Anna Lovind: Writer, Editor, Creativity Mentor
HOW DO YOU START YOUR DAY?
As gently as I can. I love mornings, but since I often struggle with sleep they can also be a bit tender for me. I try to just be kind, no sharp alarms, a warm, hearty breakfast (the amount of buckwheat porridge I can eat in the morning is really quite surprising), I eat breakfast by candlelight because it’s easier on the senses than electric lighting.
Then the focus is on getting the kids ready for school and trying to remember all the things that need to be packed and said and planned for. Honestly? It’s a circus. But once they’re off to school I take a long walk in the forest with my dog. This is pure medicine. Being in the forest keeps me sane. Plus, a lot of my writing happens there. Words, sentences and ideas pour into my consciousness as I walk, and I have to stop all the time to scribble it down. My dog is very patient. Then I come home, make a cup of tea and sit down to work.
I used to like writing in the wee hours of the morning, before anyone else is awake. But I’m not trying to make that happen right now. I have kids in my bed at night. I have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. At this time in my life it’s simply not sustainable for me to get up at four thirty. Maybe that’ll be different in a year or two, or ten. We’ll see. I’m learning not to fight myself or my life circumstances so much. Allowing for longer perspectives makes everything kinder and smoother.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE OVERWHELMED OR STRESSED?
I suffered a burnout last year. It got quite bad. Complete and utter exhaustion caused my memory to stop working, impaired the cognitive functions of my brain, threw my ability to deal with stress out the window along with the last of my sleep. The tiniest bit of stress would send my whole system into crisis mode, rendering me unable to handle even the simplest task.
I knew a lot about the necessity for self-care and the damaging effects of stress even before the burnout. I had worked for years to let go of striving and overachieving, to change the way I work and do life in general. I thought I had it down (ha ha!).
But then life threw me a few curveballs and it became painfully clear that there were no margins in my life. No room for mistakes, for me not being up to par, for unexpected things to happen. Well, unexpected things did happen, a whole bunch of them, and everything fell apart. I fell apart.
I’m just human. Life is not entirely in my hands. My body needs what it needs. These are some of the lessons the last couple of years taught me.
I’d love to say that I learned them once and for all and now I never stress or push, but I don’t think that’s how it works. It takes time to un-learn and re-learn. Maybe some of us will always need to be extra vigilant because for different reasons we have that tendency towards over-doing. These grooves in our brains run so deep; they might never be completely erased. I don’t think recognising this is a failure. Knowing myself—weakness and strength—helps me make better decisions.
And I am making better decisions. Being offline for much of last year in order to focus on writing, family and health is such a decision. When it comes to work, I make plans with a very human version of myself in mind now, instead of hoping that I’ll be superwoman and that circumstances will be perfect. It means fewer commitments, more space. This way, I know that when life happens—and it does—there will be space for me to handle it.
WHAT GIVES YOU THE FEELING OF TRUE BLISS WITHIN?
Beauty. Mostly the beauty of the natural world. The way the wind ripples through long grass, the angles and temperature of light in the evening, the thousand different shades of snow, the mist rising from the lake just before it freezes.
The way my children look when they’re sleeping.
Those rare moments when I see him the way I saw him fifteen years ago. Time sort of unravels and my heart just breaks at the miracle of us being here. Still.
When writing flows so rapidly my fingers can barely keep up.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
I’m re-reading The Body Keeps the Score – Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk. It has helped me immensely both personally as I’m working to heal the effects of sexual abuse and neglect in my childhood, and in my work with Write Your Self, where we train professionals who want to teach writing as a tool for healing. This book should be compulsive reading for everyone who works with people – especially with children. Truly, we know way too little about trauma in our society today.
I also have a love affair with Ursula Le Guin right now. I didn’t discover her until after she passed away last year, but I’m falling in love with her brilliance, humour and brave heart. Being a writer and a committed feminist myself, I’m deeply nourished and inspired by her writing.
WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
A few podcasts I like: Mara Glatzel’s The Needy Podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and Wild Mystic Woman with Layla Saad.
As for music, I went to a concert last summer in an old lime quarry nearby, the stage set at the bottom of the huge pit, surrounded by turquoise water and towering rock walls. First Aid Kit was playing and they did a cover of Kate Bush’s Running up that Hill and oh my Goddess… That song, the exceptional acoustics and raw beauty of that place, the balmy summer night. It was one of those perfect music moments. (I think you can find the song on Spotify, although the live version was something else of course.)
WHAT DOES NOURISHMENT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
More and more, nourishment looks like tending consistently and devotedly to my basic needs. Sleep is nourishment. Food is nourishment (and it’s ok if it’s not always the “right” kind of food). Movement is nourishment.
Connection is essential nourishment. Connection to myself, to begin with. For me, this means learning to stay in my body. Years of sexual abuse kicked me out of my body so thoroughly I thought I’d never be able to live there safely and fully again (the medical term for this is dissociation). But never is a big word. The truth is I’m returning and reclaiming, inch by inch. It’s arduous and very tender. No shortcuts, it’s down and through all the way. Everything good about the human existence requires being in one’s body – love, nourishment, presence, creativity, connection. I can’t have that if I hide in the safe, abstracts regions of my mind (however beautiful it can be up there).
Connection to others is equally essential and even more challenging. But I find animals feel safer than humans, children feel safer than adults. Women feel safer than men. One step at a time. I’m getting there.
And speaking of women, sisterhood is nourishment, a kind that is becoming more and more important in my life. I find my friendships with the women in my life have deepened lately and my commitment to serving women is stronger than ever. (Because the world needs us.)
Another thing I’m doing differently after the burnout is that I tend to my needs in the midst of my everyday life now. I try to let myself be seen as I truly am. Not the super-mom, not the perfect wife or friend or entrepreneur. Just human. With needs that are perfectly valid. I think this might be one of the most important things I can pass on to my daughters – the permission to recognise, express and tend to their own needs (in a culture that teaches girls the opposite).
And again, beauty. Beauty is nourishment.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SPACE FOR PLAY?
I lost most of my ability to play somewhere along the way. Maybe this goes for all of us. Learning how to become an adult in our world is basically learning how not to play. This is especially true for women, and I write about it in my upcoming book, The Creative Doer, because it affects our ability to be creative so much. At some point, we learn that how we look is a lot more important than how we feel, that being perfect is more important than having fun. It takes a lot to come back into that space where we allow ourselves to relax, look silly, make a mess, take risks.
We need to un-learn and re-learn, and safety is important in that process. Safe spaces, safe playmates. It helps the frightened parts to open up and participate. Right now I love painting without goal or purpose, on big papers with plenty of space around so I don’t have to be careful. A lot of colour and a lot of water is required, enough that I can’t control what happens on the canvas. That’s when play can happen, that sense of pure enjoyment and exploration.
WHAT ARE SOME FAVORITE MANTRAS YOU CLING TO?
One step at a time. That’s been my constant reminder to the creative people I work with as they get overwhelmed by the size and scope of their projects and dreams. And lately, it has become a lifesaver for me, because I literally can’t function when I try to multitask. My brain shuts down. (Which I’m not sure is a bad thing because honestly, when has multitasking ever worked for anyone?) One thing at a time, one step at a time. It will get us where we need to go.
Also, I need to over and over again remind myself that even though my heart is boundless, the reach of my arms is not. We are in such a difficult situation today, there’s no relief from the constant onslaught of news, images and stories about tragedy and suffering around the globe. Our human hearts respond to each and every one of them, but it’s impossible for us to translate all those responses into action. We can’t save everyone, be everywhere, do everything. This is painful. It can lead to empathic stress and eventually a numbing of the heart.
Our work is to figure out what big or small thing we CAN do, to focus on that and learn to let that be enough. I think that’s how we stay sane in these trying times.
PLEASE SHARE SOME WORDS OF WISDOM YOU’VE LEARNED OVER THE YEARS.
We can’t have everything, but we can have what’s most important to us. And that’s what we truly want anyway.
I recently learned this lesson, very reluctantly. I gave up the dream of the big, beautiful house in the country where I thought I would have this wonderful creative life and write all the books that wants to be written. Turns out the beautiful old house required so much work and money it ended up being what kept me from writing – as well as playing with the kids, and spending time with my love, and resting.
It took some soul-searching but we got clear on what mattered the most and sold the house. We have just moved and I’m pretty excited about what this next chapter of my life will be like. It feels like a decision I made with my heart and soul. I’ll get to spend more time writing, that’s for sure. And that’s what I truly wanted anyway.
Anna Lovind is a writer, editor and creativity mentor. She has seen bestselling authors through to publication, helped launch solo entrepreneurs into orbit and guided hundreds of creatives from all over the world to go from dreaming to doing. In her upcoming book, The Creative Doer, she writes about women’s creative freedom. In her teacher program Write Your Self she teaches how to use writing as a tool for healing. Every once in a while she hosts a workshop or a retreat where women gather to make dreams happen. More than anything, she believes in the power of our voices and stories. Anna lives in rural Sweden, where forests are deep, winter is dark and summer nights last forever. Connect with Anna on Instagram or at her website