Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writers, Feed Your Brain

I am now on day eight of my tour for The Raven Boys — at least, I think it’s day eight — and I’m eating my breakfast here in my room and thinking about a blog post I’ve contemplating for a long time. It is sort of about writing, but it’s also sort of about room service.

Right now, this is what I have on my room service tray: an unsliced banana, a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and two sunny side up eggs. Tomorrow I will probably also get room service and tomorrow this is what will be on my room service tray: an unsliced banana, a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and two sunny side up eggs. In fact, by day 30 of this tour, I will have probably had as many eggs, glasses of orange juice, and bananas. I will never want to see any of them ever again.

I swear I’m working to a point here.

My point is this: I’m allergic and/or intolerant to pretty much every chemical preservative under the sun. Some make me big, some make me small, the details are largely unimportant. All we need for purposes of this post is the knowledge that, at worst, they make me fall down, and, at best, they make me feel slightly awful. They are my kryptonite. I’ll do anything to avoid them, even if it means thirty days of sunny-side-up eggs, bananas, and (when I can get it) freshly squeezed orange juice (Also, 30 days of Chipotle, the only national chain that’s preservative-free). (That’s a lot of burritos.)

Having to obsess over my food has taught me a lot about how my body reacts to certain foods and chemicals. In the past, I rejected the idea that a trace amount of a preservative or a coloring or a raising agent would’ve had the power to change how I feel. Now, that seems like a strangely cavalier attitude. I trust a tiny bit of ibuprofen to cure a headache, a tiny bit of caffeine to wake me up, so why wouldn’t I expect other chemicals to have effects? I reckon at this point you’re wondering when this stops being one of those conversations where you nod politely and plan your exit and begins being something relevant to writing. THAT MOMENT IS NOW.

I think everybody has a dietary kryptonite. We all react differently to common foods: milk, corn, honey, red food dye, baking soda. It might not be a large enough reaction to be properly called a food intolerance, but it would be enough to make you sluggish or irritable. Also, it’s generally cumulative. Here’s the writing bit. As a writer or a creative person, it behooves you to listen to your body. Because focus and concentration are the first things to go when you’re eating something your body doesn’t care for. You might not notice that you’re operating at 90% when you’re shopping or working the day job or doing laundry. But that 10% is often the energy you need to be able to write or paint after doing everything else in the day. Studies have shown that the creative bit of our brain is the first to go. As writers, that’s the only bit that matters. That’s the part that lets us conceptualize an entire novel.

So this post is me urging aspiring writers to look at their plates. Even if you don’t have an allergy or intolerance, I recommend keeping a food journal for a month. We eat a lot of crap — especially we Americans — a lot of non-food things, and those are the ones that often mess with our creative brains. If you simplify your diet and keep a journal, you'll be able to easily track what makes you feel great and excited and what makes you feel sleepy. Basically, if you aren’t feeling bright and awake for all of the moments that you have your eyes open, there’s room for improvement.

And you’d be stunned, I think, at what it will do for your creative productivity.

I’m going to go eat an egg, I guess.

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