and Stay Fit in the Process

You probably would never equate housecleaning with overcoming writer's block, but I discovered a direct connection. Find out how to reframe housework and get your creative juices flowing! #housekeeping #writersblock #amwriting #tidyhouse #rest #exercise

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Exercise

This week’s Self-care Sunday installment continues the theme of self-care for creatives. You probably never considered housework as the solution to overcoming writer’s block. Here’s how and why it works.

When you think of a creative, what comes to mind? A wild-eyed painter wearing a paint-smeared smock?  Writers chain-drinking java whilst hunching over a keyboard trying to meet a deadline?  Or maybe you see a scarf-bedecked eccentric woman scribbling notes on staff paper while the dishes pile up on the counter…and the floor…and the windowsills.

For years I believed that creativity equaled lack of boundaries, clutter, and a smoker’s cough (not necessarily from smoking, just an inactive lifestyle). Since two of those three didn’t apply to me, I figured I didn’t qualify for the ‘Creative’ moniker.

In fact, it’s taken me years to call myself a ‘Creative.’ Notice I didn’t add the word genius after that. Just creative works for me. For most of my life, I’ve always had some sort of creative project going on: sewing, drawing, writing, knitting, cross stitching, inventing recipes, or photography. Life doesn’t feel right if I don’t have a creative outlet.

Now that I’ve established myself as a Creative, I can continue with this post on advice for creatives on ways to keep physically whole. I confess to having a clutter problem. In fact, I have a housework problem in general. I’d rather read a book, write a book, sew, or have a colonoscopy than bother with keeping the house tidy. Well, maybe not the colonoscopy.

This morning, I had a revelation. Someone missed a deadline, which meant I didn’t have a post prepared for today. In addition, I have to work all afternoon and I had no idea what to write about. So, I did what any rational creative would do—entered avoidance mode.

If you’ve ever read Laura Numeroff’s classic children’s book If You Give a Moose a Muffin, you know what I mean.

If You Give a Creative a Dyson

That’s what I’d call my episode this morning—an If You Give a Moose a Muffin episode. It all started with our Chinese daughter and her parents. Weixuan lived with us her senior year and visits at least once a year. When she came for Thanksgiving, she noticed that Pedro’s allergies had turned his eyes red. She wanted to gift us with something that would help, so she gave Pedro and I a Dyson V8 Aboslute cordless vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

Over the last month I’ve discovered a love for vacuuming. There’s something incredibly satisfying and slightly horrifying about emptying the dirt and grime into the garbage at the end of seven minutes.

This morning, as I pondered what to write, I decided to vacuum. I realized that if I picked things up off the floor, I could vacuum more quickly. So, I tidied my office a bit and unpacked my box from Grove collaborative. The package from Grove included their new laundry cleaning system, and I wanted to try it out so I figured I might as well toss in a load of laundry.

I looked at the crowded space above the washer and realized I needed to make space if I wanted my new laundry bottle to fit. This led to a 20-minute reorganization and cleaning spree. The box also contained my favorite toilet cleaner, so figured I might as well clean the bathroom while I was at it.

As I worked on the tiny projects, I thought about how I could get more bang for my battery with the vacuum cleaner. If I swept the hard surfaces onto the carpet I could save time. Once I swept, I figured I might as well mop—since I can’t remember when I last mopped it seemed like a good idea.

Why Housework Leads to Creativity

We’ve had 22 students over in the last 36 hours, and the last group left without cleaning the table off. I figured I could wipe the crumbs off onto the carpet and save some time. I stacked all the chairs on the table, grabbed the vacuum, and made a game of seeing how much of the house my Dyson could clean with one charge on the maximum suck setting.

This whole process took over an hour. An hour I could have spent writing. But before I started lamenting lost time, I realized that I’d pulled double-duty the entire time I appeared to be avoiding my creative project.

You probably would never equate housework with overcoming writer's block, but I discovered a direct connection. Find out how to reframe housework and get your creative juices flowing! #housekeeping #writersblock #amwriting #tidyhouse #rest #exercise

First of all, the mindless tasks of cleaning allowed me to think about what to write this morning. As I scrubbed toilets, organized towels, and swept the floors, I thought about what I wanted to write and how I’d say it.

In addition, I walked a mile and burned 500 calories (thank you, FitBit for keeping stats for me). By focusing on quotidian tasks, I freed my mind to wander until it landed on a solution to a creative problem.

In retrospect, I realize I’ve done this all of my life. But this morning was the first time I realized that I could reframe the dreaded cleaning chore and turn it into part of my creative routine. I call it a win-win solution, because cluttered areas tend to suck the creativity out of me.

Instead of viewing housework as taking time away from my creative pursuits and endeavors, I now see it as a time to brainstorm. This made me wonder what other ways I’ve felt like I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul.

Exercise and Processing

Scientists have discovered that walking helps us process information—everything from traumatic events to irritating incidents that happen during the day. In fact, even an eight-minute stroll can help you solve creative problems. As a creative, I often get involved in a project and don’t want to leave it for fear I’ll lose my rhythm.

In reality, I need those exercise breaks to help me think through things that block my creativity. Writer’s block (or creative’s block) simply means that we’ve run up against a problem we can’t easily solve. Exercising without music or distractions helps clear our minds to process our creative problems.

Instead of seeing the need to exercise and stay physically fit as a barrier to creativity, we should see it as a way to refill our creative juice supply. A thirty-minute walk will clear the cobwebs AND make the Surgeon General happy. If you’re really busy, clean the house, that counts as exercise, too!

For mini-breaks, I’ve discovered yoga balls. I gave up on chairs about three years ago, and my students and I all bounce through class. The yoga balls help me keep track of who’s thinking, too—the kids will start to bounce up and down a little harder.

Sleep Feeds Creativity, Too

I’ve solved many a creative problem in my sleep (and sleep is part of the whole physical wholeness package). I don’t intentionally set out to solve problems that way, but I’ve discovered that if I get adequate rest, my mind works things out.

Scientists call the brain activity during the lucid sleep part of our sleep cycle theta waves. Learning to use this falling asleep or waking up time (the theta cycle also occurs when we’re doing mindless tasks—like housework) can fuel our creativity.

Learn to jot things down so you don’t forget them. Jack London kept a clothesline over his bed and jotted down his theta ideas and clipped them to the line to prevent losing them.

Try these three tips for overcoming writer's block AND staying in shape! #amwriting #writersblock Click To Tweet

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  1. I’ve seen how walking can help me to think creatively, but never thought about how housework could work the same way, Anita! Thanks for reframing this for me! I’m going to remember this the next time I need to organize, vacuum or clean! Great post!

  2. I also find walking or doing housework provides great space to think, and some of my best thoughts come when I’m drifting off to sleep or just waking up!

    1. I feel like my thoughts hit me in the middle of the night more than in the drifting times, but I need to research the whole theta cycle more…maybe I’m not allowing myself enough drift time!

  3. It’s amazing how much housework I can get done when I’m supposed to be doing something else. lol. One thing often leads to another once I get going. It’s the getting goin that can be difficult. Whether housework or writing! 🙂

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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