by Peggy Bechko
Your brain is really important, right? No brainer, so to speak. For writer’s that’s particularly true, just as it is for software developers or lawyers or any other ‘brain-oriented’ pursuit.
So, what’s the best way to coddle the brain, to give it what it needs to optimize work and creativity? And, let’s face it, we all get older, so how does that affect what we’re trying to accomplish? What’s going on as we age?
For starters, from what I’ve read and from personal experience the young brain is faster. But, and it’s a big BUT, it isn’t necessarily better. Despite the great pride may 20-somethings take in working 16 hour days and more, of pushing it to the limit, writing all night long, then crashing, sorry, that’s not the way to attain an optimal work and create flow. What’s that? Well, it’s an extended (key word extended) amount of time during which mind an body are in sync, engaged in high-thinking and wild imagining pursuits (yep, like writing that script or novel). You’re focused, your body is comfortable (no, you’re not sucking down caffeine), your attitude is positive and all this give rise to your imagination and creativity playing like the creative kid you used to/and still want to be.
Yes, taking breaks actually optimizes creativity/productivity (take that task master employers!)
Okay, so the twenty-something brain can process info efficiently, more so than older counterparts, but it isn’t necessarily doing so more effectively. So the folks who’ve cruised beyond the twenty-something era look back and say hahaha!
That out of the way, more soberly, there’s no point to those middle years folks believing they’re ‘losing it’. There’ve been studies done, and one that’s run for more than forty years in Seattle says when it comes to verbal memory, vocabulary, inductive reasoning (that’s drawing a probably conclusion from a bunch of available data – you can learn more if you like, google it) it’s the forty to sixty-five-year-old bracket where the peak performance hits. What does it all mean? Well the middle-aged folks are probably working at a more effective and complex level than the younger writers nipping at your heels. Their ideas of all-nighters following sixteen hour marathons stoked up on caffeine are actually to their detriment. A break (granted there is a lot of debate on what KIND of break is taken), even a short nap is what hones that performance and creativity into its best. Sorry twenty-somethings.
What else should we know about this biological shell we all inhabit? Rhythm.
You can dance if you like, but I’m talking about the natural rhythms of body and mind that lead to best performance/creativity. Mostly those rhythms flow at about ninety minute up to two hour intervals. Taking a 15 minute break after that amount of time engrossed in a project, taking a short walk away from the desk, or just stepping outside to enjoy a cup of something refreshing (no, no, not the caffeine or sugar again) sharpens and refreshes. Hey twenty-somethings, this means you need to crank it back a bit if you expect to keep rolling over the long haul, say well into your 70’s and even 80’s.
Apparently our rhythms can be broken down even further into twenty-five-minute segments. The average person can pay attention for about twenty-five minutes to a talk. Did you know the TED talks online are a maximum of 17 minutes?
We are distractible creatures apparently, short attention spans. So take advantage of it. Step away from your desk, read a few pages, step outdoors, whatever, and return refreshed and ready to take on the unfolding story again. Oh, and physical activity also increases the chances of forging a few new neurons while you’re at it. Just sayin.
My most recent stumble upon was with the interesting fact that if you’re highly focused, your mind completely commits to what you’re doing. So, if you’re writing, trying to work out plot twists and character traits, your mind is highly focused and determined to ‘solve the problem’. But apparently (and I think we’ve all experienced this) after an hour or two (remember that rhythm above) the mind zones out. You get a bit bleary on the intention front. Then, if you read an article, or surf the web a bit, or maybe think about your favorite park, or step away to let the dog out will reset your brain away from the ‘I’m bored, been there, done that’ attitude it had fallen into.
And don’t forget to give yourself time to disengage from thinking about that script or novel for some amount of time during the day, maybe your evenings, or whenever fits your schedule. Truly, your writing will thank you for it. So will your mind. Remember, you’re living your life while you’re writing that script, book or whatever.
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. Grab your copy of Book 2 now! And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page