Brain Fog and Blueberries


An article on memory and concentration caught my attention this morning.

An academic, a scientist, a cabbie and an actress (sounds like the beginning of a joke), amongst others, talk about the tricks they use to stay in focus or push through to achieve their goals.

"Brain fog" is something I battle with daily. To the extent that some days I feel so dim, I think why am I trying to do this - write a book? It feels like a mammoth, daunting task - 90,000 words of eloquence and wit with a cohesive, clever story that hooks you every page - that's the target... Jeez - just typing that has sent me spiralling into a state of despair.

Some days, like today, I wake with a storming headache. The muscles won't move and I think why don't I just stay in bed, someone else can deal with the day and I can dream about my story and make notes from my bedside table. Hmmm - that sounds lazy to me, I think (why are words so critical?) and besides I have to get the kids to school and somehow earn a crust. So I get up, go through the usual routine and eventually find myself at my desk. Then brain fog hits. So what do you do then?

Pushing through the problem - this is my usual technique, force myself to stay at the desk and type any old rubbish until eventually something useful comes out. Actually, this works pretty well for me. Because the longer I stick at it, the more cross I get, then obstinate, and at some point, my brain shifts a gear and inspiration hits - and I'm off - that's such a sweet moment!

Loosen up - sometimes I do just give up, get up, pace the house (or hobble as I'm doing at the moment - I broke both my legs 12 weeks ago, but that's another story...), make a hot drink, contemplate the bread or yesterday's rice pudding and resist..., do the ironing, take a gander on Facebook or Twitter, or as happened yesterday, spend four hours reorganising my study, cleaning and polishing and coming up with the perfect sleeping corners for my cats (these things matter). This does work too - suddenly the brain unlocks, something clicks and I'm back at my white boards, scribbling ideas. I think the act of clearing up my study is a sort of parallel for decluttering my brain - I do like a light, bright, clear space for working in, though inevitably after a few days, my desk is back to what looks like a heaving plate of tangled spaghetti and meatballs. Best of all is either doing something creative or going outside - like painting or gardening. This is where I wish I could play piano - something to engage the brain in a different way and unlock the puzzles in my head. I often get a little brainwave on the way to pick up the boys from school.

Music - a source of substantial conflict in our house - my husband can only work with music blasting in his ears (note the bias in the word "blasting"). And the boys wander through the house with heavy metal music on their phones getting louder and quieter as they progress from bedroom to hall to kitchen and back again (I'm tearing my hair out by now). Me, I have to have complete silence - not a peep. I've tried gentle classical music, moody folk songs, ambient Japanese rain... nope, it's just annoying. So I have to wait till the house is empty and as silent as a morgue before I can actually do anything creative.

Calming the emotions - Emotions do get in the way of concentration - distracting self-criticism, unresolved arguments, anxiety or excitement that won't dampen down, fear (I'll come back to that one), I can see why all that might crush any attempt at rational work. But actually, I realise I thrive on it. It helps me put myself in the place of my characters, find a small nugget of emotion I can identify with and I'm racing away. It does need reining in, true, but without it at all, the brain is a barren place. And you can always edit it down later. When in doubt - find a cat (we have 5), play with it, cuddle it and try again.

Fear - there's a huge amount of fear about writing - maybe there has to be. Fear of not getting started, fear of going on too long, of writing pure crap and humiliating myself, fear of repeating old favourite phrases and ideas and not coming up with anything new, of never making enough money to pay the bills, of wasting good people's time, indulging myself, offending, disappointing, revealing (there's an interesting one), fear of someone assuming that bizarre, crackpot character is actually me, I'll stop there. But fear, like anxiety before going on stage, is the driver, it's the energy that just has to be channelled in the right way. If you don't fear, you don't care, and that's far more dangerous. I think I like fear.

Alcohol - now I can see the appeal of this. But I'm not really into alcohol - sadly, it just makes me ill or brings down more fog. So I'll substitute chocolate, biscuits, whatever snacks you can lay your hands on. That instant hit of sugar or carbohydrate. Trouble is, the hit is followed by a low, and it only works if you punch the repeat button. I put on a stone last year and I know a lot of writers who say the same. I'm currently trying milky coffees and bowls of blueberries instead. (This makes me feel very virtuous.)

Visualisation - I really like this one, because it works a treat for me. It's a vital tool for traditional oral storytelling (the day job) - my memory is atrocious and I can't remember facts at all (God Bless Google should be sewn into a sample and hung above my desk - see? visualisation...). As soon as I picture the story or scene my head, it comes alive and words flutter down like fragile butterflies, and it starts to mean something. See previous blog about my difficulties reading. I really like visualisation.

Son no 2 has just ambled past my door, playing Ramstein on his phone and idly asking about food and whether anything's come in the post (not yet, I say, for the umpteenth time), so I might quit whilst I'm ahead. But here's my last tip. When in doubt just write something. Like a blog. It'll get the juices flowing.

Worked for me.