Wiggling While I Work: Creative Living and Mental Health

Maisha Z. Johnson - Pyragraph

Courtesy of Maisha Z. Johnson.

If you knew me, you might think the choice of a career as a freelance writer and creative facilitator is all wrong for me. It’s like I’m the butt of a joke—what do you get when you combine a career that includes rejection and uncertainty with someone who suffers from anxiety, depression, and self-doubt? A nervous wreck!

But I’m not a nervous wreck, or at least I’m trying not to be, and that’s because I’m deliberately crafting my creative life to support my mental health and personal well-being. It’s a shift from my previous approach of putting perfection and professional success first, and so far, it’s working out for me.

I’ve heard prolonged sitting is one of the leading causes of freelancer hunchbacks or something.

A clear sign of prioritizing my wellness is the fact that I wiggle while I work. I put on some music, the only requirement being that it makes me feel like a badass to rock out to it—probably Janelle Monae or Prince or something with a booty shake-inducing reggae beat. And I rock my head, sway my shoulders, and move my hips throughout the day.

Some may see my work wiggle as a sign of insanity, but to me, it represents a few things: having a nourishing work environment, doing what I love, finding balance within and beyond my comfort zone, and setting my own terms for how I do my work. These are all parts of a healthy creative life for me, and perhaps the most practical of them is creating a workspace that feels good.

Why wiggle? For one thing, I’m pretty sure it’s ergonomically sound. I don’t exactly have scientific evidence to back me up on this, but I’ve heard prolonged sitting is one of the leading causes of freelancer hunchbacks or something. Some people have standing desks to combat the dangers of sitting, and some walk on a treadmill desk, and I’ve got my wiggle. Add that to practices like drinking water throughout the day, stretching, and going outside for a few minutes of sunshine if I need it, and I’m already well on my way to prioritizing self-care as part of my work.

Another scientifically unproven claim of mine is that my wiggle helps my productivity. I count my productivity as part of my wellness because it’s an antidote to the paralyzing, anxiety-provoking feeling that I’m not doing enough, and am therefore spiraling rapidly toward inevitable doom. It may be silly to use dancing to be more productive, but when I’m deep in the lonely rhythm of writing all day, I use all the tools I can get. As I rock out to my music, I feel like I’m celebrating each small victory I achieve, which sets me on track with a positive flow of getting things done.

And I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I do my wiggle just for fun. I know I need a workspace that lets me have some fun, especially if, as a writer, I’m going to be dealing with uncertainty and rejection all day. I can dance through the challenges and dance through the triumphs, and enjoy myself while trudging through even the most mundane of tasks.

I also need a workspace that helps me stay organized and feel inspired, which is why I surround myself with things like my favorite colors—purple notebooks—and words by my favorite writers—“Birth” by Langston Hughes, hanging on my wall. Taking the time to designate and design a nourishing workspace feels like an act of love for myself. I’m doing something good for me, even if it’s ultimately just to do everything I can to be a productive working writer. And I get to put my need for wellness and wiggles first.

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About Maisha Z. Johnson

Maisha Z. Johnson is a Bay Area-based writer, blogger and creative facilitator. As a teaching artist and the founder of Inkblot Arts, a writing and editing support and group facilitation project, Maisha promotes literacy, healing, and positive change through artistic self-expression. She has an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, where she got to work with some of her literary heroes including Kwame Dawes and Ellen Bass, and a BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from San Francisco State University. She also works as a creative facilitator with ArtCorps, providing training, coaching, and consulting to provide leaders and organizations with creative methods and skills to harness art and culture as tools for community development.

Maisha frequently performs and publishes her poetry, and through her writing, she shares her secrets for wrangling the obstacles of self-doubt and the impact of trauma. She also writes too many poems about her cat, and blogs regularly about the relationship between writing and social change.


  1. blackstarr on September 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Awesome! Your greatness keeps taking you to greater heights. V.

  2. […] transferred the skills I gained through developing this project into online writing for multiple websites and […]

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