Writer Wellness By Joy Held

WHAT IS WRITER WELLNESS? More than seven years ago, I ran into an emotional wall that threatened to dismantle my writing career.

I was a successful freelancer published in trade journals, regional newspapers and poetic circles. After many years of deadlines and editors who didn’t return phone calls, I chose to set aside bylines for raising and home-educating two wonderful daughters. My intention was to return to writing when they were old enough to open the “canned pasta with red sauce” unassisted. Eleven years later, the day arrived when my oldest daughter made lunch for herself and her sister without my help. I headed for the computer.

I tried to write; I read self-help titles, and I tried to attend a

critique group, but no amount of external action seemed to get me back on track. I finally listened to my soul and heard her say, “You have all the answers within.”

A trite cliché, you say, but years as a dancer, actress and teacher had taught me that listening is the fundamental basis of all the arts. I listened.

Talking to myself was nothing new. I had recorded my life’s internal conversations in a diary since the age of eight, but that, too, had fallen by the wayside and been replaced by nurturing others. The beloved cartridge pen and trusty spiral notebooks called to my inner sister-the one who runs around barefoot in flannel pajamas yelling, “Listen! Will you listen to yourself?” I returned to journal writing.

Each time I spent twenty or thirty minutes writing down my feelings, thoughts and daily drudge, I noticed a cleansing breeze rush through my body and mind like a spiritual enema. I cleared my head of daily “stuff” and was amazingly able to sit in stillness again and write poetry and articles without teeth gnashing. Within months, I was gifted with a dream that served as the foundation for my first romance novel.

Besides writing ever since I can remember, the other half of me has spent almost every afternoon of forty odd years in our family dancing school. My mother has operated the school, riding the waves of whatever movement fad comes along, for over fifty years. Even falling off a stage at the age of sixty-six and almost bleeding to death from the severed artery didn’t stop her from teaching her ballet classes. By example, she has shown me that good exercise and nutrition, with some dogged persistence thrown in, can save your life.

Along with the freedom to write creative works, I sensed a change in my maturing body. Ballet class four times a week hurt like hell at age thirty-six. I quit, or was thrown out, (I haven’t resolved that yet) and returned to yoga. Yoga had been one of those “fads” my mother had me ride for her. When the local “Y” called in 1977 and asked if we had anybody who could teach yoga, my mother said, “Of course.” She handed me a book and said, “Read this. You are teaching a class of twelve women in two weeks.” I read the book, showed up in my leotard and gave a class. The next week there were twenty-four women in the class. I was eighteen years old and it was ego-building until I learned how much I earned compared to what the “Y” kept. After the class ended, I taught in other places where my cut was more respectable. It’s never been much, but it’s better today than 70/30 (me on the slim side). But yoga isn’t about money.

I loved yoga and incorporated its principles of peaceful stretching into all the dance I taught for years to come: ballet, belly dancing, ballroom dance, aerobic dance, line dancing, tap, jazz, (you get the picture). No one ever got injured in my classes because I taught deep breathing with long slow postures no matter what the genre.

Back to being thrown out of ballet class. Three years later I was leading writing workshops, teaching yoga, and finishing my novel. The regimen of daily journal writing, exercise, relaxation and proper nutrition easily fell into place for me because of my background. I finally finished a historical romance tome of which I was really proud, volunteered for local and state writers’ groups, and published poetry and articles anywhere I submitted. Other writers began to ask my advice about their work and about getting over personal hurdles they felt were keeping them from being satisfied as creative artists.

When I thought it over, I had followed my own program for more than three years and the results were exciting. I felt better and wrote better and more easily than ever before. The teacher, mother and writer in me recognized a way to help others. The result was Writer Wellness Workshop.

I’ve been teaching Wellness for over seven years now, and practicing what I preach for more than ten years. The program has led many a writer out of the depths of creative hell to the wide open fields of artistic freedom. You can go there, too.


*Listening is the fundamental basis of all the arts.

*You have all the answers within yourself.

*Journal writing, exercise, relaxation, nutrition and creative play

What Is Writer Wellness?


(*use a timer)


List everything and everybody, large and small, that is “in your way” to realizing a creative dream. Don’t hold back. Purge your system of every detail that you feel has, does, or will impede your creative progress. Just vent. (5 minutes*)


Walk away from your house, apartment, or workplace for exactly two and a half minutes. At that point, turn around and walk home. Any pace will do, but build up to a brisk jaunt. (5 minutes*)

RELAX Lie down on your back on a bed. (Take off your shoes!) Cover your eyes with an herbal eye pillow or a warm folded washcloth. (To warm a cloth, open and sprinkle water on the center, fold over and microwave for 20-30 SECONDS. Check the heat intensity on the inside of your arm before placing the cloth over tender eye area.)

Be as physically still as possible. Breathe normally through the nostrils and count fifty breaths (one inhale/exhale is one breath). Lie still for the remainder of the time if there is any. (5 minutes*)


Buy and eat one of the following foods that you’ve never tried before.

Wheat-free cookies
Rice crackers
Spelt pasta
Spelt bread
Egg substitute
Rice milk
Non-dairy cheese


Presenting Me Poster. Buy a large sheet of poster board. Use any medium (paint, markers, stickers, etc.) to entitle the poster “Presenting Me.” writing in your name after “Me.” Place the title anywhere you want on the poster.

Spend up to ten minutes a day over the course of a week collecting and affixing items, ideas, pictures and statements that identify your image of you as you see yourself. Examples: poetry or quotes you like or have written, photographs with you in most of them, your favorite things (my poster includes a white sock glued on because I love wearing sparkling white, cotton socks), magazine images that depict some aspect of your personality, names and pictures of family members, pictures depicting your dreams and goals.

One student drew a picture of her published novel but covered it with a lift-up flap of computer printout paper from her job. She said it symbolized how work kept her from attaining her goal.


Take “Presenting Me” into work if you can and display it at your workstation for a few days.

Close the door on your office, lunchroom or closet and practice the five-minute relaxation exercise described above every day for a week.

Before eating lunch, walk away and back to work five minutes as described above.

Take your sandwich to work made with spelt* bread instead of white or wheat.

*Spelt is a grain that is suggested for persons who need to avoid wheat products. It’s available at many health food stores.


AUTHOR BIO: Joy is a mother, teacher and writer with over thirty years in publications ranging from newspapers to literary journals. This is her first non-fiction book. Writer Wellness developed from Joy’s workshop for artists that encourages a natural and personalized approach to journaling, exercise, relaxation, nutrition and creative play. She is available for workshops and interviews at joybeth@wirefire.com.

Writer Wellness is available from New Leaf Books for$ 15.95, ISBN 1930076002.

(Reprinted with permission from New Leaf Books and Joy Held.)

“Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity” available July 2003 from New Leaf Books, ISBN 1-930076-00-2. Inspiration, guidance and exercises for writers. writerwellness.com.

Copyright Joy Held 2003

If you would like to send us an article, email: beth@author-network.com

Black Expressions 4 books for $2 plus free gift