassroots. Causes that help me shape different effects.

An unusual This American Life profile of an investigator who identifies unclaimed bodies in Los Angeles led me to some profound questions that became my current manuscript. Another led me to a new raison d’être for a critical character that I had to resurrect and carry for two hundred more pages. Need insights into the moral calculus of high-stakes operations for your geopolitical thriller? Tune into Malcolm Gladwell’s exploration of the WWII fire-bombing campaigns on Tokyo in Revisionist History. Got a crime story about street gangs? The Freakonomics crew will tell you the economic reasons many drug dealers still live at home with their mothers.

I’m not saying poach for your prose, but we can all modify a splice of DNA for our own sequencing. Now put on those sunglasses, adjust the seat, and tune your stereo EQ from rock to talk.

Matt Ellis’s short story “Off the Road” was recently published in Kiss the Witch.

Ashley Corinne: Writer, Singer/Songwriter & TV/Film Aficionado:

When I’m not reading or writing, I’m more than likely watching TV or movies or listening to music.

Music is my very first love. I was a singer and a songwriter before I was anything else, thanks to mornings with Radio Disney’s pop jams, princess movies, and Breakfast with the Beatles on 95.5. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of turning the volume up with your headphones in and pretending you’re in a dramatic music video.

While I don’t do so much songwriting these days, and I only sing alone in the car (like my life depends on it), music is the one thing that keeps my brain from folding in on itself. I’m constantly curating playlists for seasons, moods, and feelings or finding film scores to match my reading mood. I just finished putting together my spring playlist, and I’m rather proud of it.

Once I’m finished dancing around my room and performing Ashley: The World Tour for an imaginary audience, my brain is refreshed and full of new ideas for writing.

Film and TV are my other two vices. I’ve always had obnoxious opinions on them, and I’m shocked to read old Facebook statuses where I raved about bad TV like it was a Monet. I do love bad TV, don’t mistake that, but I love so much more about film than my “guilty pleasure” watching (which I do not ever feel guilty about, btw).

I work for a movie studio (an unexpected life turn), where I’ve worked in both film and television, and it’s completely changed the game for me. I not only obsess over storytelling and hot people on my screen, but I’ve become downright geeky about the production process. Writing, VFX, dailies, color and costume tests, MPA rating processes. It’s exhausting and lovely and somehow still one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Watching movies and television allow me to stay close to what I love about reading and writing: storytelling, character, themes, etc, but I’m still able to keep the two separate. And once I’m done with a new show (or an old one I’ve seen a hundred times), I can see my own work so differently. It lets me see that maybe the direction or tone I had started with isn’t actually where the story needs to go.

Ashley Corinne’s essay My Brain Is in a Supermassive Black Hole: A Twilight Reread recently appeared in GXRL.

Writer Ashley Corinne enjoys music, TV & film, and coffee shops.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Last week, writers Amy Reardon, Nicholas Belardes, Anna Reagan, Trey Burnette, Jackie DesForges, and Laurie Rockenbeck talked about the creative pursuits that feed their writing. Read all about it here: 6 Writers & Their Pastimes. What things do you do to keep the creative juices flowing?

6 Writers & Their Pastimes

Feature image “Morning Star” courtesy of Trey Burnette.

I’ve been fascinated lately with the way our creative interests and hobbies play into or support our writing. Nearly all of my writer friends have other interests. Some are creative, some are just for fun, some are more grounding. I asked a half dozen writers to tell me about their other creative or just-for-fun pursuits and to discuss how those things inform their writing.

Amy Reardon: Writer, Dancer & Erasure Poet:

“I make erasure poetry to entertain myself and my friends because I find it relaxing and empowering to pull out a deeper agenda within a text. I attend ballet class because it gives me so much pleasure to be in this group of retired ballerinas for whom it is easy and natural to move beautifully. I love being in the room with the music and the barre and the teacher. I’m often the worst one there–and I am learning the language and the moves so it’s humbling and overwhelming, and I have to concentrate so hard–all feelings I put myself in intentionally to inform my writing. But mostly it’s just the beauty. Bodies doing ballet are about the most beautiful thing I can imagine.”

Amy Reardons essay “Stuck” recently appeared in The Believer.

Nicholas Belardes: Writer, Birder & Photographer:

“Nature trails. Birds. Animal life. Behaviors. Birding informs my fiction writing daily. Everything from the jewel of a Summer Tanager to a coyote gulping down a poor bunny. These moments sneak into my stories, help me illuminate how beautiful and dangerous the world can be. My sci-fi story ‘Sky Seekers’ in El Porvenir, Ya! was inspired by what AI birding could be in the far distant future.”

Nicholas Belardess short story “Sky Seekers” is in the Chicano science fiction anthology El Porvenir, Ya!

Summer Tanager, Pismo Beach Campground. Photography credit: Nicholas Belardes.

Anna Reagan: Writer, Reality TV Expert & Celebrity/Pop Culture Queen:

“My Reality TV pleasure brings me a sense of community with people. Instagram, Reddit, friends, etc. Like with the women in my squad, we had such a good time discussing Love is Blind. After and during the pandemic, I’ve come to realize that I need the escape of reality TV and the drama of people I don’t even know on TikTok. It’s fun and it doesn’t affect me directly. I’ve always loved people and their stories, and though people deem it trashy, I love it!

“I think for Real Housewives in particular there can be very complicated issues at hand and human drama—especially how we react to things—is on display. Dissecting with friends and seeing what the internet has to say is really fun and can lead to really interesting conversations. There’s of course the element of some of it being contrived. Some housewives are AMAZING at stirring the pot and Bravo fans will joke that those housewives themselves are producers when we know they want to keep their jobs. There’s also the phenomenon of the second season housewife who totally changes in various ways to respond to their debut season, which can be fascinating. I could go on, clearly.

“For celebrity culture it’s the same but different. Growing up in LA and being around big names, I’ve had a front row seat to how these people act. For instance I went to school with a now B-list actor’s daughter and the daughter of perhaps the most famous living director. And the director’s daughter was incredibly down to earth while the actor’s daughter made a huge display of ordering take-out for lunch everyday—which is expensive—AND had a town car pick her up. So I learned a lot about how people in Hollywood display their insecurities. So celebrity gossip is sometimes like gossip about people I know. But then I’m also a nosy bitch.

“And I just can’t be out of the loop about any cultural phenomenon. I’m too interested in the general discourse. I am getting better at being okay with not being in the loop with everything. I’ve stayed away from Euphoria because it seems anxiety producing. Progress.”

Anna Reagans essay “Dear Kobe Bryant: A Threnody: Wake Up. Grind. Repeat. Become Better.” recently appeared in Public Seminar.

Trey Burnette: Writer & Photographer:

“Writing is very cognitive and sedentary, as opposed to photography, which is very instinctual and active. While my artistry and emotion come through my mind with writing, my creativity with photography comes through my body. First through my eyes, and then by a reactive feeling in my body. There is less time to think with photography, one must act on impulse, or miss the shot. Photography is not done sitting at a desk – one stands, sits, squats, climbs, and lies on objects to get the right shot. Both mediums compliment the other; after one is physical and instinctive with photography, there is space for the meditative and heady practice of writing. Photography clears my mind and puts me in the moment. It gives me the space I need to subconsciously process my writing and then return with a fresh view. Writing helps a photographer think about story. Photography helps the writer listen to their instincts.”

Trey Burnettes essay “September 1” recently appeared in Cheat River Review.

“Morning Star” – Photography credit: Trey Burnette

Jackie DesForges: Writer, Artist & Poet:

“For me, being creative has always been about play, to an extent. Trying things and having fun and pushing myself intellectually in an environment where nothing is at stake and where no one else gets a say in what I am doing. Writing used to be like this for me, but now that it is becoming more like work (which, of course, was the goal and I am grateful for it), I need other forms of creativity to fill that void of doing shit for shit’s sake. For me right now it’s getting back into visual art (which I did a lot as a child but stopped for about a decade), and writing poetry, which I always thought I hated and was bad at. Turns out I just hadn’t yet found types of poetry that spoke to me. I also find it helpful to be able to switch to another creative project when I get stuck on another. It feels like a productive way to take a step back until I know how to move forward. And since I am usually working on more than one thing at a time, each of the projects end up having hints of each other.”

Jackie DesForgess essay “How to Build an Artist” recently appeared in Air/Light.

Laurie Rockenbeck: Writer & Fiber Artist:

“I could go on for hours about fiber arts. Planning a knitted piece is a lot like planning a story. Instead of words, the story of a fabric is told in color and fiber. The process uses complimentary parts of the brain that feed my need to create. Knitting uses a different but equally creative part of my brain.  Sometimes when I am stuck on a scene, I’ll pick up the needles to put myself into a different mode.  This change in focus often unlocks a fix.”

Laurie Rockenbeck is a Seattle crime fiction writer hard at work on her next novel. She also makes the best quince liqueur I’ve ever tasted.

One of Laurie Rockenbeck’s fun current projects–a gnome every month in 2022.

Author Laurie Rockenbeck shows off one of her many knitting projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITER TIP: Scientific studies have shown that having creative interests and hobbies outside of writing will make you a better writer. Hobbies are good for people in general–they support physical health and emotional well-being. For writers, they have added benefits: they get us up and away from our desks; stimulate different centers in our brains; provide us with opportunities to observe people and the world around us; and inspire us creatively. One of my favorite short story writers, Flannery O’Connor, wrote: “I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things.”

Ways of Writing

In my teens, I thought writing was agony. I read The Bell Jar and emptied my broken heart into reams of bad, hand-scrawled poetry about the boys who didn’t love me back.

In my twenties, I thought writing was detached, hard-rock glamour. It meant jeans and a band T-shirt, dark shades to block out my bright future, a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other. I etched my brilliant words into the page letter by letter, with forceful taps on my typewriter’s keys.

In my thirties, I learned better. Writing was a lot of hard work. It meant sitting at the keyboard of my newfangled home computer, forcing the words until they came, then rearranging them until they didn’t make me sick. I wrote this way for twenty-five or so years.

If writing was hard work, then it couldn’t be fun or play, right? A very wise woman, my first fiction mentor at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Low-Residency MFA, taught me that, as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.

I studied with Mary Yukari Waters for a year; it was a life-changing year. Mary and all the professors I worked with taught me so much about writing. But Mary also taught me so many things about living a creative life.

Mary taught me that writing a piece of fiction is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires persistence and patience. It requires pacing yourself and giving yourself time and space to breathe. Yes, writing involves work, but it shouldn’t be work. Not completely anyway. The physical act of trying to get the ideas from your brain to the page can be frustrating and difficult and stressful, but creativity shouldn’t be any of those things. Mary taught me that creativity withers and dies in a stressful environment. It runs away when pressed too hard.

“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” –Agatha Christie

I’m a list person. I once sent Mary a first draft of a story I wasn’t yet proud of. I loved the idea, but in execution, I knew it needed a lot more work, and I wanted her to know that I knew that. With the draft, I included a list of all the things I saw wrong with the story and all the things I planned to do to improve it. I still have the handwritten note she gave me–it went something like this: “How can you write like this? This list gives me anxiety–I can only imagine what it is doing to you.”

What I learned from Mary is that writing takes many forms. It isn’t only the time we spend writing. It’s the time we spend thinking about writing, maybe while we’re doing the dishes or taking a walk. It’s the time we don’t spend thinking about writing too, when we’re doing something else entirely, and seemingly out of nowhere, the answer comes. Because while we are washing dishes or taking walks or watching movies or putting puzzles together, or even while we are sleeping, our subconscious brains continue to work on our stories.

What a relief it was to learn that. I came into my MFA program with revision anxiety. I tend to be driven, anxious, stressed out. I’ve been called a workaholic. A therapist once told me that, somewhere, somehow, I’d come away with the idea that being an adult is not supposed to be fun. I work a lot. I don’t say that as a humble brag because I think my need to work so hard grows out of a lack of confidence rather than the reverse. I work hard in part because I feel like I need to in order to be considered a person of worth and value. I need permission to take breaks, and when left to my own devices, I don’t give myself that permission. Now I was being told by Mary that, not only was it okay to go easier on myself and to take breaks, it was necessary.

Life-changing advice, right? Breathe it in, enjoy a cup of coffee, and go for a long walk.

“[I]f you sit with a problem long enough, the decision makes itself. The rational brain is overrated. It seems to me that the truest decisions, in life and in art, happen on a visceral, almost subconscious level. It’s like the needle of a compass: at first it swings wildly over the surface, but eventually a deeper magnetism asserts itself and the needle finds its place.” –Mary Yukari Waters, “After the Happy Ending.”

Here’s Mary’s full essay in The Rumpus about writing … and not writing:

The Sunday Rumpus Essay: After the Happy Ending

And here’s a video on creativity and the subconscious brain recommended by Mary:

WRITER TIP: Build downtime into your schedule every single day. Take breaks away from your keyboard. Get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and sleep. Engage in activities that feed your creative soul: painting, gardening, playing the guitar. Go for a walk, a hike, a run. Go into the backyard and play fetch with your dog. Take the kids to the park. Do a chore that doesn’t require brainpower: wash the dishes, wash the car, take the garden hose to your patio furniture. Being overly busy crushes creativity–your subconscious brain can’t help you write if it’s constantly occupied thinking about your mile-long to-do list or your taxes or brainstorming your grocery list.

 

Woman walking barefoot on black sand beach with dress

Self-Care for Writers

This morning, I gathered some resources on self-care for writers. I’m definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of person, so these resources were a good reminder to me to get up from my computer once in a while.

First, I’m including two videos. Below the videos, I’ve included links to some other resources.

The first video was my favorite. It’s a 15-minute video by T.A. Hernandez, who is not only a self-publishing author, but a mental health professional. One of my favorite bits was her reminder that our physiological needs are at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a reason. These are the things we need to survive, things like air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, and sleep. We need to take care of these things before we do anything else, including writing.

 

This second, 20-minute video by Shaelin Bishop is a close second. Bishop is a writer who explains why self-care is so important, gives tips on putting self-care into action, and gives a refreshingly open and honest account of her own efforts to practice better self-care as a writer. I especially enjoyed her discussion of workshopping and turning your work over to beta readers.

 

Here are some other resources to help you practice better self-care as a writer. My favorite tip came from Hayley Eyer, a freelance content writer who often writes about freelancing. In her piece “Self-Care for Writers: The Ultimate Freelancer’s Survival Guide,” Eyers says: “[S]aying no is an act of self-care.” I got chills when I read this. I’d never looked at it this way. She goes on to explain that setting healthy boundaries for yourself is an act of empathy to those you work with too. Reading this not only gave me permission to say no, but helped me see that it is my responsibility to say no when it’s appropriate to do so.

Look After Yourself: Self Care for Writers (The Creative Penn)

Self-Care for Writers: The Ultimate Freelancer’s Survival Guide (Indy)

The Writer’s Guide to Self-Care and Preservation (NY Book Editors)

Self-Care for Writers (Writers Write)

30 Unique Self Care Ideas for Writers (InkWell Spills)

10 Ways to Care for Yourself as a Writer (Well-Storied) (NOTE: Also in podcast form on the page)

50 Self-Care Ideas for Writers (Website Designer Pauline Wiles)

 

WRITER TIP: Eat, drink, breathe, and move. Of all the self-care tips out there, I think this is the most important. Your body is the instrument you use to transmit words from your brain to the page. Appreciate it. Feed it, hydrate it, and give it plenty of oxygen and exercise. A brain that is deprived of these things isn’t going to give you your best ideas or your most inspired language. Work in cooperation with your body and your brain in order to have a long, lasting, and enjoyable writing career and life.