If you’re like most writers, you might not know about your own brain. Yet your brain is who you are. It’s the size of your fist, weighs about as much as a cantaloupe—around three pounds—and is the boss of your mind, body, and writing capability. It never shuts down and is active even when you’re asleep. It determines how well you perform and how far you climb the publishing ladder, so it’s important to know what it needs from you. With modern imaging techniques, neuroscientists have advanced our understanding of this amazing organ, how it functions, and what it needs to provide you optimal writing performance. Science shows that you can provide your brain nine things to keep it happy and healthy and maximize your writing success.
- Blood Flow. Blood flow is good medicine, not just for limbs and heart, but for the brain to remain viable and creative. After 12 months of regular exercise and movement, you amp up blood flow to the brain and even slow the onset of memory loss and dementia. You can feed your brain the excess blood it needs through aerobics, walking and stretching, and toning your body to keep your writing crisp and engaging.
- Science doesn’t back up the belief that writing your brain into the ground is good business. In fact, it shows the value of what scientists call “microbreaks” throughout your writing day. These short breaks—I recommend five minutes or less—are energy management strategies as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking, or having a five-minute mindful meditation. Microbreaks mitigate brain and decision fatigue and chill your brain between writing jags when you deep breathe, meditate, practice yoga or tai chi, or get a massage.
- Mood-Boosting Foods. Healthy brain foods boost your mood, health, and writing performance. Check out the food on your plate and ask if it promotes overall brain health. Proteins—such as meats, poultry, dairy, cheese, and eggs—stabilize blood sugar and give your brain the amino acids it needs to create neurotransmitter pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines put your brain in a good mood. Vitamin B is essential for brain wellness and can be found in eggs, whole grains, fish, avocados, and citrus fruits. Vitamin D—found in dairy products, beef liver, orange juice, or egg yolks—is an important mood stabilizer.
- Ample Sleep. Sleep deprivation lowers your resistance to stress and harms brain function. Lack of sleep interferes with memory and learning, causing your brain to move slower. Your thinking is cloudy, you’re more forgetful, and your attention is short-circuited. Fragmented sleep or sleep loss make it difficult to see the positive side of things, causing you to react stronger to writing stressors. But ample sleep restores clarity and writing performance by actively refining cortical plasticity, helping you handle stressful writing.
- Your brain’s ability to adapt to novel situations is essential for optimal writing creativity. The brain’s exposure to new experiences dampens established thought patterns in order to consolidate new information. Novelty promotes adaptive learning by resetting key brain circuits and enhances your ability to update new ideas into existing neurological frameworks. So your brain likes the creative mojo that comes from trying new things.
- Social Connections. Social engagement mitigates cognitive decline. Writers who get together with friends and fellow authors, volunteer, or attend conferences have more robust gray matter and healthier brains. The key is for thriller writers to avoid social isolation and cultivate safe ways to maintain social interactions in order to enhance the brain’s gray matter and amp up creativity and stamina.
- At some point, you might have to perform more than one writing activity at a time. But if multitasking becomes a pattern, it can backfire. When you bounce between several writing tasks at once, you’re forcing your brain to keep refocusing with each rebound and reducing productivity by up to 40 percent. Not only does multitasking undermine productivity, it neutralizes efficiency, creating several half-baked writing projects that can leave your brain overwhelmed and stressed out. In an effort to handle the overload from prolonged multitasking, your brain rewires, causing fractured thinking, lack of concentration, and decision fatigue. As a result, multitasking authors take longer to switch among writing tasks, have greater brain fatigue, and are less efficient at juggling writing challenges than non-multitaskers.
- Optimism. Optimistic writers scale the publishing ladder faster and farther than pessimists. Although the brain is wired for negativity for survival, it likes optimism. Chronic pessimism damages your attitude and your telomeres—the protective tips at the end of chromosomes, shortened by negative thoughts and lengthened by positive thoughts. Shortened telomeres are tied to declining health, a truncated writing career, and earlier death. Enthusiastic and cheerful writers are less likely to have memory decline as they age. Focusing on big-picture aspects of situations enlarges your brain’s range of vision, allowing it to envision more writing possibilities. Expanding your negativity’s constrictive “zoom lens” into a “wide-angle lens” creates more optimism.
- Your brain loves spending a minimum of two hours a week in parks, woodlands, or beaches. It promotes physical and mental health and well-being and gives you a bigger perspective of your writing life. Research participants who spent 120 minutes per week in nature had better health and higher psychological well-being than the ones who didn’t spend any weekly time in nature or those who spent less than two hours per week. The 120 minutes can be done in one block or spread out over the entire week to get the benefit. It doesn’t matter what activity you’re involved in, either, as long as you’re outdoors: sailing, biking, kayaking, walking, or tennis—or simply sitting.
It’s A No-Brainer
Your brain and body weren’t designed to stay on red alert 24/7 in order to speed from one writing task to another. Unless you’re under threat, you were designed to saunter. When you slow down and savor writing tasks you’ve been rushing through, ease and stillness keep your energy up, brain clear, and writing juices high. So step back, take a breath, and chill. By the end of the day, you will have time left over for the things you want to do. You will be a more productive writer, your brain will be happier, and you won’t wear it out before you hit the bestsellers list.