HALT! Your Craft Goes There

Looking Inward to Stave Off Artistic Blues

If you know me personally or read my recent post, The Case for Christmas, you know I’m a diehard holiday fan. But even we tinsel-crazed, holly-loving, Santa-praisers can fall prey to craft-itis—a psychiatric condition characterized by sadness, loneliness, self pity, foggy thinking, insomnia, heartache and/or frustration. (Not exactly a cup of Christma-Chanu-Kwanza-dan tea…)

Others ask, “What’s wrong?” You say, “Nothing.”

But something is. Craft-itis symptoms rarely feel “right,” even if we rationalize or expect them. I’ve been spending time with loved ones, we think. I should feel GREAT! Instead we feel hollow, misunderstood, guilty for feeling anything but joyful and exhausted by our attempts to hide it.

As important as it is to take breaks from our craft—in my case, writing—such respite can bring a basel level of turmoil. Left untreated, our symptoms can deepen and proliferate, making us feel more suited to a psych ward than holiday gatherings.

So what can we do??? Fortunately, a lot.

I like to use the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It’s conventionally used as an addiction management and self-care technique. The idea is this: Hunger, anger, loneliness and exhaustion often go ignored. If we continue to ignore them, we’re bound for trouble. When you feel you’ve hit a wall of sorts but don’t know why, you simply pause (halt) and look inward. Ask yourself whether you’ve been eating and sleeping enough, if you’re resisting anger or feel alone.

We can take H.A.L.T. a step further by applying it directly to our craft:

Are you HUNGRY for creativity? ANGRY that you haven’t been expressing it? LONELY for companionship only the page (or canvas, piano, etc.) can bring? TIRED of socializing and wearing a happy face when inside you’re aching?

You’ve HALTed, so now what?

Awareness is much of the battle. (As soon as I realize that I’m not crazy or selfish, I often feel loads better…) If you’re truly hungry, eat. Balanced meals and snacks at regular time intervals helps ensure positive blood sugar balance, energy and moods. Staying well hydrated is also important. If anger is your issue, address it. Mad at your spouse? Talk it out. Angry at the world? Try exercise, meditation or therapy. If you long for companionship, seek community. Join Twitter conversations, such as #MyWANA or #amwriting. Share lunch, coffee or quality phone chats with friends. If exhaustion has you down, do something restful, such as napping, reading poetry or listening to soothing music. Aim for earlier bedtimes if you can.

If your symptoms stem solely from craft-itis, try the following:

  • Drop everything and get creative. Longing to write? Write. Feel like singing? Sing. Whatever it is, make it your top priority and do it. If your schedule doesn’t allow for creative time pronto, make a plan for the near future.
  • Schedule creative time into your every day. Even ten to twenty minutes per day can make a tremendous difference.
  • Go to bed and/or wake up a half hour early. Dedicate the time to thinking about, doodling about or partaking in your craft.
  • Talk to others about your craft. Even if your loved ones aren’t creative types, they probably want to support you and learn about your work. “Hey, haven’t I told you what I’ve been working on?” is a great way to start. (Not everyone knows how to broach artistic subjects, but trust me—most are interested.)
  • Read a great book or watch a great movie. Captivating stories are what led many of us to our creative paths. Reap the benefits we hope our work with provide to others: a medicinal escape. (For more on this topic, read Jessica O’Neal’s insightful guest post on Myndi Schafer’s blog: The Power of A Good Story.)
  • Focus on others. This may sound contrary, seeing as I just alluded to the fact that tending to our creativity or isn’t selfish. But once you know what the root problem is, fixating on it in a woe-is-me way is. Make a plan to fuel your creativity, be thankful that you have something to ache for (many people wish they had such passion…) then get over yourself. Doing something thoughtful for others can help us do so.
  • If your symptoms are severe or you simply want professional support, see a trusted therapist. Occasional “emotional” checkups are at least as important as physical exams, IMHO. 😉

What about you?  Are you prone to craft-itis? Have you nipped it in the bud? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Leave a comment

25 Comments

  1. mgmillerbooks

     /  November 30, 2011

    Good tips. I practice several of them. I’m hardcore about getting up earlier than your average bear, too, just to get in some creative time. Up at 3 a.m. Every day. At that hour, the world is mine 🙂

    Reply
    • You rock, MG! I may forever on use you as an example in face of the “I don’t have time” excuse. 😉

      I discovered my own deep love for morning hours while living with 7 roommates in NYC. The only calm space I could find and a habit I’ve stuck to since.

      Reply
  2. Thank you August for the great advice. I like your explanation of H.A.L.T. and need to remember that. Too often while I’m working I will continue writing past the lunch hour. Several hours later I get the shakes, my stomach is weak, as my body tries to tell me to stop and eat. For a long time I would ignore the signs. Now that I have to watch my blood sugar more closely I will follow the HALT method! Many thanks for the great tips.

    Reply
    • I’ve so been there, Tim. Glad you found H.A.L.T. helpful!

      This past year I made it a goal to rest more often. Knowing that it boosts my productivity, work quality and moods helps keep me from the robotic/maniac mode I’m prone to. 😉

      Reply
  3. Great post. I’ve never heard of HALT before, but that makes a lot of sense, and I love how you tied it in so that it applies to writers (though it could really apply to any creative right from woodworkers to musicians).

    Reply
  4. Great blog, August! I am suffering from H.A.L.T. and so appreciate your tips. All things I know and try but soon forget when stress pops its ugly head up at me.
    I’ve had lots of added work and family stress lately and got buried underneath it.

    I have to remember to take care of me, which means WRITING!!! Shedding years of taking care of others isn’t easy, but hopefully, I’m on my way.

    I finally sat down to write on Monday after a way too long hiatus and felt like a new person. Reading your blog has been a boon too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts:)

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear of your hefty stress load, Claudia. Kudos to you for making self-care through writing a priority. Reminding ourselves of the benefits—feeling like a “new person,” yeah! :)—can go a long way toward keeping the craft-train going…

      Stay well and in touch. You’re awesome!

      Reply
  5. Kathleen

     /  November 30, 2011

    HALT, love it! Another great post, August. Tired is the main thing I have to watch out for. Sometimes creativity is a lifesaver for me, regardless of where that creativity is expressed.

    Reply
  6. I always try to maintain balance in my life and take care of myself because I know it affects my creativity. Eat well, sleep well, exercise and see my chiropractor. These things keep me physically fit. The mental state, however, is more difficult to maintain. There are so many stressors in our daily lives. I love your H.A.L.T. acronym and I can definitely use some of your tips. Wonderful post, August. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. I can see myself using the HALT technique from time to time, August, but tomorrow, I’ll use one of your tips for dealing with the symptoms of craft-itis. Like it or not, I’m going to get up an hour earlier than usual. I want to write.

    Reply
  8. Great post August. I’ve been contemplating writing on this subject as well. I haven’t heard of HALT, but I do get those seasonal blues..every single year. This morning I dropped my boys off at school/pre-school and went on a challenging bike ride. A rush of endorphins really helps.

    Reply
  9. Marc Schuster

     /  November 30, 2011

    “Longing to write? Write. Feel like singing? Sing.” – Great advice!

    (Hope this clip works!)

    Reply
  10. Shannon Esposito

     /  November 30, 2011

    I definitely get cranky when I’m not writing. So, the holidays are especially hard with all the extra stuff and people demanding attention. Reading a good story helps satisfy some of the creative blues. I’ve already loaded up my nook for December and joined a book club who are reading a Christmas themed cozy mystery. Should keep me in the spirit 🙂

    Reply
  11. Great tips August! I finished NaNo and instead of jumping right into the next thing (editing previous wip) I’ve been spending this week reading books–which has been so energizing. 🙂

    Reply
  12. This is great advice! I feel the pressure to write my blog (although it doesn’t bring in any income so I’m not quite sure why), but I’ve noticed writing becomes more difficult when I force it. When I back off and enjoy other activities (mainly hanging out with my kids and marveling at their unique perspectives on the world), I am instantly rejuvenated and eager to get back to the computer. Watching children’s movies, reading novels and even coloring with my kids gives me a new “spark.”

    Reply
    • Our ‘bosses’ sure can be harsh, right? 😉 I’m sure many of us relate to your heavy, self-imposed pressure. So glad you’ve learned ease up on the reigns and experienced the benefits of doing so. My most productive month last year, creatively and financially, included a week of having house guests and a brief vacation. (Totally shocked me.) Ever since then, I’ve committed myself to daily bouts of R&R. Staves off craft-itis, headaches and many other problems.

      Thanks for sharing your fabulous insight. Makes me want to pull some crayons out and color!

      Reply
  13. What a great post August! Yes I am a chronic HALTer and not always proud of it.

    Loved the way you tied it in to writing. I know you dont believe in writers block 😉 but when I do feel a little ‘blocked’, watching a good movie or reading a classic short story always makes me feel better and inspires me.

    And believe it or not, blogging also helps with the craft-itis, because it is also a creative outlet for me even if what I blog about has nothing to do with my writing. 🙂

    Reply
    • So glad this resonates with you, Nisha! I love your point regarding blogging. Reading others’ blogs and working on my own definitely feed the creative beast…and keep it dancing and singing rather than blocked. 😉

      Reply
  14. I know I get cranky when I have so many obligations, ai don’t have time to write – who knew this condition had a name!? Thanks for sharing – and giving us permission to just write, even if just for a little while, when we feel this coming on.

    Reply
  15. Craftitis. I love it. Great post, August.

    Reply
  16. I’m NOT crafty – in that way, at least! Cool post, though. You have a smooth, easy-going style that just plain rocks!

    Reply
  17. Had to check this out after your comment… SO true! I think forcing myself to write is one of my worst traits/habits. It takes me 10X longer to finish when my heart is not in it.
    After reading this post, I no longer feel guilty about putting away my scrapbook supplies. I know that someday, inspiration will hit and I will go back to it but for now I will allow myself writing as a creative outlet (and even then, only when I feel good and ready to tackle a topic that is eating at me) and enjoy the release that offers.
    I’ve heard of HALT before, but needed the reminder! Thanks!

    Reply

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