ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): Z for Zzzzz

Posted by on Oct 11, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Lauren Kay HalloranGive Your Brain a Break!

As much as we’d all love to write the next great American novel in a single sitting, that’s not a realistic goal. You’ve probably discovered that your brain (and your sanity) can only last through so many genius sentences. When you hit that breaking point, stop! Better yet, stop before you get there.

We should treat our brains like muscles. Bodybuilders don’t do a bajillion reps with no rest; they work out in sets to get the most out of each exercise. Sometimes they even (gasp!) take a day off. They break down their muscles through hard work, then rest to allow them to build back stronger.

Bodybuilders also don’t spend all day sitting. For anyone working behind a desk, health care professionals recommend taking a short break every hour. I think this is especially important for those of us in creative fields like writing, which are often solitary and emotionally taxing endeavors. It may seem counter-intuitive to halt in the midst of a gripping scene, but breaks are important for your physical and mental wellbeing.

It doesn’t take experts to tell us that sitting for long periods of time, especially at a computer, can lead to physical problems like weight gain, muscle stiffness, eye strain, and that writer-kryptonite carpal-tunnel (though if you want expert advice, this is a good article). But research shows that office employees are actually more productive after taking quick breaks—specifically spending 10 minutes on Facebook or the internet. The key is a quick break. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the Buzzfeed rabbit hole.

Whatever you do on your breaks, try to spend at least part of them up and moving. A recent Stanford University study indicates that walking boosts creativity. Just a quick jaunt down the street or even around your living room can reset your brain into writing mode. Alternatively, do a few pushups or jumping jacks. Even walking to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee gets the blood flowing to your body and your brain.

I Break for Writer’s Block:

Then there are other types of breaks, where you’re writing but not working on The Project. (Consider this productive procrastination). If your Project is anything like mine, it’s big and scary and overwhelming. Sometimes the massiveness paralyzes me. Other times I’m going strong, oozing brilliance onto the page, and then, suddenly, I’m not. I stare at the blinking curser on my laptop screen until it mocks me; I can almost hear it tick-tock, tick-tock, counting the seconds, minutes, hours I’m wasting not writing.

Writers block—or whatever you want to call it—is natural. And naturally awful. You can’t just give up; you’re a writer! You’ve committed to a life of starving artistry, following in the footsteps of your literary forefathers who founded the profession on the tenants of struggle, misery, and underappreciation. (I’m joking. Mostly.) Sometimes, if the words really truly aren’t coming, the best course of action is to close your laptop and watch a Disney movie. The Project will be waiting tomorrow. But frequently your brain just needs a little jump start. Put The Project away and work on something else, something less embroiled in your “writing baggage” of stress and expectations. That YA novel you’ve been dabbling with. A found poem from that OkCupid guy’s dating profile.

Or try a writing prompt (see below). Prompts are a great way to rev up your writing brain. Think of them as creativity jumper cables. Zooming in on something small and specific—and different—allows you to let go of some of the baggage and just write. Give yourself 15 minutes, or write for a page or a paragraph, or just go until you hit a natural pause. The results may be frivol that you never show to anyone, but you might also be surprised at the depth of your unbaggaged words. Do one prompt, then go back to The Project. Chances are you’ll be ready to take on that blinking curser. If not, give yourself permission to call it a day. After all, you did write something, thanks to your prompt. I call that a success.

Writing prompt resources:

There are books loaded with writing prompts, and many websites offer FREE lists, including:, The Journal, Writing Forward, Sarah Selecky (free subscription delivering daily prompts to your inbox), Creative Caffeine (their daily prompt subscription service is no longer active, but you can read through the archives to find the prompts and be inspired).

Or try one of these, my personal favorites:

  • –  Write about a person from your childhood
  • –  Write about a time you were scared
  • –  Think about a person you encountered recently, someone you don’t know well (or at all).

    Write a scene from his or her perspective.

  • –  Look around you, pick an object, and write about that object.
  • –  “And after that, nothing was ever the same again…”

Do you have a favorite prompt or resource? Leave it in the comments!

Originally from Seattle, Lauren Kay Halloran attended college in Los Angeles then was stationed in Florida with the U.S. Air Force. In order to complete the circuit of residing in all four corners of the United States, she relocated to Boston, where she earned her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and served as Editor-in-Chief of Redivider Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Cobalt Review, Mason’s Road, Spry Literary Journal, 20 Something Magazine, the anthology Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2012), and Glamour magazine as the winner of their national essay contest. Lauren lives in Boston with her husband, two cats, and hundreds of books. She is writing a memoir about her military service. Visit her blog.

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