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How To Be Creative For The Long Term, With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

How to be Creative for the Long Term, with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

In this session Orna and Joanna go back to the source to talk about creativity: what it is, how to sustain and nurture it and the challenges of overcoming resistance, beating block and sustaining a creative life over the long term.

Sharing their own creative practices and process, and what they’ve learned over decades of writing and publishing, they explore creative approaches not just to writing, but to publishing and author business too.

This podcast is for you if you want to know what it takes to make a life, and a living, in words.

  • Defining “creative” and creative success 
  • Applying creativity not just to writing but to publishing and business too: the “create-state”
  • Filling the creative well – how we both do it 
  • Trust in emergence – a seven stage process
  • Making time to write and create vs business stuff:
  • How not to burn out – Balance creative work, rest, play
  • Contrast — get off the internet and social media, get into nature, be sociable, get your body moving
  • Cycles of creative life, like cycles in nature. Allow for fallow periods (not necessarily blocked)
  • Making Business Creative: Self-Talk 
  • Forms of Creative Resistance
  • Varying Pace
  • Keep learning – and try new things – don’t be wedded to just one way of doing things, 
  • Think long term and make sure you have a stable base of multiple streams of income – so you are never desperate to just rely on your art. 

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The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor Ingram Spark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Listen to the Podcast: How to Be Creative

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About the Hosts

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcript

Joanna Penn: Hi, everyone. This is the Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self Publishing Salon. I’m Joanna Pen. I’m here with Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna. Hi, everyone. Welcome back.

Joanna Penn:  Yes, welcome back indeed and today we are talking about how to be creative for the long term. So just I guess before we get into the news, just to set the scene, I started writing in, like seriously in around 2006 and went full time in 2011. So, I guess I’m almost – well I’m over a decade totally but nearly a decade full time. Orna give us a sort of timeline for you as well.

Orna Ross:  Oh Crikey. Three decades probably writing and publishing. Yeah, not probably three decades writing and publishing, but self publishing since 20, late 2011, early 2012. Yeah.

Joanna Penn:  Yeah. So that’s just to set the scene. And I wanted to talk about this because I’ve been doing a bit of an overhaul on my website, which is now over a decade old. And what I noticed is how many websites were dead. How many of those creatives had gone away. How many people had stopped writing, how many books just weren’t there anymore, or was sort of, you know, left untouched, and it shocks me in a way and we wanted to talk about how to be creative for the long term in your in your writing life, but also if you change your mind about what type of art you want to do, how to carry on so we’re going to get into that but Orna before we get started, give us an update on the Alliance and also on you.

Orna Ross: Oh gosh, yeah, it’s always very busy at this time of year for us. And this year is no exception. In fact, I think this is the busiest year and for in January, so we have London Book Fair coming up around the corner. We always use that as an opportunity to launch different programs and, you know, publications and things. So, we’re in the middle of that. And also really updating our publishing guides and taking out some stuff and turning them into quick and easy guides and updating our sample agreements and legal and contracts bringing in some new services. So there really is a lot going on in our life at the moment, and for my own work producing and just gosh, getting back actually should have a tomorrow is the Valentines Day poetry book. So yes, we’re talking about love poetry with Darla this weekend. You’re not working that crazy thinking about love. Crazy business.

Joanna Penn: And no, that’s good. That’s great. I have still been narrating audio for authors and I kind of mentioned this last week and it’s a sort of mid 55,000 word, nonfiction book and you’ve read it. Thank you very much and given me some help with the IP side, the intellectual property side, but what’s been interesting is every single chapter even though it’s been through beta readers, proof-reader, and then I use Grammarly. Before I do my read as well, that’s after even after the proof-reader. I like to put it through Grammarly again, because it often picks up things like passive voice and a repetition of words which even humans can miss. And then but even as I’m narrating I’m changing pretty much every chapter I find something I want to change or reword, based on ease of speaking it, which and I think that’s good because it simplifies the language more and more. It’s like if I can’t say this sentence, something is wrong with it. So, I found myself doing even more line edits based on the narration. And we’ve talked about this before, but I really have to get this done. And I was telling you before the call, we’ve had the road works have arrived. And I had this great timetable. And I’ve got this home studio. And I was like, right, get up, you know, this time block for narration. And then of course, the drilling starts. So, it’s been that first that sort of creative frustration because I need to get it done. But also, the, the narration and the editing of audio is a very different practice. So, I feel like I’m in a production phase. And I’m kind of desperate to finish because next week or the week, first week of February, I’m getting back to my novel and I cannot wait. So, it’s part of the ups and downs of the creative and independent author process that we have to do production times. I guess that’s where you are with that poetry book as well.

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. And you know, the frustration when you have something set aside and then life decides it wants to do something different, I mean, it can be — it can really derail you. And because we are on tight schedules as well, we don’t tend to leave a lot of wiggle room to getting stuff to editors and stuff. You know, I don’t know about you, but I’m always right up against the wire. So, it’s hard. I wanted to ask you though, did you ever think of reversing the process so that like the audiobook would come first and only then the eBook and print would be released? I mean, is that how you’re doing it? Will you modify the e-mail – the e-book and –?

Joanna Penn:  Oh, yeah, I’m – that’s absolutely how I’m doing it. So, the e-books on pre order, but there’s like a draft up, you know, up in the stores. But as soon as I finished this, I will re upload the new e book, and then I’ll do the print formatting after that’s finished. So that’s all of that is going to happen in the next four days. Basically, I’ll finish the audio book, do the e book, send off the print for formatting and then they’ll all hopefully come out at the same time, depending on my audio guy. So it’s one of those, you know, trying to do simultaneous release. But everybody, simultaneous release is extremely hard. And I’ve only managed it like once or twice. Out of 30 plus books. Have you ever, ever managed it?

Orna Ross: Never tried.

Joanna Penn: Never tried. It is seriously hard work.

Orna Ross: Never tried. I think it’s a great idea. And I think the satisfaction of putting the book out in three formats at once. Must be fantastic. But no, audio hasn’t really taken off. For me. I have to say, I really struggle with audio. I’m never happy.

Joanna Penn: Oh, you know, who’s happy with any finished product? I mean, you know, in the end, it’s ready. It has to go out.

Orna Ross: Yeah, but I mean, not happy enough for it to go out. You know, it’s really not good enough. I just, it’s not a matter of me, you know, cringing at the sound of my own voice, which I do. But I’ve really decided I’m not going to do anything about audio until the — for fiction and nonfiction until the tech is in such a place where we can use the AI voice. I’m just not going there. In terms of I had thought I might read some of my own and I’d never do fiction, but nonfiction. And even with poetry and stuff I’m, you know, I’m thinking, oh, gosh, you know, this is more is this what I want to spend my time doing. See my thing is that I really love playing with words on a page. That’s what I’ve come to realize. That’s the — I know you love audio. I don’t love audio. And I thought maybe if I kept it was maybe audio didn’t love me and you know, might come around, but it’s not coming around.

Creativity for the long term

Joanna Penn: Well, that’s a good place to start, I guess. Because if we’re talking about how to be creative for the long term, that feeling of that is not you know, I’m not enjoying that. I mean, sometimes we have to learn the skills and there is it production? Or is it creative? There is a line there. But let’s start with the sort of definition of creativity and what we need to be creative in terms of, you know, working authors as such.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many ways you can define creative, it really is one of those words, if you ask a, you know, a, an artist, a, an innovator and somebody in business, you probably get completely different definitions from everybody.

So, and in a way, it’s something that each person was kind of defined for themselves definitely experientially in terms of how you how you experience it, and how you put it into practice as well. But I think for an author and an author publisher what we’re talking about is two things really, it’s the ability to get into zone, into kind of flow state and so that’s a mind state and a mental shift that we learned to do at will. So, we’re doing it unconsciously, a lot of time anyway without even knowing that it’s happening. But the ability to just get into that state when you need to is, something that you have to learn over time. And the other skill and on kind of definition is that is, is the ability to take a project through the seven stages of the process and see it all the way through.

And there’s two kinds of things that we need to learn we need to, to learn how to sustain our ability to do those two things and how to you can deepen as you get better and better off them. And the more you do them, they can be applied to anything that you do and anything that you do often enough, it gets easier. You work through the stages of the process easier, switching into flow state becomes easier, because they’re always I think every for every creative no matter how well you set yourself up, and how, what practice you do and how much good self talk you go through that there are always ups and downs, it needs ebs and flows. That is the nature of the beast, I think.

Sometimes there are things missing

Joanna Penn: What I was I was thinking when I had my day job back in the day, and I was really miserable. And when I had all the trappings of what you’re meant to have, you know, I had the six figure salary, I had the house, I had the investment property, I was married, I had a car and you know, I had all those things, but there was something missing. And I feel that the human need to create is that thing that a lot of people feel like I’m missing something.

And then I think we all have maybe, we have these multiple modes of creation. And we and the people listening I presume use words as our default creativity. Now some of us might also paint, we might also dance or do other things are, you know, creative, but maybe words our default position, whereas my dad, for example, is more of a visual artist, you know, he makes images with his hands. You know, he does printmaking and stuff. That’s his default, although he’s also pretty good with words. And he’s written a book.

So I think that missing — when you feel like your life is missing something, and that’s the light, you’re talking about that feeling that the beginning and then if you want to take it through to fruition, it’s turning that feeling into something that eventually is a finished product. So, my dad finishing a piece of art that I can hang on my wall, or us finishing a book or a poem. You say, yes, that is finished. I created that. So, it is both the process but also the finished product. I guess.

Orna Ross:  Absolutely. And it’s the way in which those integrate into the same, you know, activity and I think finishing is so important. And it’s one of the great, you know, satisfaction of  short work like poetry and poetry keeps me going because I have some very long projects that you know, take a very long time to deliver my fiction takes a long time to deliver. So, the ability to have something shorter that you can take to finished.

I think is really important and I think the first time you finish anything be it the first time you know, write the finished book to your own satisfaction or produce, you know, make that book get it between the print book between two covers, get the eBook made and up and out there that, you know, just by doing that by finishing by getting to the finishing line and across the finish line, you separate yourself from loads and loads of creatives who want to do is don’t have set out to do it, but I’ve kind of somewhere along the line resistance has come in, block has come in they’ve stumbled they haven’t managed to get to finishing so the finishing line.

I think is it so important, especially at the beginning, and to keep on going and and how you enable yourself to do that and support yourself in doing that, I suppose, is what we’re talking about here tonight. Um,

What is your zone?

Joanna Penn: So, let’s delve into some things. So, first of all, you said, getting into the zone, which I guess is a creative state, and I would separate that again into other things.

So, my — when I write first draft material, I go generally to a cafe or to the library or somewhere else other than my desk where I do work, work. And I put on my noise cancelling headphones and I have rain and thunderstorms, which I’ve listened to for over a decade. It was the best investment ever. And I know my brain knows that that’s what I do. And then I open the blank page and I type and I type far more than I dictate.

So, you know, I do some dictation, but mainly I’m in that that state and so I and I book that time in my diary. So, I’m, I have a really controlled process for going to the page. But when I’m there, I don’t necessarily have — I’m not a planner, you know, I’m a discovery writer. So, I have a combination of hard lines around my creative time, but also that openness to create within that time, so what about you? How do you get into the zone?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I very — I’ve practices that I, I do, and, and they come generally, for me, they come before the act of actually sitting down to do it. So, I’m kind of winding my way into, so some people you know, polish pens are sharpen their pencils or you know, go for a walk around the block or whatever. So, I meditate and I free rice. And there are two things that I do and also, I think I also actually exercise each day like moving the body I think is really important.

We talk a bit about that later in terms of contrast to sitting at the desk, but I also think, and, you know, doing those things that carry over from day to day when you for me, I’m just going to speak personally because it is a very personal thing though I do think this applies more widely as well. It’s never just about one session, it’s about how you kind of set up the whole week how you set up the day how you set up the year how you set up the quarter, you know, how you think about what you’re doing and blocking out your time for specific activities.

Bt then when you’re there in that time that you’re there in the right stage, I think is actually the single most important thing so you’ve got your music is your cue not kind of tells your brain here I am. I’m here to do this. And it’s probably switching you into delta brainwaves or the brain waves or whatever, which is what we need to do meditation and free writing, do that for me. So everybody kind of needs to get into that state.

So you can, you can have your time blocked, and you can sit there and you can achieve very, very little and so first of all, there’s the challenge of getting, getting yourself there applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, as they say. And then there’s the challenge of being able to just as you say, open up to the flow and see what’s there or do the things that you’ve set yourself to do in that time. So we’ve constantly got to think about both of those things. And I mean, I know if I’m getting up the next day, and if I’m out that night, you know, and if I have a certain number of drinks or something or a stay up too late or whatever, then I’m not probably going to do so well the next day. And I think, you know, I take all of that into account and more and more I think as you live the creative life and you turn things around so they support what you kinda need to do, because it never gets easy.

There’s always the resistance and you know the odd time you just turn off and just do it but mostly you have this stupid conversation with yourself about doing something else or you know something pops up or you find yourself and you go “oh my God, I’m cleaning the bath.” I don’t I don’t do that. You know, if I’m cleaning the bath, or anything if I’m cleaning anything, I’m probably avoiding writing and or, or something else that I set myself to do. So, you get but you get the point. And I you know, I think those conversations when somebody is in danger of dropping away they’re having a lot of those kinds of conversations with themselves for one part of themselves and saying do this and the other parts of themselves is sabotaging that desire and there is this intense and it can be super painful and intense sort of conflict going on between two sides of yourself and you know how we ensure that the creative side wins is by these practices on how we set our set our lives up so very often it’s about creating the conditions that foster flow for us is the most important thing, the time the space and the mental condition getting those three things right. Looks at everything else looks after itself.

Filling the creative well

Joanna Penn:  Yes, so that would be the first couple of tips will be if you want to be creative for the long term you need to structure things. I mean, there’s a comment where you said it who said it someone said you know, the creative should work like an accountant. You know, you as in you have your set times and that there is a, let’s just say boring.

Let’s say there is a boring routine aspect of being a long term creative because as you say, if you don’t set your routine, if you don’t have some kind of repetitive process, where you know you that’s where you go, and then you start creating the creative stuff. You know, doesn’t happen in the outside. It happens on the inside, as so that’s why, if you’re some, if you’re feeling, listeners, if you’re feeling like you’re struggling with that, then get out your calendar and find the time and put it in your calendar and find a place and then work out your process for getting into it. But you have to schedule that time. I think that is super important.

So let’s move into something I think it’s really important, which is filling the creative well, and this is something that I feel people don’t do enough of. Like all my fiction, pretty much comes from experience of the world and my travels and my reading and everything that goes into your brain and then gets mashed around and comes out the other end. And if I don’t know what to write, then what I do is go research and I put stuff in my head so that I have more fodder for the creative. Well, the creative mill, I guess. So what about you, how do you feel the creative well?

Orna Ross: Well, I think you mentioned reading there and research and I think that’s so important. And I think everybody has a different way to kind of do this. And I think you can just stuff in stuff. And that’s not is either, you know, it has to be something that has that imaginative twit, twitch, I don’t know. If I feel a certain energy, I can’t always say why.

Joanna Penn: If your drawn to it.

Orna Ross:  You feel drawn to it and I just feel this little kind of, you know, vibration to a better word than twitch right?

Joanna Penn: Yeah.

Orna Ross: I feel this little vibration that tells me this is relevant. This is important this ties in in some way. It may seem ridiculous and you have no idea why it does. But then I will give it my creative attention. If you like I will actually spend time with that I will open up to listen to what might be there, you know, really important and if I’m feeling in terms of filling the well. I meet a lot of young writers who say the don’t, don’t read, you know. They don’t want –

Joanna Penn:  I just don’t – they’re not going to last.

Orna Ross: They won’t last. Absolutely, they don’t understand the process the processes, you take it in, and then you’re able to put it out. And you know, they don’t want to interfere with their particular brand of wisdom or you know, way of saying things or whatever they’re afraid it will pollute their process in some way. It’s the absolute opposite. And you’re right, they won’t last.

So if you want to write you have to read if you want to make movies, you have to watch movies, if you want to make art, you got to go to galleries, you know, it’s got to do what you do. And then I think you’ve probably got to do something that’s very silly and very different from what you do as well.

I will, again, speaking personally, I feel that sometimes I just want to buzz off and doing something that’s completely unrelated and kind of mindless. And, you know, and again, following that and following that impulse and the other thing I would really recommend and I try to do this and I know when things are going well it happens and then it’s the first thing to go when I get too busy or, and some is I have this concept of a create date where you take yourself off you just you nobody else to do something that is your idea of absolute pleasure and fun. And just indulge in that and it might be you know, visiting an art shop even though you’re not an artist or you know, just enjoying that or it could be anything, it can be, you know, a walk in the mountains, it can be literally anything that you feel. Just your idea of fun and something that’s different, and not directly related, not a work related thing. So, you’re not doing it as research you’re not doing it as you’re doing this. Just because it feels like fun. And we can be very bad at playing and allowing ourselves to just have fun and but that really does go over well. 

Writing, reading and research …

Joanna Penn:  Yeah, I mean, I think I started to recognize this. I mean, I’ve always gone to art galleries. But when I read, you know, Julia Cameron’s and she talks about the artists date and I started to take it more seriously and go on my own to galleries and, and in fact, we’re going off to Spain this weekend to the Guggenheim, because you know, I know that I will be inspired by things there I don’t know what it will be. But I know that there will be something that will fill the creative well enough that I can start writing.

I do want to circle back on those people who write, like you don’t want to read I think they could probably write one book or two books. But to sustain a creative life, if you’ve just like you should feel as I always feel, and I know you do after you’ve written a novel, you are completely empty. You’ve just poured everything that is in you out for that book. And you there’s nothing left. So, you have to go back to fill the creative well or your never going to write another book. And that’s how I feel when I finish a novel. I feel I will never write another book. And I don’t feel that with nonfiction because I always think there’s another topic that —

Orna Ross: Always in nonfiction, one of the ways you feel the way is write a nonfiction book because in the middle of it, you’re going to get an idea for the next non fiction book.

Joanna Penn:  But I feel with fiction so different, you know, and you exhaust what is the highest thing in your consciousness at that point in time. And then you need space to kind of fill the well and you need to rest and perhaps that was that’s what we should come on to next is the cycle for –

Orna Ross:  Sorry, before you leave that just to bring in poetry as well, because it’s slightly different again and again, because it’s kind of short work and I think it’s a bit more like an artist, a visual artist in this way is it with poetry you kind of go through phases of writing particular types of poem not don’t mean in terms of form but I mean in terms of the treatment, and then it kind of start and there is there is this lull and it’s not something that you need to worry about it is actually things laying low and then the next batch are quite different. They, the theme and the treatment are different.

So it’s almost like and the novel thing in this in the sense of, you know, you need to rest there is a fallow period that is needed, but it somehow is not as draining maybe because there are lots of short work, I’m not sure that is my experiences that you just come to a point where you say, okay, that’s enough of that now, and then kind of rest and then new stuff appears and it’s quite different. In the same way that an artist goes through phases of you know, the paintings are quite different and in one decade to the next. So, yeah, I think the three are very different fiction, nonfiction and poetry and I think everybody experiences them. I think this is pretty universal, everybody experiences them differently.

The cycles of the creative life …

Joanna Penn: Right? So, coming on to rest and also the cycles of the creative life. So, I wanted to start here also by saying, there’s nothing wrong in people moving out of being an author. I know. I know, you’re kidding. But I see a lot of guilt. There’s a lot of guilt, guilt everywhere all the time, right? But this kind of guilt over oh, I think I don’t want to do this full tim or I don’t want to write another book. But maybe that project, if we think about our life as these projects, these creative projects, maybe that project is over. And, you know, I did write some poetry I, you know, had poetry published, you know, earlier in my life, in my sort of teens and 20s, early 20s. And I haven’t written poetry. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point, but that doesn’t mean I have done other things, you know, but I think we have to acknowledge that, that the cycles of life mean that some people are going to move in and out of writing across their lifespan. And that’s okay. And I say that as someone who’s 45 this year, and I want to think that I’m going to write for the next 45 years, but if I don’t, that’s okay, as well. I plan to, but I’ve been looking at some of the people and what they’re doing now, and many of them is doing other creative things. They’re just not necessarily writing novels or whatever.

Orna Ross: Yes, and I think you see it in the in the other side where people keep on writing because kind of it’s the only thing they know how to do. But it’s become stale and it’s stale. It’s a stale experience for them. They’re not enjoying it so much. And the reader knows their past their best and it kind of dwindles away, and it’s kind of sad and that person might be better toas you say, try something different or certainly take a rest. And I think this is where, as people who run our own creative businesses, we can perhaps be kinder to each other. Because certainly if you’ve hit a winning formula, and your trade published, your publisher is going to want you to keep replicating that formula and won’t really care if that is artistic, creative death for you, you know, they’re just going to go on wanting to keep on doing that. And I think we see that a lot of you see, authors who had amazing work when they were younger and you feel they’re just treading water. They’re just basically producing the same book over and over and the something kind of sad and last, I think.

Rest actually is important …

Joanna Penn: So that’s the sort of bigger taking a break kind of rest. But let’s look at the rest that we need. In but you know, normally, because I’ve been someone who struggles, continues to struggle with this. I’m not very good at resting. And I do hit the wall quite regularly and my husband you know has to send me to bed. And you’ve told me to stop working. And you also have had some, you know, burnout times. And because we love our work, and perhaps we sometimes do it too much. But one of the things that –

So coming back to when I said at the end of a novel, I now recognize that feeling. And in fact, if I don’t get that feeling, I have not worked hard enough on that book. So that feeling of I will never write another book is fine. And I want everyone to kind of realize that if you do feel that, then go fill the creative well, do some other things. And you will eventually get to that point where you want to write again. And I think that’s why I only write one or two novels a year.

Because you know, there are some people writing a novel a month, and maybe they don’t feel that the same way. But I certainly could not write fiction at that speed because I do empty myself every time.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’m very I’m death on rest of the eyes go to bed as one of my favorite sentences because most of us are not getting enough rest and creatives, I think, and especially when you’re in full flow and you’re in drafting, you know, reproduction mode. And you know, and that can apply to being creative in your business or your publishing as much as in your writing. But when we are in full flow like that is draining, it is tiring, we are, as you say, emptying ourselves out we’re also probably exposing ourselves and finding out stuff about ourselves.

We didn’t know before, you know, there’s an awful lot going on. And we need to balance that with self care of which rest is the most fundamental. So also the mind can get so busy. And you know, when you’re caught up in in particularly writing because we will work with words, I think it is different if you work with images or music, and so we really don’t have a choice and this for me is for me meditation comes in. And if I don’t meditate, I go crazy. I just words just take over and talk in my head, I cannot quiet my mind without meditation. And then when I can, I can sleep and everything kind of stays in the right place. So, for me discovering meditation was absolutely key to my ability to say, I’ve been at this for three decades. I know that without meditation, I probably would have gotten, you know, crossed off somewhere at some point.

And as you said, years ago, I worked too hard, and I didn’t take enough rest. And I you know, I pushed myself to the edge all the time. And now I never do I mean, I had I got cancer, and I do think those two things were connected. And whether I’m right or wrong, and that I do know that now I never go to the edge and those always ink in the well. I don’t drain it completely and make sure that I do get my rest, you know I generally kind of look after myself and then have my little wild times in between. But when I am in productive mode, I’m very boring. And I think that’s something we don’t talk about enough.

We have this romantic view of the creative as, you know, this, this kind of sex and drugs and rock and roll lifestyle or, you know, the tortured, romantic or whatever. But actually an awful lot of this is just about turning up and doing the work. And you know, and that’s just not something that you can talk about is why movies about writers are so boring, boring.

Physical health shouldn’t be forgotten

Joanna Penn:  So boring because not very visual, really. I mean, it really isn’t. But let’s um,  carrying on the health side. So I don’t meditate as you do, but I do go to yoga several times a week. I also walk a lot we know we’re caffrey and I walk you know, between four and 10 kilometers a day and then 20, 30 at the weekend and so that walking for me, I think walking meditation is, you know, a thing. And but I, yeah, definitely a thing. And I’ve recently been doing a lot more weight training. And so the physical side is really important. And not just for physical and mental health.

That’s important for longevity in general, but for getting away from the computer is the other side of it. So, when I’m, you know, at the gym, lifting weights or walking along the canal, and I can’t be on the computer doing stuff, and I can’t be on social media, I can’t do any of that stuff. And that is also important for longevity because you just have to get on with your own life and step away. And if you have another practice of — the practice of getting away physically, you cannot actually engage in that behavior.

And I do think that we have to create these routines. Because if you’re just at your desk like where I am here physically now talking to you, I will log on to my email, I will log on to Facebook or Twitter because this is the place I do that. So, I have to get away from this place in order to do other things. So, what do you think about that the health side and the getting out?

Orna Ross:  Yes, it the physical thing is so important for all the reasons that you said. And then there’s also a lot of research that shows that aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming, cycling, anything that kind of has a rhythmic component to it. And that keeps the heart rate above normal, but not where you’re kind of, you know, straining, and that’s maintained for 20 minutes or more has an actual really positive effect on creative brain waves, you know, so you get more delta, you get more beta waves, and you get good ideas.

Everybody gets good ideas when they switch off and go and do something physical. And if you stay on it, so it’s that kind of hard work with break is the rhythm that that actually generates good. And both created quantity and create quality.

So, for every reason, folks, every day and move that bod, you know, it really is absolutely, I always kind of just sum it up by saying, rest and play are part of the process. They’re not breaks from the process. They are the process, you know, it’s every bit as much as the work is the work and the rest of the play, combined together. And to give you the output, even though you already experienced it while you’re working, the rest of the play has completely helped to make it happen.

 

The healthy writer …

 

Joanna Penn:  And also, I mean, I wrote about it with you and in you know, the healthy writer but it’s incredible how many people in the writing industries have various chronic health issues, and they may have become writers because of their chronic health issues. But also the writing life can be an unhealthy life. And we have to be creative for the long term means looking after yourself and trying to find ways to deal with those issues.

Like the reason I’m doing weights is because I ended up with chronic pain in my shoulder and have been with rehab and doing all that. And we there’s no — again, this is not blame or shame or its responsibility. It’s like if you want to be creative for the long term, and I was finding that my chronic pain was impacting on my creative life. So, I was like, I have to deal with this. How do I deal with this? And you find your way to doing that.

So, it’s definitely a holistic thing. You can’t keep your creative life separate to the rest of your life. It really is so integral, isn’t it? Because it’s not like a day job. It’s not like oh, now I go to that office and do that and then I come home and it’s gone. It really is part of everything we do. You can’t really turn it off.

There is no off button; even when you’re sleeping.

Orna Ross: You can’t turn it off even when you’re sleeping, it’s kind of it feeds into it, and it is you, you know, you can’t separate it either everyone knows that it’s different when you run a creative business compared to if you if you’re going to a job, you know, the average job, everybody knows you don’t have to be in this business to know that’s different.

You know, people don’t really understand what they’re saying. But it’s, it’s because it’s you, it all comes from you, it’s an expression of you. These are both the delights and the challenges of it are completely the same thing is that it all comes back to that and your ability to keep going is completely, you know, dependent on your ability to know what’s good for you in that arena and to give it to yourself so and, and I think one of the things I feel that’s also really important, as well as the physical, is mental wellness can be cultivated and the kind of mental wellness that upholds and supports creativity is something that we kind of could do with knowing a bit more about we don’t think about it enough in in those terms, I think so particularly things around how you talk to yourself about a problem, or what’s going on and it might not even be in relation to the work but in relation to your life.

Say, you know, a very common thing that kind of turns up is that my family doesn’t understand or you know, they’re not supportive or my partner doesn’t get it, and there can be a huge sort of creative drain around a topic. I’m just taking that as an example because it can be anything actually. And we can instead of sort of keeping our drama for our stories, we make a big drama as something that’s going on for us in the work or something that’s not happening or something that’s happening related or whatever. And in a way, that’s a form of creative resistance. It doesn’t feel like that. The feelings are very real. They’re not, you know, they don’t feel made or anything, I thought they do feel very real. But I think they’re all sorts of ways in which we can be careful about those things and understand what’s going on. And that sometimes our fear about what we’re trying to create has us off over here in the different corner, having a drama about something that’s not all that important at all, isn’t getting any work done. And it’s probably, you know, we’re feeding ourselves a hold of the talk that’s building up a whole load of emotions are sort of a very, very complex and interesting and creative form of resistance.

Joanna Penn:  Yeah, and I think the other thing is kind of related is community because you know, you can if you’re just on your own, you can make up all this stuff. But if you’re in a community, you know, like, I’ll say something to you, and you’ll be like, What are you talking about that this is, this is what’s true or this is this is my perspective, and I do the same for you and having other people in your community is really important.

So you — but in order to do that you have to make an effort. Like people don’t just appear to be your friends in the community, you know, I get asked this all the time and people like, Oh, it’s okay for you because you know, you you’ve been doing this a long time. But you know, you and I met on Twitter and years later, we happen to bump into each other in the library. And I said, should we go for coffee and then I invited you to do a little video and then from there, we did coffee dates and, and it was probably another two years until we had a drink and became like, closer friends. And that’s the way friends work right? It’s not just oh, we all turn up at an event and we’re all suddenly friends.

So, if you’re feeling listeners that you are missing a community then you actually do have to make an effort. You do have to go to things and in in real life IRL. And I call it friend dating, you know, you actually do you have to go for coffee with people and see if you get on and then you know talk about stuff. So, I think emotional support with friends who do the same thing can take away from the need for your partner or your family to know what the hell you’re doing because most of the time, they won’t know.

Orna Ross:  Absolutely and also broaden your horizons beyond your interpretation of what’s going on or what’s going on for you. Because creatives are really good at understanding what’s going on for somebody else.

We’re not always that great at understanding what’s going on for ourselves, we can, we can get quite confused about that. So it can, you know, our friends, our creative friends can give us something that our older other friends and other areas just can’t and understanding that you know, not expecting people who aren’t creative to get it you know, that is such a waste of time. Just don’t do that. If they’re not really creatively lead, then don’t expect them to be because you really are banging your head off the brick wall. They are two different kinds of ways of thinking about life processing life. Understanding life.

And if you’re primarily of a more rational, analytical, conventional way of thinking about things, you can’t come around and understand the angst of the creatives, you know, go, go make a creative friend, if you don’t have one, or if you do have one, go grab them and talk to them, and they will calm you down.

Joanna Penn:  Yeah, indeed. And then we’re almost out of time. But one of the other things is to keep learning and keep trying new things. And don’t just assume that the way you’ve always done it is going to be the way that you keep doing it. And that might be trying to trying a new genre, if you’re feeling kind of stagnant in one it might be writing, you know, you know, poetry, if you do nonfiction, or whatever it might be trying a different creative thing. It might be trying a new community, but don’t just assume that the way you’ve done things is the way you’re going to keep doing things.

So that learning and that openness to new stuff, I think, and even like the audio we’ve been talking about, I know you’ve tried it several times, and you’ve not dealt with it. I tried it, you know, back in 2015 and said I’d never do it and then I’ve come back to it and found it to be a more creative thing. So, we can try these things at different times of our lives. And they turned into different things. So, I think that’s another thing is that open mind that beginner’s mind? And keep learning.

Set your intention for the long term.

Orna Ross: I think that’s absolutely right. And the other thing, the final thing I would say is to set the intention that it is for the long term, you know, while allowing it to take whatever shape it’s going to take. And it might not always be words, as you say, but you know, to understand if you are a creative person, that if you don’t create, you are going to be miserable. It’s not going to be okay. And in fact, it can be really dangerous actually, if you can go all the way to suicide, you know, and anything in between, so that you know, understanding you will challenges you will get blocked, you will have times where you just don’t understand what’s going on, you’re either overwhelmed or just can’t make anything happen at all.

But if you’re in it for the long term, then you just see that as a period, and you’ll still feel terrible, but you know, you at least you  you feel terrible within the context of knowing this is a this is a phase, it’s part of the process. I’m probably just lying fallow, something is stirring, you know, the more you go through it, the more you come to understand it in that way, the more times you’ve kind of been through a bit of a block, I’m calm at the other side. And then you realize, oh, gosh, I was really just I now I see what was going on there.

It was really just getting I needed this all thing to happen in my life. I needed this other understanding to come in or whatever, before I could complete this project. And you know, so if you if you’re in it for the long haul, I think that’s a really good way to be because a lot of writers are kind of only thinking as far as this book or you know, I guess the end of this book, and I’m going to make my fortune and you know, I’m going to whatever, blah, blah, blah, we’re very creative at the dreams was what writing a book is going to do for us. And, you know, but setting the intention that this is for the long term and if things aren’t going all that brilliant be here at the moment, well, maybe I can do this for a while and then see what emerges from that and just yet trusting in emergence and trusting in the process and that we don’t our conscious mind doesn’t know it all at all.

When it comes to this stuff. Often, the best thing to do is release and let go and seeing what arises. And yeah, try not to feel too off when those things are happening.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, although there were really good times as well to aren’t they. And on a positive note and in the next month, I guess looking forward, so I am going to be done like within a week or so. going to be done. I’ll be in Spain and then I’m back in first draft made and this is the cycle, right? This is the cycle and I will be back in first off made with all of the challenges that that brings. So, I’m excited about that. But also I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen, but that’s part of the process. So that’s my next month. What about you?

Orna Ross:  That’s lovely. No, I’m not in for I will be getting to any first drafts beyond maybe a poem. And no, I’ve been finishing wrapping stuff up mode from now until after London Book Fair. And so it would probably be I don’t know, first of April or something before I get to doing the first draft of, something again, but yeah, it’s the next couple of weeks are all finishing mode. finishing, right.

Joanna Penn: Finishing mode, yeah and that’s good because we’re at different stages. And you know, whenever we talk we’re at different stages, different projects, that is the creative life and on that note. That’s good, I’m good at finishing. So, we will be back next month. So, I guess happy writing, happy publishing.

Orna Ross:  Yes, absolutely happy author business. See you then.

Joanna Penn: Bye.

 

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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