Peggy Bechko: Overcoming Brain Fatigue, Stress & Overdoing It – For Writers

by Peggy Bechko

Alrighty folks, time to put it on the table. Writing takes a lot of brain work, and brain work takes focus.

Consider this: There’s research to squeeze the brain, plotting to squeeze it harder, and just plain thinking about everything else related to your writing project. And that doesn’t include the acttual writing.

So, today I’m going to talk a bit about brain fatigue, stress, and just plain over-doing it.

Now immediately there are lots of folks who’ll think the younger the brain the better because the younger brain can stand long periods of demanding work much better than the older…but know what? It ain’t necessarily so.

And working for very long stretches doesn’t cut it either. I’ve known folks who put forth their insanely long hours at the keyboard like they’ve gone to war and somehow won something. Like it’s some kind of badge of honor.

Just because you’re twenty-something, work all night, then crash, doesn’t mean you’re putting out a better product or that you get more done or that you’re super cool.

Seriously.

While it is true that while in our twenties our brains can process information more efficiently, that doesn’t mean it works more effectively. The folks who do best with inductive reasoning, verbal memory and vocabulary are somewhere between forty and sixty-five according to research. (Take that twenty-somethings!)

What’s the key to overcoming brain fatigue? Turns out that it’s taking breaks. Yep, you overdoers probably don’t want to hear it, but people perform at their best, with middle-agers out-performing younger folks when breaks are planned.

Again, research tells us our minds and bodies have natural rhythms. If you’ve come this far and haven’t figured that out in life what rock have you been living under?

Dream cycles flow in ninety-minute cycles so it’s not too far a stretch to presume (correctly) that waking cycles and rhythms are pretty close to the same as those sleeping cycles, about ninety minutes to two hours.

What to do? Take a break. Yes, it’s time we all realize life is not a race. You’ll produce much better material at a more efficient and quicker pace if you take breaks. This applies to writing, creating, pretty much any kind of work one pursues.

How long should these breaks be?

Twenty minutes seems to be ideal (again, according to our friendly neighborhood researchers). And, stepping completely away from the work environment is best. What that means for  writer is that you – and I – should step away from the desk. Avert our eyes from the computer screen. Go outside for a few minutes if we can. Grab a cup of tea or coffee.

If you can take a short brisk walk, all the better. If you can take a moment to watch the interplay of sun and shadow on a sunny day (or enjoy some flowers, or watch the ducks fly, whatever) great!

We may want to think we’re superhuman and we can do this writing thing straight through, powered by caffeine or whatever, but it’s not true. To sustain your level of production give yourself a twenty-minute break. Now.

Get in tune with your natural rhythms and you’ll outstrip those driving all-nighters who believe they’re really punching it.

Writing is brain work. And the brain wants to rest. And to play. Surely you’ve noticed that when you step away from a story sometimes that’s when the best ideas hit for its continuation or revision.

Set a timer if you have to. Give yourself a break…and take a break. You want to give your brain a chance to forge new neurons no matter your age.

Your writing will improve and so will your mood.

Which reminds me. Time to stand up and walk around the house. I’m starting to feel grumpy.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.