Go-To Brain Breaks (That Aren’t Edible)
I’m in the middle of writing a new novel. I’m pretty excited about it, but sometimes in the midst of composing, I can get so into the story I lose direction. I have to look back to see if I ever revealed to the reader an important trait of one of my characters. Or what month or season I’m in for a particular scene.
I know this can happen in any task. (“Did I wash those dishes in the dishwasher or just load it?”)
But when it happens while I’m writing, I have to walk away from the book, my computer, scribbled notes, and everything connected to the craft.
I’m pretty sure this happens in other work environments or prolonged tasks. I’ve learned a few strategies we can all use to stay focused. They are simply “Brain Breaks.”
#1 “Sweep the Floor”…. Hmm…, sounds a bit like a Karate Kid move. Maybe. But in this case I am literally talking about picking up a broom and sweeping the floor.
We have pets. One is a beautiful Blue Heeler named Honeybee. We call her Bee.
Her nickname is short. Her hair is not.
Every day I sweep up hair from the old gal. Mike says I gather enough to make another dog. Every Day...
I have a Roomba. That’s great, but when I need a brain break, I pull out the broom. There is something very restful to be found in the rhythmic swoosh of a broom. While I am focusing on reaching that clump of hair behind the sofa, my writing brain is getting a much needed switch in focus.
#2 Take a walk. (Not to be confused with someone telling you to “Take a hike!”)
I like to walk. With mild winters in Florida, I can usually walk every day. The exercise and fresh air clears my head.
Sometimes I even find the answer to a problem in my story as I tour the neighborhood.
For example, I wanted my protagonist to be startled by something one evening when she was home alone in the middle of a storm. I wanted something totally innocuous but startling enough to give her pause. While walking past a neighbor’s house one day, I found my answer.
Not my neighbor. She’s a nice woman and about the same age as my protagonist’s mother.
However, my neighbor has a large collection of yard art on her front lawn. One is a frog with big glow-in-the-dark eyes. When I opened up my computer, I had my main character buy an owl statue with glow in the dark eyes as a Christmas gift for her mom (something mama wanted) and that stormy evening, when the electricity went out, my character forgot about the statue, saw something staring at her, tripped over a cord and landed on the carpet looking straight up at the owl.
#3 Play a game. Though I may pick up a book of Suduko puzzles or complete the daily crossword in the newspaper my sister-in-law dropped off, I often turn to a game on my computer or phone. Engaging my mind in something totally apart from the dilemma my protagonist is facing is relaxing. While I’m focused on the game, I let my subconscious work on how to change my character’s perspective. I want my main character to see that what she views as a weakness may well be her strength.
#4 Feed the Fish. Okay, I’ll admit I never wander out to the dock to feed the fish to get away from the computer. That said, I’ve noted that while I’m hammering words out, Mike will come in and ask if I want to “go feed the fish.” I never turn down that opportunity.
What I find is that the fresh air, the still water, the fish swimming in to eat the food and the sheer peace of standing there with my husband gives me renewed energy. Mike will often ask how my writing is going as we walk back toward the house. Telling him a bit about where I am in the composing stage energizes me to write more.
And here’s a hint: If you choose an edible brain break, make it a fruit or vegetable. Experience tells me that cookies and chocolate may calm the nerves but tend to make a person sluggish…and that leads to a nap. Then you’ll never get back to the task at hand!