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  • Mary Bergida DeLuca

What's Your Story Diet?

Let's look at how the stories we consume inhibit or enhance our own writing process.

Lately, I've been thinking about the mental diet we consume as writers and creators.

Considering literal, rather than metaphorical, diets, has actually clarified how I think about the stories I consume. When I was a kid, shortly after my mom had another baby (there are seven of us), she would soldier back into a fat-free diet — this was before there was talk of healthy fats. I remember begging mom for bites of her bland meals. She would say: “You wouldn’t be so interested if this chicken breast if it was all you could eat.”

Nearly 30 years later, even more than fad diets, we see food as a lifestyle, be it veganism, paleoism, gluten free and so on.

Being a natural rebel against any cultural “musts,” I also resist prescriptive approaches to diet, unless I seek them out, of course. Last spring, while attending a book reading by a nutritionist who nicknames herself the “Food-Mood Girl,” I was happily introduced to a philosophy that resonates with me, both in what I feed my body and my mind.

The Food-Mood manifesto proclaims that rather than suppressing our cravings and the foods we gravitate toward, we explore these desires by asking: Which of my feelings turns me to which food? How does the actual food make me feel, just beyond the fleeting taste?

Engaging an intake of how food makes us feel, helps us see how we use it, or abuse it — perhaps, even using it as a distraction from deeper needs.

So what does this have to do with writing? The Food-Mood philosophy also neatly applies to what we feed our inner writer. By inner writer, I mean that part of ourselves that takes in ideas and creates.

Here are some helpful questions: How do the books, or perhaps more often, the TV and movies, we imbibe make us feel? How do we feel as we watch? (It has to appeal in some way, or we wouldn’t be watching, I know!) How do we feel an hour later?

A day later?

Recently, a friend and I were analyzing the complex characters in Netflix’s new dark romance, You. (Don’t enjoy blood? Stay away.) But after watching, we also noticed how paranoid we’d become due to Penn Badgley’s gripping performance as a stalker. Beyond the performances and layered characters, especially the love-interest, a fellow “struggling writer,” the lingering effects of You (for me, anyway) are feelings of distance and heaviness — perhaps even hopelessness. The thrill of the moment gives way to a lingering hangover of melancholy. Then I look at how this heaviness mingles with my creativity and note that these feelings are not a fertile mental state — especially as I currently attempt to write a historical comedy.

So how do I figure out the best mental state for what, or how, I want to create?

For me, the ideal state actually seems to shift with the project at hand. Surprisingly, there are times when angst aptly fits my writing needs. I have re-read scenes of rupture and emotional combustion, thank you A.S. Byatt, as inspiration for tumultuous scenes. But right now, I am in a season where I need something gentler and glinting with hope.

I’m not suggesting that to feel uplifted the only item on my entertainment menu should be feel- good novels or historical dramas with a blinding moral message. But I do need to add some

lighter fare on my plate. Not all we might consider “junk food” is necessarily bad. So I ask myself, when do I feel lighter? What proceeds a renewed ability to create the vibrant story I’m working on?

Sometimes we don’t have to think hard about how a story or show makes us feel. A colleague was asking what the reboot of Queer Eye is like and I blurted, “Hope.” I didn’t mean hope in some political or agenda related way, but rather that after watching the makeovers in the show, I have a renewed belief that we can transcend our daily lives and weary self-images.

Sometimes I am not so aware of how the stories I read, or watch, affect my mood. This is when I need to increase self-awareness. Mood assessment is about noticing our emotional or internal life and realizing that our needs may have shifted. It’s about noticing our mood before, during, and after we consume media of any kind.

Hope resonates with me. I’m becoming more and more aware that this hope is what I

crave, even when I absorb heavy material.

I think sometimes we fear that only engaging feel-good stories makes us naive about reality. But the best comedy, and even the saddest story, can still inspire hope. We want to feel hope for our writing, our ability to create, which includes hope for our characters, and our ability to bring stories to life, whether they be “made-up” or from personal experience.

Another tool, that helps me, is a daily commitment to meditations that open awareness — to be awake to myself and to the inspirations I’m receiving.

The practice I am engaging currently is based on the methods of Ignatius of Loyola, a bravado 15th century soldier turned spiritual guru through the process of an agonizing recovery. While Ignatius was convalescing, without TV of course, he began to notice his wandering imaginations and what these imagination stirred up within him.

Similarly, without having to be physically recovering, meditation offers such a simple, but effective, practice. It is an intake of our inner life and the feelings and inspirations that pass over us, perhaps a bit like storm clouds and sun light, throughout the day.

However, once I know what kind of encouragement I need, finding the right book or show to boost my mood and perspective can be a challenge.

Next to my bed is a stack of books that motivate me to write. Sometimes just reading a paragraph from one of these books, such as Marcus Zusak’s, The Book Thief, rekindles my fire. There are also a few shows that work similarly. Recently, I’ve re-watched the opening scenes of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, season 2 with their bright colors and quirky energy. After watching, I again feel like all writing is possible. Dipping into favorite scenes can recharge me, without having to consume a story whole.

Whether you need a somber or comedic diet to foster your creativity, don’t forget Hope. Hope is not just for the writerly parts of ourselves, but for our lives holistically.

I'm already seeing the effects of intentionally nurturing my writer. So far this week, I feel a new joy and vivacity in my revisions to pages of dialogue I began months ago, which I do attribute to the mood and style of the stories I lost myself in over the weekend.

The question I’m asking myself this week is: What does my writer, my inner creator, need today to be hopeful and sustained?

The answer to “what does my inner writer need” may change daily, but it begins with awareness of what I’m feeding myself mentally and frequently re-examining what I need.

My wish for you is that this week you will find a story, a movie, or even a 20 minute TV episode that rekindles your desire to write, or create, and leaves you feeling nourished long after you’ve consumed it.

I think the risqué, yet insightful, Anaïs Nin sums up what I’m trying to express:

“[Y]ou have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing.”

May the stories that nurture you, whether new or old, carry you deep into your own writing.

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