The 15-Minute Writer, Part 4: Brain “Rules” for Writers

file0001052648856 (1)Busy authors and authors-in-training need all the brainpower we can get. (Especially us writer-moms; I’m convinced that some of my brain came out with each of my two children!)

Therefore, I listened VERY closely during a recent writers retreat as John Medina, author of Brain Rules, spoke about brain science, and how it can help writers become more productive.

Before we begin, we need to realize that there are no real “brain rules” for creatives. “I’m guessing as to what will help your creativity and output, according to the brain research that’s out there,” Medina told us. With that caveat in mind (pun intended), here are a few practical lessons I gleaned from the two hour-long sessions he led.

First, our ability to be creative is directly related to feeling safe. Our minds are instinctual; therefore, we need to find a place to write where we don’t feel threatened emotionally, creatively, or physically. Maybe it’s a coffee shop where the server knows our favorite drink, or a corner of our home where we can thoroughly relax.

Try this: ask yourself: where can I create without someone interrupting and/or discouraging me? Journal for fifteen minutes about this, or spend that time setting up a more nurturing space.

Second, we need to sleep to learn. Medina says, “We not only rehearse what we’ve learned as we sleep; we also rehearse what we don’t know, and try to solve it.”

Try this: do you have writer’s block? Work on your problem manuscript two hours before bed. Need to finish something within a few hours? Set a timer, and take a refreshing 15-minute nap.

Third, we all have times of the day when we’re most productive. Medina calls these natural body rhythms “chrono-types,” and he encourages authors to pay close attention to them.

Try this: work when you’re most creative. Are you a lark (morning person)? Set your alarm to write before work or school. Are you a might owl (night person)? Write after the kids are in bed. Maybe you’re a hummingbird (afternoon person). If so, try to write during your break at work, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.

Fourth, exercise boosts cognition and buffers against the negative effects of stress. Medina cited a study which looked at two groups of people as they transitioned through the aging process. The active group suffered less depression and dementia, retired later in life, surrounded themselves by family and friends, and aged beautifully. The sedentary group aged “terribly,” according to Medina. “They endured depression, anxiety, medical problems, loneliness–and they looked old.”

He then mentioned a study in which soldiers exercised before and after Chinese language lessons. “There was a one hundred percent change in cognitive function when the soldiers exercised before trying to learn Chinese,” he said. “Other studies show that if you keep up regular exercise for three years, you actually improve memory!”

Try this: Medina vows that five aerobic sessions of 30 minutes per week is all it takes to get the massive brain benefits from exercise. Those sessions can also be two smaller ones (say, 15 minutes). He also says that your mental “sweet spot” will occur right after you exercise. So schedule a short exercise session right before your writing time. Your brain–and your body–will thank you!

Read part one, two, or three of this series.

The 15-Minute Writer (part two): 5 Ways to Get Organized

(Read part one of the series here.)

Are you having trouble writing because you can’t see past the piles of books, Post-it notes, and paper on your desk?

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’m a pile-r by nature, a fact that has frustrated my  husband–and me!–more than once.

If you have limited time to write, though, getting organized is absolutely essential. After all, you don’t want to waste precious minutes you’ve scheduled for writing on finding lost items–or clearing your messy desk.

So here are my top five organizing tips for busy writers:

1. First, figure out your organizing personality. For example, don’t try to use notebooks if you’re not a notebook person. If you love technology and abhor piles of paper, go paperless. Hate Google calendar? Admit it! Don’t try to fit yourself into someone else’s mode. It doesn’t work in the long run. If you’re visual, you might need a big bulletin board or calendar on the wall in your writing area.

2. Set up a system you’ll want to use regularly. Why spend time on something if you’re going to dread it? If you love bright colors, use them in your file folders.  Play your favorite CDs when you’re going through receipts—or watch a funny movie while you’re organizing your calendar and notebook.

3. “Backwards plan.” I learned this handy phrase when my husband took a church administration course during seminary. It’s been invaluable for both of us. Here’s a short explanation of the BP process: Take a deadline (or set one for yourself) and mark it on your calendar. Then take all the tasks you’ll need to complete in order to meet the deadline—interviews, outlining, writing a rough draft, revising—and decide how much time you’ll likely need to complete each one. Then plan backwards, setting yourself mini-deadlines.

4. Set aside a few minutes of each writing session for de-cluttering. You need time to delete old material, back-up files, tame paper piles, recycle books, and throw out trash–or you’ll be on the way to auditioning for Hoarders. Once you’ve gotten organized, five minutes a day is do-able and will go a long way toward keeping your desk, computer, and writing space organized. Believe me, once you make this a habit, you’ll be glad you did!

5.Use OmmWriter. (Thanks to writer Duane Scott for this fabulous tip!) He said, “It blocks out all distractions (email, social media, chat messages, etc…) and provides you with a completely white screen with only a blinking cursor. It also offers different peaceful backgrounds and music to accompany your writing. Another great feature: you can set it to have a manual typewriter sound effect when you type.” The cost for all this? A one-time fee of $4.99.”

Your turn: what are your most effective organizational strategies? I’d love to hear them!

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