Author, writing coach, and creative self-care expert Mary Adkins encourages us to make time for creative self-care and to give ourselves permission to fully express our creative side. Amazing things can come from letting go.
Making time for our natural creativity to come out can improve our productivity and enrich our daily lives
In this episode of our Creative Living series, I’ll share with you my conversation with lawyer, novelist, and writing coach Mary Adkins about caring for our creative side.
Who is Mary?
Mary is a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School and is now a writing coach and founder of The Book Incubator, a 12-month program to write, revise, and pitch your novel or memoir. She is the author of the novels When You Read This (Indie Next Pick, “Best Book of 2019” by Good Housekeeping and Real Simple), Privilege (Today.com “Best Summer Read,” New York Post “Best Book of the Week”), and Palm Beach (recently named one of the New York Post’s “Best Books of 2021”). Her books have been published in 13 countries, and her essays and reporting have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, and more. I’ve been looking forward to talking with her about making time for creative self-care.
How Mary got started
Mary has always had the drive to be creative and carve out time for her creativity, a spark she has had since she was a little girl. The instinctive drive to make things and create has been a big part of her life but writing is where she really came alive. Whether she is writing a fun, whimsical story or something more personal, writing has always fed and nurtured her.
On the other hand, Mary also had an interest in law and attended Yale Law School. Once she graduated and got her first job as a lawyer, though, her true purpose was made crystal clear to her, which was to pursue creative writing. Within 7 months of starting her job as a lawyer, she left to pursue writing full-time. Mary is proud of herself for making this decision because she followed her heart. Initially, Mary estimated that writing a book would take about a year but it took closer to 7 years before she received a contract and was a published author.
Since then, Mary has continued to enjoy her career as a novelist and writing coach. She teaches others not only the fundamentals of writing but how to make time for creativity.
When Mary is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and 5-year-old son, who has just started Kindergarten.
A typical day for Mary
Mary makes a concerted effort each day to make time to write, in spite of what other things she needs to get done. She wants to write from her heart, whether that be journaling, working on a novel, or another piece she wants to publish. Mary tends to get this writing done very early in the morning, around 5:00 am. This is her quiet time with her coffee when she is at her most creative, which she likes to take advantage of.
Mary also tries to get some exercise in during these early hours.
Between the hours of 10:30 and 3:00, she is focused on running her business – coaching her clients, teaching classes, responding to emails, and other tasks.
At 3:00 she picks her son up from school and then tries to wrap her day up by 4:00. This is when Mary wants to focus on her family, cook dinner, and wind down for the evening. In the past, Mary would work continuously up until it was time for her to go to bed, which would lead to anxiety and poor sleep. This caused her to have an unhealthy relationship with productivity so now she completely stops working in the evenings (with only a few exceptions). This has been truly decompressing for her. She no longer puts productivity requirements on herself regarding how much she needs to get done in a day before she is allowed to relax.
Facing your fears and getting past the mental blocks
When Mary’s son was an infant, she was able to write and publish two novels. During this time, she discovered the concept of Parkinson’s Law, which is the idea that the work you have will expand to fill the time you have allocated for it. Mary had a deadline to complete her second novel not long after her son was born, so she had no choice but to complete it. But she was also nursing and didn’t have access to childcare. She had just a couple hours a day to write, so with family assistance, she was able to make time for her book but felt such pressure that she had writer’s block. She was able to overcome this by writing by hand. She also “tricked” herself into writing by journaling all the reasons why she couldn’t write, which would naturally flow into her actually writing the book. Mary did these two exercises every day until she was able to meet her deadline and publish her book. Through this experience, Mary learned how to overcome her fears, deal with pressure, and get around her ego. She now teaches her techniques of writing by hand and journaling to others.
Creative self-care and productivity
Mary talks a lot about creative self-care, which to her means spending time expressing herself in a creative way, which can leave her feeling nourished and refreshed. Carving out time to express yourself can have a profound impact on the rest of your day.
We all have pockets of time where we can do anything we want. It’s tempting to do the more productive things, such as running errands and doing chores, but Mary thinks we should use this time to express our creativity. And this doesn’t just apply to writers. We all have creativity within us and it’s an act of self-care to let it out. Mary encourages us to indulge in this kind of self-care, not dismiss it.
Mary’s suggestions for expressing your creativity
- Follow your gut and trust your intuition
- Don’t wait for permission to start
- It doesn’t matter how good or bad your writing is, everything is “fixable”
- Don’t obsess over perfection, sometimes things are good enough and it’s time to be done
What does a life that matters mean to Mary?
Over the years, the way Mary might have answered this question would vary, depending on what was going on in her life. For now, though, it means a life where she is experiencing joy in the presence of those she loves. She wants her family to have joy and for her to have joy as well. To Mary, this may seem like a very simple answer but there is a lot of meaning and beauty in joy and for the season of life she is in now, this is all she needs.
Productivity tools that Mary recommends
Pen and paper – Mary likes to do a lot of her writing by hand. She likes to step away from technology when she needs to think outside the box or focus intently.
She also uses a posterboard to track her writing progress each day, which she hangs on her wall. She saves these posterboards so she can look back at them and see her overall growth.
As for appointments and to-do lists, these are all kept on her computer.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
On these days, Mary reminds herself that it’s okay to cancel something. In the past, she would barrel through her day, keeping all her commitments even if she wasn’t having the best day. Now, though, she knows where to set boundaries and doesn’t feel guilty for postponing or canceling a commitment.
Mary’s last words for the listener
Be open to entertaining your creativity without knowing what it’s going to be yet. The unknown can be exciting – let yourself indulge without defining.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Mary
Mary’s 12-month writing program
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