Warning: Two Toxic Areas in Your Writing Life

I am fascinated by the brain books I’ve read lately, and seeing how that information applies to writers. (See three book links at the end.) Information from the new brain research–if actually applied–could change your writing life.

One book, Who Switched Off Your Brain?, deals with what the author calls “the Dirty Dozen” areas in our lives where we create our own problems, often by well-meaning efforts. This toxic behavior can steal our dreams–including our writing dreams.

Two of the dirty dozen that hit me between the eyes were “toxic seriousness” and “toxic schedules.” 

AHA! #1: Toxic Seriousness

I’ve known for years that negative emotions like anger and unforgiveness can literally make you physically sick. But did you know that an absence of fun in your life can make you sick too, susceptible to every virus that comes along?

Laughter IS the best medicine!

For a lot of reasons, I grew up with the firmly entrenched idea that “life is a serious matter.” People who didn’t take life seriously annoyed me. I thought they simply didn’t understand the situation!

Well sometimes life is no laughing matter, but you still need to incorporate more fun in your life. [I finally understood why I felt so much better physically after spending time with my grandkids, despite being tired. I laugh a lot more on those days!]

Did you know this? Studies show that…

“a really good belly laugh can make cortisol [the stress hormone] drop by 39% and adrenalin by 70%, while the ‘feel-good hormone,’ endorphin, increases by 29%… Laughter boosts your immune system by increasing immunity levels and disease-fighting cells.”

Another medical study showed that humor gets both sides of your brain working together, which is so necessary to writers. We need to be both creative and editor-minded (left-brained and right-brained) in order to do our best writing.

So take time to bring fun into your life today–and every day. Look for the humor in situations–or even yourself. Watch a funny video. Read something that tickles your funny bone. Tell a joke!

AHA! #2: Toxic Schedules

My “toxic seriousness” went hand-in-hand with what the author called “toxic schedules.” One had a direct impact on the other. My overly serious attitude about life leads to an over-scheduled week that doesn’t work unless I invent a 48-hour day. And, of course, a packed schedule adds pressure and just reinforces an overly serious attitude.

Current brain research shows that there’s a lot more at risk than just being tired when you over-schedule yourself. Of particular interest to writers, without sufficient relaxation in your lifestyle,

“you will become a less effective thinker, defeating your ability to accomplish the mental tasks that stole our relaxation in the first place. In fact, for the brain to function like it should, it needs regroup/consolidation time. If it doesn’t get this, it will send out signals in the form of high-level stress hormones, some of which are epinephrine, norepinephine and cortisol. If these chemicals constantly flow, they create a ‘white noise’ that increases anxiety and blocks clear thinking and the processing of information.”

To put it another way, relaxation is NOT a waste of your time. You’re doing your brain–and all of your writing processes–a big favor.

Live–and LEARN

So how did that information impact my life? I spend plenty of time with my grandkids (ages 2, 7, and 10), guaranteed to produce the belly laughs I need. And I take off one day per weekend for church, visiting family, relaxing with a movie, and hiking.  When I do, I sleep like a rock and face the work week rejuvenated.

I’d encourage you to make some guilt-free habits along the same lines to bring laughter into your life and margins of time into your days. Until you try it, you won’t believe the difference it can make in your writing life.

Just curious…what kinds of things make you laugh? I’d like to incorporate more laughter into my life. Please give me ideas below!

For more information and links to three terrific “brain” books:


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16 Responses to Warning: Two Toxic Areas in Your Writing Life

  1. Vijaya says:

    Thank you so much for all the book recs. The Shallows is wonderful and I’m waiting on the others. My pets, kids, funny movies, books, and silly songs all make me laugh.

    • Kristi Holl says:

      Vijaya, you’re so welcome. I’ve been gone and off-line for most of the six days, and it has had the most calming effect on me–and my ability to concentrate and think. I am convinced!

      I’m with you about kids (and grandkids!) making me laugh. 8-)

  2. Springpeeper says:

    Thanks for another so relevant post, Kristi. (I’m waaay too serious!)

    What makes me laugh? Here are three books I’ve learned never to read on the commuter train: ;)

    Anguished English (Richard Lederer)
    Fox in Sox (Dr. Seuss)
    Any Tintin book (Hergé)

  3. Toxic Schedule…how did you know? I, too, try to stretch a day into 48 hours.:) I downloaded your e-book…and will follow your posts…is there a light at the end of my tunnel vision? And I totally agree with the Toxic Seriousness…we can have fun (and need to) in order to be more productive…happiness is more than checking things off one’s to-do list.:)

    • kwpadmin says:

      Oh, Vivian, how true your statement is: “happiness is more than checking things off one’s to-do list.” And when it STOPS being more than that, something is wrong. I am getting better at catching myself when I start the downhill slide, and mostly I’ve stopped saying, “But I don’t have TIME for this frivolity!”

  4. MizB says:

    Sorry this is kind of unrelated, but just wanted to tell you that I love this new blog, Kristi! Very nice. :)

  5. kwpadmin says:

    MizB, thank you. Mucho, mucho. :-)

  6. Sara says:

    Absolutely true. I realized a couple of weeks ago that I had been upset and frustrated for a while because I was trying to cram too many of my hobbies around my job every week. I scheduled the fun right out of everything and forgot why I wanted to do them in the first place! Fortunately this realization has helped me put things back into perspective and I’m reevaluating my free time. :o )

    I love watching Straight No Chaser videos. Here’s the Christmas Can-Can: http://youtu.be/7E-47VmFopE

    Your blog is so helpful, Kristi!

    • kwpadmin says:

      I’ve never heard of this group, but that Christmas Can-Can is absolutely hilarious!!!!! Thank you for sharing this!

      I loved what you said here: “I scheduled the fun right out of everything and forgot why I wanted to do them in the first place.” So true, so true. We get so busy scheduling–or turning our hobbies into something that makes money–that we forget that we used to love this activity! Very good point.

  7. Sara says:

    Oops, that was supposed to be a smiley face, not a shocked face. lol

  8. Oh, I absolutely believe in the fun…most weeks, I post a Friday’s Fun Find (on the blog), and it can be anything from funny videos (Bad Lip Reading on youtube) to humorous articles (usually about writing). And there are a couple of comedies on TV (like New Girl) that have me laughing out loud. I mean, really loud. (I can’t help it. Zooey Deschanel and her crowd are HI-larious). Also, Jean Kerr’s books crack me up. They’re from years back, but seriously still witty.

    The thing is, life can be a serious business–and there are certainly times when I don’t feel like writing humor (which is my writing business) but once I start writing, I feel better. Pretty funny, huh? :-)

    And P.S. I need to change my link here. Very nice look for you, Kristi. ;-)

  9. kwpadmin says:

    Cathy, thank you so much for all the various things you do to laugh! I’m making a list!

    I can’t imagine having to write humor on the days when life gets serious. More power to you!!! :-)

  10. Elizabeth McBride says:

    When I can’t find some humor, another practice has the same (although quieter) effect for me – identifying and naming the blessings around me. Notice that I said ‘around’ and did not tie ownership to them. We don’t have to possess, claim, or own something to be able to appreciate and benefit from it. There is goodness and beauty and caring all around us and if we train ourselves to notice it, we are more consistently upheld by it. Sharing that appreciation (which would include writing about it!) is also empowering, restorative, and healing.

    Another thing that can contribute to boosting your mood, is just doing some random good thing for someone else (whether you know them or not). Leave your mark of having been ‘there’ by small goodnesses that lie in your wake. They don’t have to be time-consuming. Compliments can be momentary, with lasting effects.

  11. kwpadmin says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for such an insightful response. If we all did this, the world would be a better place for sure. Thinking of others is certainly a powerful way to feel better ourselves, and stopping to appreciate the blessings we already have tops it off. Thanks again!

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