The Effects of Hormones on the Creative Process: the secret ingredient

July 26, 2014 | By | 11 Replies More

saritafeajarmackAs a researcher and writer, beyond other things, I am a woman and I feel the natural fluctuation of hormones throughout the month. I recognize these recurring periods as a time that brings about changes in moods, interests, desires, and concentration – all components to which influence my creating and thus my writings. In general, my days  beam with energy as I indulge in life’s obsessions, however as my hormones fluctuate I prefer to barricade myself with a wall of oversized pillows.

The pillows seem to grow into smooshy extensions of my body and I spend days seeping further into their layers, unraveling my memories into abstract and multilayered reflections. I become addicted to detailed imagery, obsessing over word choice to convey my thoughts as my writing is met with surprising articulation and a regurgitated flow of words.

Lonely and frustrated with pimples, I recognize the menstrual cycle is usually discarded as annoying, a weakness, sometimes shamed or gross. Obviously we have all seen products and ideas advertised to women to assist in minimizing, decreasing, or eradicating “symptoms” associated with the menstrual cycle.

If I subscribed to the all-encompassing experiences of this natural process as “symptoms” and attempt to neutralize the fluctuation of hormones, how would this affect my writings and research? How does the hormone-induced state of melancholy, which Western society (rightfully or not) romantically attributes to creativity (understood to be uniqueness in connecting the dots), contribute to some of my best works?

saritafaejarmackIn writing academic research, my data and topics are extracted from transcribed narratives. And as the world of research has finally accepted that all work has its limitations of objectivity, my personal reflection here is an act of embracing subjectivity and how we all uniquely connect ideas to build understanding.

This process for me includes a recurring experience of melancholy, stretching my mind and focusing concentration on places of interest that I may have not visited otherwise. The actualization that these hormone-induced moods would impact the interpretation of my data drastically is unlikely as methodological approaches in my research can take months or sometimes years to carry out – not just a pillow burrowed week. But, in choosing to embrace these experiences, I recognize the possibility of valuable alternative insight.

While maybe unnecessarily romanticizing my own experience, I realize we all have a variety of ways hormone fluctuation affects us. I suppose it depends on context and personal preference, but I decided I needed all of me, including my ‘natural partner in crime’ in my writing and interpreting the world. Thus, I choose not to suppress or be apologetic for shifting and evolving through hormonal changes, but instead to be a bit more embracing of its quiet presence in my reflective process. That said, I am left wondering how those of us came to feel ashamed of these influences in the first place and what we are missing by not embracing it?


Sarita Fae Jarmack is a researcher and writer addressing topics on migration and gender through academic and alternative publishing (https://aalborg.academia.edu/SaritaFaeJarmack).

You can follow her work, travels, and social obsessions at http://saritafae.k-jahn.de along with her weekly reading list at https://twitter.com/saritafae.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Being a Writer, Contemporary Women Writers

Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. That stretch of days before I got my period were always my most productive — a touch manic, even. If I wasn’t writing like a demon, I would be cleaning or organizing like a demon. I would have insomnia, and I learned not to let it bother me because I wasn’t particularly tired the next day. It was just bonus energy. (Paid for with low energy in the days that followed, but that was just the deal.) Things have evened out now, which is fine — pleasant, in fact — but I do miss those bursts.

  2. Whatever happens to our brains/bodies once a month, we should definitely embrace and go the it. This one is such a thought-providing, discussion-inducing topic isn’t it? The melancholic side of hormones can certainly churn out interesting ideas. For me, it’s time to get it off my chest and sometimes it’s surprising where that leads me… #MondayBlogs

  3. JJ says:

    I would actually like to know and have as many document as I can how their creativity is affected by their cycles. I know that mine changes throughout but I would love to hear others experiences.

  4. Jo Carroll says:

    I’m in my mid-60s, and have had 15 years of hot flushes so am finding it quite difficult to carry on embracing them. But you’re right, are hormones are as much part of who we are as our arms and legs, our feelings and memories.

  5. Anita Belli says:

    Thanks for raising this really important subject. I am in my late 50’s and suffering hormone changes – going through a very late menopause – having a hot flush as I write this or maybe that’s the red wine! The worst bit is the tiredness and forgetfulness. Then again, maybe it’s the red wine!

  6. Kelly Martin says:

    I am 38 and have many menopausal symptoms yet not going through menopause yet (my grandmother had an early menopause), my hormones can affect my writing majorly, but often in a good way. I write non-fiction self-help material and when the moods hit, to what can sometimes feel despairing, I use this time go caving for the jewels in the experience. I often discover a wealth of wisdom and self-kindness through my writing, it is a very healing process.

    Great article!

  7. Amy Kierce says:

    I’m 47 and have gone through treatment for breast cancer, and I’ve been in early menopause for ten years now, as the doctors said to expect. Our culture talks about menopause as a terrible time, but I’m here to tell you it offers me freedom. I no longer feel the same melancholy as you describe so well. My hormones once had a strong say in how creative I was and how happy I was but they have leveled out, although I do have moments when I “crave chocolate.” But I’ll take that any day over the extreme whirlwind I once had to grit my teeth through. Wonderful post!

    • Sarita says:

      Amy, your comment on culture perceiving menopause to be a terrible time is super interesting. In listening to conversations of women sharing experiences of menopause while in South Asia or Eastern Europe, I understand the experience or conceptualisation of it to vary – some cultures are said not to experience it at all. Possible or not, as a wordharvester, I am thinking about the term ‘menopause’ and the concept of a pause.

      This morning I listened to a podcast by Tara Brach (“Freedom and Happiness in Daily life” at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nourishing-liberating-intention/id265264862?i=316162268&mt=2). In exploring what a pause is and the use of it in our lives, her thoughts left a lingering reflection of its great potential on our growth and engagement in life – and in fact maybe an experience that holds the essence of our lives. As I am simply connecting a literal translation of a word to a long term experience, I am sure I have simplified the entire experience of menopause. However, as we share, connect, and engage in these topics, I am playfully trying to stretch my understanding. To think about it in terms of a pause, it seems it could be understood to be nothing short of necessary in our journey. (disclaimer: I may change every word of this once I reach menopause :P) Thank you for sharing, Amy!

      • Amy Kierce says:

        Hi Sarita,
        Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! I will definitely view your link and am curious/looking forward to it. By the way, I should tag on one more piece: For me, the physical challenges of menopause do not come close to the emotional difficulties of a younger woman. And yes, the word “pause” works, but since I am used to it now, there is freedom even from that word “pause.” Now I simply feel like a new woman, “finished.” An older woman who has the benefits have having lived a bit. So, aging isn’t so bad! I can’t say I’m partial to age spots and the occasional hot flashes, but I do love being in my later 40s!

  8. I’m very interested in this topic at the moment, as I’m currently 7.5 months pregnant and have definitely found a shift (at least in motivation) in my own writing. During the first trimester, I could barely make myself sit in front of a computer to do revisions per my editor’s explicit instructions–something that shouldn’t be a difficult task. But then as time went by and the exhaustion lifted, I still found myself unable to write.

    I wonder as to how much was actually pregnancy hormones versus other factors in my life and writing at that time. I just finished my Camp NaNoWriMo novel today, and to be honest, the journey was not as difficult as I had dreaded. Once I got into a rhythm, I was able to crank the words out at a steady pace. I’m not feeling all that positive about the actual output of it, but time and distance will tell whether what I produced is good quality.

    And your point about Western society demonizing the menstrual cycle is a great one–it annoys me to no end that women who are in the throes of a natural rhythm are mocked. It’s synonymous with being a woman, and I shouldn’t be ashamed because a few days out of every month, I feel the aches and pains of being my gender.

    • Sarita says:

      Hi S.L., There was another great post about pregnancy and creativity by Eleanor Fitzsimons: http://booksbywomenorg.netfirms.com/creativity-in-pregnancy-by-eleanorfitzsimons/

      Your last idea about being “ashamed because a few days our of the month…” left me thinking about a world where biological changes/hormone changes of a women are the norm (i.e. men and women having cycles and experiences regularly and not experiencing it would actually be unique). Why do I have to imagine a world where this is the norm, when the vastness of people already experience it? Why is the “ashamed because” associated with hormone changes at all? As we all have such varied experiences, it is great to hear about other’s reflections. Thanks S.L. 🙂

Leave a Reply