You probably already have an idea of what works and doesn’t work for you. These are tools, tips, and resources that have helped me personally, as well as other resources I’ve tried before.
I have a harder time creating if I don’t have my physical, mental, and emotional health together. No one person or community online can understand the full scope of your physical environment, so it’s important to speak to your doctor about any health issues that arise. In the meantime, here are some tools you can use to help you manage your health.
The USA has moved away from the food pyramid that many of us grew up with. My Plate is now the far more intuitive standard for US nutrition guidelines, with clearer visualizations for food portions and nutrient balance. You can use apps like Lifesum (iOS & Android) to help you meet your nutrition goals.
If you find that the My Plate advice doesn’t work well for you, or you’d like to try an Asian approach to nutrition, Japan has a robust nutrition education program that you can explore. A good starting place is the Japan Dietetic Association (JDA)’s resources in English. The Japanese “spinning top” model is similar to the food pyramid, but its philosophy takes a different approach to nutrition.
As everyone has different food restrictions and preferences, it’s best to discuss your nutritional needs with a registered dietitian familiar with your background.
If you can’t access a dietitian or nutritionist, my general advice is to remember that “diet” doesn’t have anything to do with weight or fitness—the word simply means what you eat. Some people have a vegetarian diet, while others have a more carnivorous diet. I live in California, which has a Mediterranean climate (that is, similar to countries bordering the Mediterranean sea), so I can apply Mediterranean diet guidelines to what’s available locally and what’s traditional in my Chinese heritage to create comfortable meals. If you’re located in a climate like Ohio with a lot of snow and less sun, you can try adapting Scandinavian recipes to your heritage, preferences, and local produce.
As creators, we often spend a lot of time sitting or standing in one spot. Regardless of whether you have a full range of movement in your body or whether you use adaptive devices like a wheelchair, you can still take steps to improve your fitness without spending much money, pushing yourself too hard, or even going outside.
Before engaging in any activity, it’s best to practice breathing. We might always be breathing, but extended stress causes our bodies to breathe less efficiently. The University of Michigan Medicine site has a guide to breathing exercises for stress management and relaxation, and the American Lung Association’s breathing exercises page includes video demonstrations.
Once you practice breathing in a safe setting, or just to get your body to calm down to begin with, you can try physical activities that make you feel energetic and accomplished. Instead of going to the gym, you can try body-weight exercises that you can do anywhere, like DAREBEE’s. Basic stretches like trying to touch your toes (while breathing!) are better than nothing. You can search for yoga classes that fit your skill level—classes range from gentle/calming to high-intensity, and many demonstrations are available on YouTube. Hiking is great for your balance and joints, while basketball and skateboarding help you focus on form and technique. Do something you enjoy!
In no particular order, here are some techniques and technologies that have helped me:
Understanding shame and resilience: Shame, guilt, and embarrassment are often what lead creators to have doubt in our work. Cultivating empathy and resilience can help us overcome those feelings. I recommend Brené Brown’s work, which ranges from TED talks to narrative nonfiction to self-help workbooks.
Mindfulness: Originating from dialectal behavior therapy (DBT), “mindfulness” is a guiding term for how to stay present in the moment instead of focusing on the past (causing depressive thoughts) or worrying about the future (sparking anxiety).
Some tips to help you manage both your behaviors and improve your environment include:
- Using mindfulness apps like Fabulous, developed in association with the Department of Behavioral Economics at Duke University.
- Using noise generators like MyNoise (also available on iOS & Android).
- Practicing the Pomodoro technique. Many apps like Forest are based on this method.
- Taking breaks by coloring and playing puzzle games like sudoku, Wordscapes, Word Stacks, crosswords, and logic puzzles.
- Enjoying media you like, including free library media available through Overdrive and its iOS/Android/Windows app Libby.
Some other apps to help you manage overall health, medications, and wellness include:
- iOS Health, which has many features that help you keep your health records in one place, including an emergency medical ID and automatic lab results import.
- Medisafe, which not only reminds you of when to take your meds, but also has caregiver support and reports you can show your doctor.
- GoodRx for medication prices and coupons that often work with or without insurance.
- SleepWatch, an app for Apple Watch to help you monitor your sleep along with good sleep hygiene.
- Alarmy, for those days when you have trouble getting out of bed anyway.
- Happy Scale, for a more realistic understanding of your weight numbers.
- Chewy, for affordable pet-focused wellness.
It’s hard to work on projects when I don’t know where all my notes and drafts are. Plus, environmental clutter negatively affects my mood, creating a cycle that leads to creative blocks. The KonMari method developed by Japanese organizer Marie Kondo (who now has a TV show on Netflix) is an emotional wellness-based way to organize, while Unfuck Your Habitat is more of a Pomodoro-like timed technique for organizing clutter, one surface at a time.
If traditional journaling doesn’t work for you, you can digitize your notes using apps like Bear or Agenda. If bullet journaling doesn’t work for you, you can try cloud-based to-do list software like Remember the Milk. Alternatives to balancing your checkbook on paper include software like You Need A Budget. Finally, to manage your paper records, you can use apps like Scanbot to digitize items such as receipts and file them online using tools like Airtable.
Although both WordPress.com and Wix.com URLs are perfectly fine for your portfolio, you may end up deciding that having your own web address is a better option for your needs. My current host is 101 Domain, which offers rarer country-based domains like my own .LU, as well as affordable rates for standard .COM addresses. Another popular option I’ve used before is DreamHost. For those of you with front-end, back-end, or full-stack developing experience who’d like to save money, I recommend NearlyFreeSpeech.Net.
Every writer has their own opinion on which software is best for their needs. Since your needs will be different from others’, here are a few suggestions for apps I’ve used:
Ulysses: A plaintext, Markdown-enabled app that’s quickly become my go-to writing software for everything from short fiction to nonfiction articles like this one. With various export options, publishing options, and templates, Ulysses gives you finer control over formatting than Microsoft Word. For science and math writers, Ulysses is comparable to LaTeX, and you could probably use both of them together. However, Ulysses isn’t out-of-the-box optimized for poetry.
Scrivener: A popular app that’s much more visual than Ulysses, offering organization tools not available in Microsoft Word or Google Drive while also having native formatting options optimized for writers. However, the learning curve can be rather steep.
Noted: Sometimes it’s faster to capture voice memos about an idea, but sorting through those memos later can be difficult. Noted allows you to add timestamped text annotations to voice memos that are then searchable, all in a clean user interface.
Dragon Dictate: For those who prefer dictating over typing. The more expensive software packages are for legal and medical professionals, but there are mobile apps and more economical software bundles for individuals. Unlike iOS and Android voice recognition, Dragon is designed for long-form use and will gradually adapt to your voice and vocabulary.
duet: duet is a great solution for if you have a Mac or PC and would like to use your iPad or iPhone as an extra monitor to give you more space to work.
We might use language creatively, but sometimes we need that dictionary reference or translation reference. Here are some of my favorites:
Oxford English Dictionary: The OED is more for historical use of English terms and for extensive etymologies (word origins) not available on Merriam-Webster. However, the OED requires a subscription. Many universities and professional organizations will pay for an OED subscription.
Pleco: A great resource for looking up Chinese (simplified and traditional) terms. Even without background knowledge of Chinese, Pleco can still guide you through word lookup and translations. However, Pleco is a Mandarin-based dictionary and may not be as helpful for Cantonese and other dialects.
WordReference: My go-to resource for Romance languages (primarily Spanish, though French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, and Romanian are offered as well). If the dictionary definitions aren’t enlightening, the forum results toward the bottom of the page give more context, as well as a place for you to ask your own questions, including ones about a certain cultural or regional context.
I hope this helps! The comments below are open, and I will be moderating responses to ensure that we stay on-topic and helpful. If you are a current or prospective Clarion West student, you may also enjoy my article Self-Care Suggestions for Clarion West Students.
Last updated April 8, 2019.