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.

Peggy Bechko Wants to Know: “Where’s the Talent?”

The search for talent never ends

by Peggy Bechko

Have you ever wondered about your talent for this writing thing? Whether scripts, books, articles, whatever. Have you ever thought, “Do I really have talent for this?”

I’ll be willing to say that’s a big yes for pretty much anyone reading this post. You have indeed asked that question of yourself and perhaps someone else – someone who’s read your work or maybe someone from whom you’ve taken a course. It’s a very real concern to writers. And, let’s face it, writers frequently need reassurance.

So, let’s think about this and ask a few questions.

First, the worst case scenario. How do you react when you fail? We all fail. It’s a human thing. That really isn’t as important as you might first think. The thing most writers and even philosophers will ask is what do you do next? Right now I hear grumbling – “what the heck does that mean?”

Uh, well, since you failed, did you learn anything from it? For want of a better phrase, did you grow? Or, is it the reverse? Did that failure make you feel smaller, less than you were? Did the accompanying criticism (when did we ever face failure without criticism to go with it?) diminish you? Did you allow it to drive you down? Did you immediately think you should just give up?

Beware of emotions that can destroy your dreams and hamper your next effort. Be mad, be frustrated, be whatever it takes for you to get back on your literary feet and try again. Failure isn’t the terrible thing it is sometimes made out to be. We learn from it, we course correct because of it.

So ponder what makes you outstandingly different. What makes you unique? Well, for one thing, getting back up once you’re down. You have strengths and weaknesses. You must have gone through a lot of self-analysis before deciding to try it as a writer. That means you decided what you really want to do. Yay for you! If I’m wrong here you’ll have to give it a rethink. Just don’t let the poison of rejection and a temporary failure decide for you. Keep asking yourself what you really want.

Here’s a big truth for writers and heck for almost anyone doing anything…risk. There’s always risk. I could come up with a whole lot of old clichés regarding this, but you already know if you play it safe as a writer your writing won’t grow. It will be middle-of-the-road at best. If you’re not taking big risks with your writing you’re not positioning yourself for the big gains. Which circles back to the paragraph above on failure. Failure just isn’t. Don’t let it determine where you are going.

Add to your ponderings as well. Who’s supporting you? What are your relationships, business and personal? We all need a support network, someone who’s a positive influence. Who’s yours? If you don’t have some writing pals, a spouse, a significant other, a good friend to cheer you, on you might want to look into changing that. Where are you going to draw your strength to deny failure and continue on?

And here’s a final talent you need to be a truly talented writer. You need to be able to cope with change. Just look at the publishing industry, the explosion of good independently published material. Look at the movie biz. Change is a constant. Styles of script writing change. Ways of making movies change. Do you plan to throw up a stop sign and attempt not being part of it?

Reality is you either adapt to changes or the system mashes you down. Are you going to make use of the changes and put them to your advantage as they happen or are you going to try to ignore it all and stubbornly cling to the ‘old ways’?

Change offers new direction, new perspectives, and new opportunities. Don’t consider change a problem. Embrace it, use it, make the most of it. Your talent will surge as a result.


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.