Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Brain Breaks = Better Books

I'll admit it. I hear voices. They're pervasive. They're insistent. They all demand to be written down. Really, they are some of my favorite people. When a character, or characters, takes over my brain, I get the absolute best kind of writing done.

But sometimes that takeover is disorganized, like Pee-Wee football. The players don't have a strategy and just run amok around in my head.

On those days, I have to take a brain break - and for me, brain breaks mean baking. For me, baking has always been a respite or a refuge. It's both exact and creative, which is how I see writing, too. It has it's own formula, but it allows for lots of leeway between the parameters.

Today, for example, I decided on bread. Not just any bread, mind you, but my mom's white bread recipe, which involves me breaking out the food processor (covered in dust) and a cookbook (also covered in dust.) Okay, the dust might actually be flour from the last time I used these items. I'm a really messy cook. Which is sort of funny because I'm the opposite as a writer - if anything, I'm over-organized.

However, the point of all of this is that my brain, creative-based as it is, needs another creative activity to be able to downshift. Baking serves this purpose for me, as does ceramics/pottery/sculpture. However, considering I've yet to be able to purchase my own potter's wheel or kiln, baking seems to be a better option. For now.

So, if you're looking for a reason to step away from the screen, without calling it procrastination or down-right laziness, here are some reasons to encourage you to take a brain break:

1. Letting your ideas settle or simmer or rest will often bring about new ideas.

Look, those loaves are just sad. And I could bake them now and make weird, wonky, doughy logs. Or I could walk away, let them rise, and get a beautiful result. Sometimes, we just need to step back and let things happen. I can't tell you how many times the best parts of my books or the most exciting types of plot lines have come to me when I'm doing anything BUT writing -- mostly, driving. Which is super inconvenient, let me tell you.

2. Sometimes you'll discover something in your work that you didn't notice when you've stepped away from it.

Let things happen while you're away. Much like #1, you need to step back to let the story adjust and just become itself. When you come back to it, you may find some developments that you didn't consider in the beginning. You might reread your draft and realize you have a motif or theme running throughout that you didn't intend. In Thicker than Water (forthcoming from Harper Collins in 2016 - shameless plug…) I left the manuscript for almost six months. When I came back to it, ready to dive back in, I realized I was both beginning and ending the book with wind imagery that I hadn't intended but totally loved.

Bottom line - the longer you're away from it, the less it will feel like a hot mess. The more it will feel like a book you're reading.

3. When you come back, you come back with a vengeance.

Yeah, baby! Look at that punch! It's the best part of baking bread - the fluffy deflation of the first rise. I live for it.

And that giddy glee I feel when I get to land a pow right in the doughy kisser? Well, it's the same kind of enthusiasm I have for a project when I start it. Or when it's going well. But it's almost impossible to sustain or imitate. You need to leave the project so that you can appreciate it - and when you come back refreshed and ready to work, both you and your writing will be better for it.

4. You will appreciate your final product all the more.

Gorgeous. Golden brown. Time consuming? Sure. It's not a one-draft masterpiece. It had to rise a couple times. But when I look at these loaves, I feel pleased with the results. I am and have always been my own worst critic in every way, but my goal, always, is to leave my work feeling happier and more pleased with it than I was the day before. When you've taken the time to step back, you'll have better perspective. It's the same reason we have to stand several feet away from a picture we're hanging on the wall -- you need that space to take it all in. That space applies to every kind of art project - be it baking or writing or anything else.

So, how about you? What are your favorite Brain-Break activities?

1 comment:

  1. I love this idea! Especially 2 and 3. It's taken me a while to notice that I need manual creativity as a break from my writing. I like to make three-tier cakes. Though, those photos made me want fresh bread so maybe I'll start doing that, too :P