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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Keep the Writing Light On

brain light canstockphoto11315524 (2)When was the last time you were in a room with energy-saving, motion-sensing lights? You know, the ones that turn off as soon as you get focused on what you’re reading or writing so that you have to flail your arms around to get the lights back on?

It’s more recent than you think. In fact, you’re in one of those environments right now. You brain has the neural equivalent of motion detectors that effectively turn the lights off. Even when you don’t want to switch those areas off.

Here’s why: Your brain is an energy glutton.

The brain makes up only 3% of the body’s mass, but uses up to 20% of available oxygen and glucose. So it has evolved to conserve energy by “powering down” areas that aren’t active.

Furthermore, the entire brain tends to power down when the body is not moving – because a body at rest is not likely to encounter either opportunities (food, water, other resources) to exploit or dangers to avoid.

This is fine when you’re intentionally resting or when you want to keep doing what you’re doing. But when you want to think new thoughts, consider new options or perceive a situation in an innovative way – in other words when you want to create – the brain’s energy-saving tendencies are obstacles.

When you sit down to write, the urge to pop out of your chair to do something else is usually resistance initiated by the flight part of the flight-or-fight instinct. But there may be times when it’s not an attempt to run away, but actually an instinct to help you be more creative.

Popping out of the chair and pacing moves the body, which activates more areas in your brain.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to turn and keep the writing lights on. Move before you attempt to write. Walk your dog (or yourself). Dance (or in my case, flail around) for 5 or 10 minutes. Traverse up, down and back up a few flights of stairs.

Consider where you could write standing up. Can you use your cell phone to record ideas while walking?

Strategize how you can intersperse movement with writing, perhaps moving or stretching for 2 or 3 minutes for every 15 minutes you sit. Resist the temptation to postpone the movement break — the longer your body is inactive, the more your brain engagement drops.

When you feel stuck, you got to move it baby. If you’re chained to your desk, doodling and writing by hand will engage more areas of your brain than keyboarding will. Using color, looking at pictures and images, adding a new scent or sound can re-engage parts of your brain.

Just don’t let yourself get distracted too long; the point is to turn the lights back on so you can write effectively and creatively again.

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8 Comments on “Keep the Writing Light On”

  1. Chadwick September 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

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  2. Louann August 25, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a author
    for your blog. You have some really good posts and I feel I would be a good asset.
    If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some material for your blog in exchange
    for a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested.


  3. C. L. Blacke March 3, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Since I started school this semester, I’ve been really stressed and pressed for time. If I’m not sitting down at work, I’m sitting down in class or at home doing homework. It’s been about two weeks since I’ve been able to work out, and I’ve even been having trouble sleeping because I can’t shut off my brain though when my eyes are tired.

    I don’t have time to write anything creatively, but worse than that, I’m finding it difficult to even write a simple literary essay. I think the solution is to definitely start working out again. Hopefully that will take care of all my problems.

    Thanks for convincing me that the hour or so I exercise will not take away from my homework time but make me more productive when I am doing it.


    • rosannebane March 12, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      You’re welcome C.L. I hope you’re seeing positive results from exercise. It may not take care of all your problems, but it should definitely help a great deal. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing!


  4. Joel D Canfield February 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    For my non-fiction, I dictate while I pace. Best Beloved types as fast as I speak, so it works really well. Writing sitting down kills me.

    I can’t dictate my fiction to her. Writing with the door closed, to let the truth out, is too hard even with her, my other half.

    I had no idea physical activity signaled the brain, though, even after seeing it in action. Need to adjust my plan for these mysteries.


    • rosannebane March 1, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      How lucky you are to have your Best Beloved (on so many levels, I suspect). I’m tickled that I gave you something new to think about Joel. Please share what you come up with with all of us. I’d love to see a guest post from you.


  5. Michael Ireland February 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Rosanne, thanks for the reminder!


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