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!