As writers, we juggle A LOT in our heads when we’re writing a story: characters, plot, dialogue, and the writing itself. An entire world lives inside you! That can be a lot to carry around. Your brain is your biggest creative tool, so it’s important to take care of it! If you write too much for too long, you can risk burning yourself out. (Clearly, I’m speaking from experience.) Giving your brain a break and a chance to refresh itself is important at every stage of the writing process. Here are six tips to decompress and declutter your writing brain.
1) Take time off
This may seem counter-productive if the reason you’re writing so much is to meet a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise), but it also may be exactly what you need. When I work on a project for too long I get less productive as I go. It becomes harder to focus on my work and solve problems. It also takes me longer to accomplish tasks. While it may be hard to walk away, especially if I’m on a deadline that isn’t self-imposed, it’s always worth it. When I come back to my project after a break, my brain is sharper, I write quicker, and my overall production drastically increases.
If you are on a deadline and find yourself in a situation where you really can’t afford to lose a whole day, try to steal 24 consecutive hours. So on Day 1, decide that you’ll go hard until 3 PM. Then, give yourself off until 3 PM the following day, at which point you can pick your story back up again. This way, you still get a ‘day’ off without losing an entire work day.
2) Move more
Exercise is, of course, great for you physically, but it can also do wonders for your creative brain. Personally, I’ve found walking and/or running or other cardio is great because there’s very little you have to focus on. This gives your mind the freedom to wander and think about whatever it wants. When you write, you spend a lot of time forcing your brain in a direction, so unforced time can be a great way to refresh.
On the other hand, doing a very specific workout routine can be equally as helpful. By giving your brain a specific task to focus on, which practically guarantees time away from your story. Yoga is my personal favorite, but any video or guided routine can have this effect. (If you want to learn more about my favorite online yoga resources, check out the “Caring for Your Writer Brain” section on the resources page!)
3) Veg out
Take an entire day and do nothing. Seriously. Don’t leave the house. Don’t talk to another person. The only reason to get off the couch for anything other than food (which should definitely be mac and cheese 😜). Watch your favorite movie/TV show, read a book, do whatever you have to do to fully recharge. I shoot for at least one of these days per month if I can. When I get back to work the following day, I’m sharp and refreshed.
4) Take in other creative content
Personally speaking, taking in other people’s creative work can go a long way in decluttering my brain. This can mean watching TV, reading a book, or falling down a YouTube hole. I think experience stories that are not mine and may not even be in my medium helps me to come out of my own head a little bit. And sometimes, once I can relax enough to get caught up in someone else’s story, I’ve found it can also inspire my own.
Another tip: Sometimes I find that since I work with words all day, reading a book for enjoyment is just asking too much of my brain. I can’t always focus on the story, the page, or the words. (Maybe this is you too?) Instead, I’ve started listening to audiobooks. It’s been a great way to get through my reading list when I’m too tired to read to myself. Unfortunately, audiobooks can be expensive. However, most libraries have them available either physically or for digital download.
5) Create relaxing spaces
This may be a little hippy, but creating a relaxing environment has really helped my entire process. When I’m fried from a day of writing, the last thing I want is to be in a room with harsh lights, loud sounds, or anywhere near a pile of ‘stuff’ I have to do. I’m easily overstimulated to begin with. After an intense writing day, it’s even worse. What bothers you when you’re fried may be different. Whatever it is, take the time to figure out what you’re sensitive to and find a way to counteract it so your brain can recharge. (If harsh lights are also an issue for you, my resources page as some of my favorite low-lighting alternatives).
As far as I’m concerned, all-nighters are never worth it. Sure, sometimes you may need to work late to meet your goals, but I don’t believe it’s a good idea to push yourself so hard that you compromise your health on a regular basis. If you are consistently tired, then your brain isn’t as sharp as it could be. This is a massive disadvantage to you and your story.
That’s it for this one!
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Now it’s your turn: How do you declutter your writing brain? I’m always looking for new techniques so please let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.