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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.

Keeping Your Writer’s Brain at Creative Optimum

brain canstockphoto8956548 (2)Writers must be creative; it’s create or die (at least inside). In your pursuit of creativity, your brain is your most important asset. How well do you maintain it? Take this Self-care Assessment to find out.

Downtime: The brain requires rest to retain what it learns.

Dr. Loren Frank, assistant professor of physiology at the University of California says “Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories.” (also p. 95 of Around the Writer’s Block (AWB).

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you have at least 15 minutes when you “hang out” and have downtime, that is, when you’re not rushing to get somewhere, not busy doing something and not distracting yourself with electronic media.

sleep artSleep: A sleep-deprived brain cannot be creative.

Chronic sleep deprivation is devastating for the brain and the rest of the body. (p. 96 of AWB) You need to understand your sleep needs and consistently satisfy them.

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you get adequate sleep. Give yourself an additional 1 point for every day you wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested without an alarm clock.

Exercise: doesn’t just improve your body; it improves brain function.

John J. Raty, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says “the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain.” (p. 102 of AWB) Exercise increases neurogenesis, increases BDNF, aka “Miracle Gro for the brain,” increases connections between neurons, reduces stress and improves mood.

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Give yourself an additional 1 point for every day your exercise requires more complex motor skills like any of the martial arts, figure skating, gymnastics, rock climbing, dancing, mountain biking (but not stationary bike).

distracted goldfishFocus: Writing requires a special kind of focus.

You can’t achieve or maintain this writer’s focus if you are constantly distracted or rapidly shifting your attention from one activity to another. (p. 106 of AWB)

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you have at least 30 minutes to do one thing and one thing only. Subtract 1 point for every day in an average week that you attempt to multitask.

Meditation: rewires Your Brain.

Meditation increases brain activity in some areas and decreases activity in other area (p. 120 of AWB) with the net effect of increasing creativity and reducing the frequency and intensity of limbic system takeovers that make creative thinking impossible.

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you mediate for at least 20 minutes. Give yourself an additional 1 point for every day your meditate for 45 minutes or more.

magnet goobi boy_MPlay: makes your brain more powerful.

In addition to doing wonderful things for the brain, like promoting rogenesis, creating more connections between neurons, reducing stress and keeping the brain young, play is the heart of creative discovery. Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play, observes, “The first steam engine was a toy. So were the first airplanes. (p. 129 of AWB)

Give yourself 1 point for every day in an average week that you play a game, a sport, with a child or pet, or engage in activity that you do primarily for the fun of it. Give yourself an additional 1 point for every day you engage in a form of creative play (aka Process).


  • 60 to 70 points: Outstanding
  • 40 to 59 points: Excellent
  • 20 to 39 points: Pretty good
  • 10 to 19 points: You can do better
  • Less than 10 points: Dismal – I suggest you use the last remaining crumbs of creativity you have left to adjust your lifestyle

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18 Comments on “Keeping Your Writer’s Brain at Creative Optimum”

  1. Thomas September 11, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    Hello, this weekend is good for me, as this occasion i am reading this great
    informative paragraph here at my home.


  2. Juliann July 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    That is really interesting, You are an excessively professional blogger.
    I have joined your feed and stay up for looking for extra of your great post.
    Also, I have shared your site in my social networks


    • rosannebane July 8, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Thanks Juliann for the compliment and for sharing my site.


  3. Theresa March 20, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    If you’re having troubles with sleep, please consider getting checked for sleep apnea, and/or a complete medication review with each of your doctors/medical people. Medication review includes any herbs, energy stuff, etc., and what you are eating/have been eating. Grapefruit can react with several medications, and I thought I read somewhere lately that orange juice can as well. Hazy on the latter, so don’t quote me.

    Make sure you keep up with this often – no one else may be doing it for you.

    Within the last few months, Dad had another sleep study test for his apnea. At least one of his brothers has it as well. It’s possible I might have it, someday I plan to be checked for it. SA means that even when you think you’re getting a good sleep, you may not be. It can lead to other problems as well, so is very much worth checking out.

    Plus, nobody contacted Dad for over five years after he was diagnosed and received his CPAP machine. He instigated a sleep review and a check of his machine after hearing that at least the machine should be checked more often.

    It’s made a difference, although some of his other medications affect his quality of sleep as well.


    • Joel D Canfield March 20, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      For 15 years, I was chronically exhausted. I fell asleep at traffic lights. If I was sitting still, I slept.

      Finally had a sleep study, and 10 years ago started getting a good night’s sleep again. Changed my life. I didn’t do one single creative thing for almost 20 years, and in the past 10 I’ve written over 100 songs and in the past five, 10 books.

      If your brain isn’t getting oxygen, the closest to creative you’ll get is a snow angel when you collapse in the yard.


      • rosannebane March 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

        Thanks for sharing your experience Joel. Great image of the snow angel when you collapse in the yard!


    • rosannebane March 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      Thanks Theresa for sharing your dad’s experience.


  4. Theresa March 19, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    With all due respect, the ideas are lovely, but I simply don’t know how in the world to fit all this in. I work for pay very part time, but much of my time is taken up by preparing to teach my kindergarten Sunday School class each week, which is an urgency. Yesterday I spent several hours in getting ready, because I didn’t last week, and I was up very late again on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I’m planning on spending what I can this afternoon in errands and getting things physically ready at the church, since I work this morning and we don’t have Awanas this week. It’s likely I’ll be back at the church tomorrow morning to finish up and prepare for Easter Sunday, in case I have to substitute this Sunday (make copies, etc.)

    I have other responsibilities too, besides work and writing.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’ve tried to cut back and cut out many things, and bring my writing more to the forefront, and I’m still exhausted this morning because I got to bed and sleep after midnight and had to be up by 5:30. This happens a lot, and, no, I don’t watch much TV, which can easily become one of the worst time wasters, I think.

    I keep tweaking and deleting and organizing, wanting to shift away from so much of the drudge stuff, but don’t seem to have any major improvements.

    I have noticed that my mind comes up with new ideas more often :). A definite blessing, but I need to sit down and bring the ideas to completion on the page/screen, instead of keeping them in my head and in notes.

    It’s funny (irony) – I was reading one of your posts the other night when you asked for topics to cover, and I meant to ask you to do some on urgency, especially how to focus on a writing project when other projects are clamoring loudly for attention. After reading this post, I can’t find the other one. I would like to read more on this topic of creativity and increasing it as well. And how writers have managed to work it so they get more sleep and increase their self care.

    Right now I have to finished getting ready for work and to leave in a few minutes. Thank you for reading and considering this long reply :).


    • rosannebane March 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      Thanks Theresa for taking time to comment. It sounds like you’ve cut a lot of time-wasters out already and are down to the bone. I will put the idea of urgency and how to keep a writing project a priority in the compost pile of my mind and see what turns up in a week or two.
      In the meantime, there simply is a limit to how much we can do in one lifetime, which means we have to make choices. Is it possible to spend less time preparing for your Sunday School class? Do you have to invent the wheel every week? (I keep reminding myself that I do need and want to tailor a presentation for each group I teach or speak to, but I do not need to and really can’t completely re-invent presentations every time.) Can you co-teach Sunday School so that you’re responsible to teach every other week?
      If you truly cannot reduce the amount of time you spend on Sunday School and other church activities, which you said is where most of your time goes, you may need to cut other things from your life entirely. It is better to acknowledge that a human being cannot make 17 different projects and activities a priority than to keep committing yourself to 17 different projects and priorities and always feeling behind, exhausted, frustrated and/or disappointed about “not getting more done.”
      Steven Covey said that if you have two or three goals, you’ll accomplish two or three goals, if you have five or six goals, you’ll accomplish two or three, and if you have more than six goals, you will accomplish none of them.
      It is possible to get a lot done in 15 minutes a day for Product Time (one client wrote a YA novel in just 20 minutes a day by showing up consistently). But if you truly can’t find 15 minutes a day for Product Time at least 3 days a week, you may need to acknowledge that writing is not as high a priority as the other things you’re spending time on. I’m not saying you have to give up writing, I saying you probably have to give up something…
      Before you make your decision, remember that writing is also an act of service to the world and your community and is also a Divine-given talent we are responsible for using well…


      • Theresa March 20, 2013 at 7:55 am #

        Hi Rosannebane 🙂

        Thank you for the reply. I had a Sunday School coteacher up until June last year, when he suddenly retired for health reasons. We have problems getting and keeping teachers and assistants, so I have a variety of helpers. Anyone but Dad usually comes in cold. The curriculum and resources can be interesting and worthwhile with my kids, or I may have to go through my/Mom’s/Dad’s books from years of teaching, or search on the internet, make copies, and then get everything prepared, both at home and at church, hopefully before Sunday. It all varies; and it all takes time.

        I have been meaning to create a paper/computer book index, but haven’t acted. I did cull some books out yesterday, and researched and wrote last night before falling asleep, so it was a good day :).

        15 minutes always seems so short for me. I just get settled in and focusing, and boom!, time’s over. I have been trying Pomodoro time, which is 25 minutes on and then a 5 minute break, and then a 10-15 minute break after at least 2 hours. More time focusing on fewer things. Haven’t tried it much with writing though.

        Planning to wrap a few long-term things up this afternoon and tonight, and will then take another look at what can be deleted.

        Take care and keep writing!


  5. Joel D Canfield March 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    I expected to get more than 30, but “meditation” and “play” knocked me down. There’s my room for improvement.



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