When I first began writing I would sit in front of my computer and struggle to focus. I thought if I stared at that screen long enough that inspiration and creativity would eventually flow onto the page. Rarely did this happen. In fact, probably never. I could not focus for 2 minutes. Really, not even 10 seconds.
I did not know it, but I suffered from PTSD and crippling anxiety. The craziest part is that I never considered WHY I had such incredible difficulty sitting still and writing. For me, it was just normal. That was my life. I thought that this is just how writing always is. An incredible struggle.
Now, I have no problem sitting still for hours at a time working on projects. My first script took me three years to go from concept to completed (4 rewrites). My most recent Horror script was more like 6 weeks.
Anxiety is created when you adapt to having to constantly deal with stress. Your body is always prepared to deal with danger, perceived or real. Your breathing becomes shallow. You have difficulty getting to sleep. Your mind can’t slow down because it is always thinking of how to deal with dangers. Stress and Anxiety are the greatest enemy of us as writers. To achieve the flow state where inspiration and creativity come easy, we must be relaxed and focused. This is a guide to help you perform at your best.
Disclaimer: The opinions contained here are my personal opinions and do not constitute medical or mental health advice. The information and opinions provided come from personal experience and reading scientific literature.
Writer’s are a Mind-Athlete. We must perform on demand. Our organ of performance is the brain. It must function at the highest level for maximum focus and recall, while integrating massive amounts of information and emotions to create this complex thing – A Story.
The brain is where our thoughts and mind are created, moment to moment. All mental states arise from the physical state of the body as a whole, but especially in the brain. The brain is the central processing unit of the body machine. Like a computer processor, it can get overheated, overwhelmed, and performance will suffer.
The mind machine (because all your thoughts and feelings are produced here) is an adaptive machine. Your environment and what you put into it will determine what you get out of it. Pretty simple. But highly complex in actually getting peak performance.
This is the hardest thing to do, but the most rewarding. You’re a writer, sure, but first you are a human being. We tied up mental power with background processes that are still running from weeks, months, and years ago. Do you have a bad relationship with your mother? Did someone hurt your feelings in a break up? Suppressed emotional baggage is tying up mental power. Subconsciously you know that not all is right in the world. Going back and fixing these broken relationships that were important enough to have hurt you when they went wrong will leave you feeling light and free and your subconscious can move out of the past and into the present, 100%.
I am fully aware that this may mean confronting severe emotional trauma, but the greater the problem you face and heal from, the greater the reward. Life is too short to stay stuck in the past.
Your brain is a collection of neurons firing off electrical signals all day long. The neurons require materials and energy to do their job. We can charge up our body with electrons by exercising. Muscles and bone are piezoelectric, and to have enough electrons stored up, we need to get up and move. Exercise also gets our blood pressure up a bit and helps transport more oxygen (which transports electrons during cellular respiration) Dr. Jerry Tennant has many videos online explaining how the body is an electrical system. Worth a watch.
Besides electrical energy our brain needs nutrition. Nutrition is another way of saying “stuff your cells needs to function”. Some basic rules I follow. Eat organic. Drink spring water from glass bottles. No refined sugars. No stimulants. No alcohol. Intermittent fast.
The brain and the gut are tied together. Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Everyone is different, but for me eating wheat or refined sugars always leaves me sleepy within an hour. My day begins with 1 hour of moderate exercise, hiking around some nearby trails. Then I eat a breakfast of approx. 1/3 complex carbs, 1/3 protein, 1/3 fat. I also down a handful of supplements; B vitamins, Magnesium, calcium, D-3, Zinc, Vitamin-C, K, etc. Instead of coffee I drink cacao.
My “brain stack” theory here is that cacao is a vasodilator so all the tiny blood vessels in my brain will open up a little more. This allows all the nutrition and oxygen to get into my brain cells better than normal. The exercise also charges me up with electrons and gets oxygen flowing. I also mix into the cacao drink some cordyceps and lions mane mushroom. One is supposed to increase oxygen transport and the other is supposed to improve neurogenesis.
There are many places online you can study nootropics which are basically things that can improve mental performance. Always consult your doctor before diving into anything new. Some supplements are dangerous if you go above the recommended doses, or mix with certain medications.
A good night sleep is priceless. Can you even remember the last time you woke up and felt AMAZING? If you can’t then you have to ask yourself, what the hell is going on? You should feel amazing after a night of sleep. In fact, a deep sleep with lucid dreaming will leave your brain feeling “Reset” and so fresh and focused the next day, it is comparable to the effect of using psychedelics. I know from personal experience.
I have tried many sleep aids to achieve deep sleep. My best result has been taking African Dream Root before bed, after taking an Epsom salt bath. The next day I felt like I could conquer the world and worked 6 hours solid on rewriting a sci-fi script I just couldn’t find the energy to work on the day before. I could focus on one idea and stay focused on it for a long time. The full power of my mind was accessed effortlessly. My memory, focus, and imagination, all working perfectly together.
How do YOU feel? How do you feel about who you are? Give the writing and work and all the stressing about things a break. It is not healthy. Put your phone down, turn on some meditation music. Practice some deep diaphragm breathing for 30 minutes. Think about your journey in life and what your true needs are.
You are a human being, an adaptive surviving creature. You have adapted your lifestyle, your thoughts, and your morals, for your survival. It is our nature to avoid pain and suffering and discomfort. But avoidance often makes things worse by closing ourselves off. As a human being we cannot live to our fullest without emotional and social support structures.
On our deepest level, we need friendships. We need people who appreciate the struggles we face and the courage we have to fight through them. We need people who love us. We are not that complicated a creature. We need to be seen and to be loved. We cannot function at our best if we do not have friends and family to fulfill these deeper spiritual needs.
The last six months have not been easy for most. We have been cut off and isolated. While struggling financially and professionally. That is life. It has good seasons and bad seasons. You have to be at peace with being you, no matter what else is going on around you. And this peace, I believe, can only truly come when we can appreciate and love ourselves, mistakes and imperfections and all. Find your inner peace.
Acupuncture can yield rapid and powerful results. The needles are small, don’t worry. It works for everything from aches and pains, to relieving anxiety.
Floatation (sensory deprivation therapy). You float in a blacked out sound proof pod in 1000 pounds of Epsom salt saturated water. The magnesium sulfate is a natural relaxing compound. The sensory deprivation aspect allows your brain activity to quiet down. You can pay to go to a professional place for the full experience, or you can run an Epsom salt bath at home. Stay in it for at least an hour in the dark, with no sound or interruptions.
Yoga is fantastic for breaking up tension in the body and keeping you relaxed. Sitting at a desk writing all day puts a lot of stress on you. Take breaks every our and stretch for ten minutes. Physical tension in the body from poor posture will wear on your physical and mental stamina.
Fasting is fasting-tastic. I intermittent fast. I eat a very large meal around 12 noon. The rest of the day I eat next to nothing, or some snacks like carrots or cucumbers. I have also fasted up to three days in a row and felt my mind was razor sharp. Do your research. Whatever works for you.
In summary. Don’t let your ego be a harsh master that is always ordering you to “tough it out” and burn yourself out with coffee and 12 hour stretches staring at a screen. Listen to your body. Exercise it, nourish it, let it rest whenever it tells you it needs to rest. Care for it.
Listen to your feelings. Express yourself. Your human experience should be a full, healthy, balanced one. Heal all brokenness in close relationships. Build a support structure of friends and family. When your mind, body, and spirit are healthy, then writing will flow from this.
From one writer to another. May your stories always inspire and uplift. The power to weave a story is the power to change the world.
Oil field Roughneck
I love to create amazing story universes and ground them with characters who are seeking answers to these questions. If the truth of the story doesn’t make you cry then what’s the point in writing it?
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