Writing Habits: Just Call Me Fat Head…Food for Thought

WRITING HABITS- Food for Thought


Just Call Me Fat Head

Ever had those days where your creativity seems to have withered away overnight? The muse has packed her bags and left a great gaping hole of nothingness behind in your brain. Or perhaps there are days where you have a head full of fabulous ideas but the strength to lay them on paper escapes you. As writers and illustrators, it’s not uncommon to have mediocre days at the desk but have you ever considered the possibility that food could be part of the problem?

Consider your car. Common sense tells us you wouldn’t fill your car with a tank full of garbage and expect it to perform optimally. Why then do we feed our brain garbage and expect optimal results? The foods you consume on a daily basis can have a huge effect on your creativity.

Did you know that your brain consumes around twenty percent of your daily calories?

The human brain relies on energy in the form of glucose. Glucose is one thing your brain can’t store so therefore it needs a constant source supplied in order to function. If your brain is starved of glucose, your mental capacity will suffer through tiredness and impaired concentration. When energy levels lag, it’s easy to go for a quick fix like caffeine, sweet drinks, and chocolate to name a few, however these types of fixes taken repeatedly aren’t always good for your long-term health.

The brain loves carbohydrate. It is where it sources its major energy from. Recent research done in the States has shown the brain can react to excess eating as if the act of overeating appears as a pathogen lurking inside the body. The body creates an immune response against the imbalance, which may result in cognitive deficits such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Studies have also shown that a high blood sugar level coupled with a cognitive task such as writing can be associated with high cortisol levels in your blood. Cortisol, in high doses, is known to impair memory, so don’t think that third bar of chocolate or that second can of fizzy drink is going to light up your creativity. You could be doing yourself more harm than good.

Inside your brain you have things called neurotransmitters. These carry messages from one cell to another. They keep all your fabulous ideas running rampant through your head. Essentially there are three main neurotransmitters that need the right food in order for your brain to function well.

These neurotransmitters are;

  1. Acetylcholine

Purpose: Memory and movement (Great for keeping track of your intriguing plot lines)

Where do you find it?: Egg yolks, peanuts, wheat germ, meat, fish, cheese, veges and milk.

2. Dopamine

Purpose: Helps with emotional arousal and voluntary movement.

(Great for getting in touch with those characters you love)

Where do you find it?: Meat, fish, nuts, milk products, beans and soy.

3. Tryptophan which turns to Serotonin

Purpose: Sleep, sensitivity, arousal, appetite and mood

Where do you find it?: Nuts, legumes, starchy veges, cereals and breads.

Other foods that enhance mental performance are-

  • Protein found in fish, meat, milk and cheese
  • Carbohydrate (which helps the absorption of tryptophan, which turns to serotonin, which makes you feel calm and relaxed and all happy) is found in grains, fruits and veges

The Good Rap on Fat

Every great novel comes with good and bad characters. Fat is no different. For the most part, fat has a bad name but not necessarily where your brain is concerned. Next time someone calls you a Fat Head – consider they aren’t far from the truth. Your brain is in fact around sixty percent fat. Good fats can make your brain think and feel fabulous. Omega 3s are known as essential fats and cannot be made by the brain – so we are duty bound to feed our brains good sources of these fats to make our brains happy. These guys are also good for your heart, can help relieve pain from arthritis and also decrease the risk of having a low birth weight baby.

Where do you find it?: Fish, namely salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.

For those of you opposed to fishiness – good sources of essential fatty acids can be found in flaxseed, kiwi fruit, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts.

Vitamins and Minerals- are also essential for a healthy brain. Your brain needs B vitamins, as well as A, C and E. Minerals such as magnesium and manganese keep your brain functioning well. To help strengthen your brains thinking muscle – you need calcium, potassium and sodium.

Where do you find it? Some sources include…

Magnesium:

  • Whole Wheat, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Raisins, Spinach, Dates, Lima Beans, Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, and most fruits and vegetables.

Potassium:

  • All fresh fruits and vegetables contain good amounts of potassium.

Sodium:

  • Spinach, Dandelion, Lettuce, Beet, Banana, Watercress, Celery, Buttermilk, Cream Cheese, Whole Wheat Bread, Rye Bread.

Calcium:

  • Milk, cheese, cabbage, blackberries, figs, carrot, celery, endive, lettuce, lemon, orange, spinach, turnip, rhubarb, watercress, parsley.

Five Top Brain Foods are

  1. Wild Salmon
  • Improves mood, and the connections between brain cells. It can also decrease risk of Alzheimer’s and stroke.

2. Cacao Beans (I hear the chocoholics breathe a sigh of relief)

  • Unfortunately the processing of this bean to turn it into your favorite chocolate bar tends to destroy most of its goodness however – you lovers of dark chocolate are in luck. The darker the better.

3. Berries

  • High in omegas and antioxidants

4.Coffee Beans

  • Full of antioxidants. Remember though – it’s the things you mix your coffee with that spoil its good work.

5. Water

  • Our final but most important contender is water. A well-watered brain is essential to your creativity. Excessive alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate your brain and impair your mental clarity. Remember – by the time your brain registers that you are thirsty – you are already dehydrated. Drink plenty of water.

Sleep: A well-rested brain is a happy brain. Sleep is also essential to your creativity. Try to get six to eight hours sleep every night.

Next time you reach for food or drink – consider how your choice will appear creatively on the page once you have consumed. Consider food for thought.

Your brain is the master controller. When it is happy – you are happy. Feed it well and bon appetite!

Writing Habits-Starting Out on the Right Foot

It’s a brand New Year, which brings new writing opportunities and challenges. I’m not a new year’s resolution kinda girl but I do believe in setting firm goals. Setting goals is only part of the big picture. Establishing good habits is essential in order to reach your writing goals. Here are some healthy writing habits that may help.

1.  New year. New Workspace.

Clear out your writing space. File, turf or reorganise the old to make way for the new. Sort through old papers, and throw away anything that no longer serves your writing life. You might want to post your 2010 writing goals somewhere highly visible, to remind you of the writing direction you are headed in this year. Reclaim your writing space. It’s the place where you create your magic. It deserves to be filled with positive energy. Settling into a clean and organised writing space is far more pleasant than facing a big mess each day.

Productivity 501 has an excellent article on doing the big desk tidy.

2. Having a Plan

This year I created and bound a writing and illustration planner. It contains the projects I am working on, timelines for those projects, competitions, events and writing group meetings. Having a plan keeps you on track. Being able to see that plan becomes a constant reminder to your subconscious each time your eyes flicker past your goals.

Make sure your goals are realistic. And make sure that when you achieve each goal, you reward yourself with something nice. Plan the reward when you set the goal. It will give you more drive to complete the task.

Sometimes it is better to set small goals and build from there. Achieving small goals encourages you to keep going and also strengthens good habits.

Moira Allen has a great article on setting goals here.

3. Scheduling Time

Finding the time to write seems almost impossible some days. Where possible, schedule a block of time for you and your muse. Preferably make sure you can work uninterrupted and use that time for you and you alone. It may only be twenty minutes – but it’s twenty minutes dedicated to your craft. If you can’t manage that much time, keep a notepad handy always and scribble in any spare minute you can. People write novels on trains and buses, at red lights, in lunch breaks – in all manner of places. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, three hours – it doesn’t matter how long. What matters is that you embrace the time that you have and use it wisely. Every second that your pen hits the page, your story advances toward ‘The End’. Make every second count

4. Read, Read and Read Some More.

All writers give the same advice over and over. They all tell you to read. Reading is essential to a writer. It stimulates your thinking, gets the cogs whirring, and fills you with inspiration and motivation. Make sure you schedule reading time as well as writing time. Feed your brain books. Your creativity will love you for it.

There are many rules of good writing, but the best way to find them is to be a good reader.

Stephen Ambrose

5. Celebrate the Good Days

There will be great writing days and perhaps no so great writing days this year. Celebrate the good ones. Be kind to yourself during the less than good ones. We all know the difference between a bad day and a slack day. Bad days happen. Slack days needn’t. If you are well prepared for each writing day, you are less likely to fall off the path and lose the way.

May you all have a fantastic and productive 2010. Put your best foot forward with good writing habits that you can stick to.

It’s only the beginning…and anything is possible.