Stop The Presses and Get Your Brain’s Attention

Athletes keep their bodies strong. Pianists keep their fingers exercised. Soloists keep their voices tuned.

As writers, our brains are our tools. Our work is often a product of our imaginations. Much of what we put on paper comes from our creative minds.

So what are you doing to keep your brain strong, exercised, tuned?

In university, I majored in psychology, so many of my courses focused on the brain. One of my favourite subjects was cognition, how the brain stores information and how we retrieve memories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could remember all those research facts we use in our books and the great ideas that hit us when we’re driving and how it felt to fall in puppy love.

How can we enrich our writing by remembering more of the things we’ve learned and experienced?

Think about all the sensory data coming into your brain at any given moment, most of which you don’t need to remember. How does the brain know what you prefer to remember and what you prefer to purge?

It’s simple, yet sometimes we don’t do it. Attention.

You must pay attention to the things you want to remember to let your brain know it’s important enough to be stored.

Focus. Repeat. Rehearse.

We must get our brain’s attention!

To save time looking up recurring facts that you’ll use in your book, take a few moments to exercise your brain and repeat the details you’d like to remember.

Use more than one sense to help you remember. See it and hear it. Even better, rhyme it if you can. Read the things you wish to remember rhythmically and out loud.

Rehearsing will move information into long term memory and build brain cells!

Associate the information with something important. For instance, in my paranormal romance, Love of Her Lives, a character loses a necklace. I could not remember what stones were in that necklace until I associated it with my birthstone—emerald. If they were emerald, I didn’t have to go back and look it up.

Is there anything else we can do to strengthen memory?

Physical exercise will keep our brains strong.

It’s a fact—the brain shrinks with age—we will lose brain cells, so it’s important to replace the ones we lose. An American Academy of Neurology study showed that adults who walked between 6-9 miles or 9-14 km (about 2 1/2 hours) per week had more grey matter in their brains. We can walk away from our shrinking brains.

We can also eat to enrich our brains. A study at the University of Oxford has shown that B vitamins slow brain atrophy in people with memory problems, especially B6, B12 and folic acid. Your best sources come from liver, fish, beef, wholegrain breads, legumes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons and citrus fruits.

Anti-oxidants reduce damage caused by oxidative stress in the brain. Eat foods rich in vitamin C, E and beta carotene. Blueberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, nuts, seeds, liver and citrus fruits.

Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA, a primary fatty acid found in fish oils, ensure normal brain-cell function. Eat fish at least 2-3 times per week! Other sources include flax-seed oil, walnuts, fresh basil.

To keep building brain cells, it’s a good idea to learn a new language, travel to new places or take up a hobby. So the next time you’re writing character profiles, give your protagonist skills that you can learn. Tennis anyone? If you’ve never played, why not take lessons to add authenticity to your story and pass the experience along to your character.

So to keep our brains strong and our stories rich, pay attention, be active, eat well and take piano lessons. Easy as pie. Well, blueberry pie!

Learn more about Love of Her Lives, or just come visit at: sharonclare.com

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32 Comments

  1. LOVE this post! So true–all of it. Speaking of, I’m relearning a language one of my characters speaks—I’m hoping that helps with the brain shrinkage…and to keep my creativity active.

    Thanks for this!

    • Wow, I am so impressed. I think learning a new language has to be one of the most challenging things. My daughter gave us Spanish lessons when we visited her when she lived in Costa Rica for a year. It was so hard for me to remember even little things, but she’d picked up the language no problem. Such a difference a few decades make in learning language–darn brain.

  2. Such a cool, informational post. I must say, I didn’t know much of that. And very, very good stuff to know!

    • Thank you, Berinn. I wanted to share the little I know about keeping the brain strong. I just have to practice what I preach!

  3. Fabulous post, Sharon. I keep writing to ward off early onset Alzheimer’s, although at my age, it wouldn’t be so early. LOL. I’m a firm believer in exercise and diet. I’d better get going. My ballet fusion class starts in 30 minutes.

    • Ballet fusion sounds wonderful! I need to get involved in exercise that’s fun and maybe I wouldn’t keep falling off that wagon. Susan, I think you’re right. Writing definitely will help. Sometimes my brain hurts from thinking so hard!

  4. Great post Sharon! I need to remember to slow down when trying to speed read those research facts. Focus and rehearsh. Wonderful advice.
    : )

    • Thank you, Tereasa. Yes, I think it’s a good idea to make our brain work especially since it’s so easy for us to store facts elsewhere. We don’t even have to remember phone numbers any more.

  5. Excellent post with lots of good information!

  6. I love the Intel in this post, Sharon. My mom had early onset Alzheimer’s and the doctors kept attributing it to her high cholesterol levels. But, I look back at her habits when she began to show early signs and I recall so many things she could have done had she only known.

    Me? I exercise for stress, for heart, for my brain. [Hanging my head in guilt for a moment, b/c I’ve been more than a bit lax during my road trip.] I devour informative articles like this and do a mental checklist of foods I like that also serve a purpose.

    As you may know, I’m attempting to regain fluency in Spanish — lost after decades not using it. Radio en Espanol anyone? My problem? The only stations I can find are religious in nature. Not a problem, but limiting. I’m not Catholic and can recite Hail Mary in Spanish. Need to tell a yard crew to trim around the fence? I’m your gal.

    I think I’ll hop over to Ebay to see if anyone is ready to dump a Rosetta Stone on the cheap.

    You definitely had your brain (and libido) fully engaged when you wrote LOHL. Just saying…

    • Lol, that’s funny, senorita. Good idea to check for Rosetta Stone.
      Yes, always a good thing to engage the libido, Gloria. Endorphins are good for us too 🙂
      I didn’t know that about your mom, we have that in common too. We’ll have to keep poking each other’s brains!

  7. For the second day in a row, I’ve started with my version of jogging (imagine frump lady waving down a bus… driver pretends not to see her because she looks ridiculous) followed by a power walk with granddog. Grand goal is to adopt the theory, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. After the ‘jog’, intention is to move fingers across keyboard!

    Note: I’ve had much success over the years proving that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. It was time for a change. Snort!

    Great info, Sharon.

    • You inspire me, Sherry, to get moving. Sharing weekly goals with you and seeing your goal to exercise every day kicked me into gear, well, into running shoes anyway.
      Yay! to jogging this morning. Well done. I still haven’t gotten to my body ball, but I vow to do it!

  8. Very interesting and informative post, thanks for sharing. Now, where’s my shopping list – things to add.

    • Thanks, Sherry. Oh, the shopping list. If it doesn’t make the list, it isn’t going to make the cupboard. I thought my son still ate Kraft Dinner, so I kept buying them. Kraft Dinner anyone?
      Wait, that’s not on the brain-food list. Well, maybe if it was whole-grain.

      • Oh, my gosh! This is so me! I probably say that 50 times a week. “If it’s not on the list, ain’t happening.” And I buy the wrong things, too! “What do you mean no one like Special K? Darn it, somebody in this house LIKES SPECIAL K!!!”

  9. Interesting article! I never thought about the brain atrophying over time. My husband and I have recently taken up P90X, an exercise program, to try to better maintain our bodies as we age. (If your knees are strong to start with, your less likely to have problems with advanced age, right?) Now I realize that we’re also nurturing our ability to focus and remember things. How cool is that? Thank you for sharing this information with us!

    • You’re very welcome, M.J. I’m starting to get the achy knees, so I’m with you there–must exercise. I’ve never heard of P90X. Will look it up!

  10. Great post and some excellent words to live by. I know we get consumed by deadlines but a walk will often refill the well when we’ve put ourselves in a hole. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Tesssa

    • Thanks, Tessa. I find that so true which is why I exercise around lunch time. It helps me get over the afternoon slump and does seem to help me think better.

  11. Well said, Sharon.
    As a translator I work in two languages and discover new things with each project and as an editor I must balance new worlds and plots, so my brain gets enough exercise. My body that’s another matter as I spend all day sitting at the computer. But I do try. Thank you for reminding me I should try harder.

    • Carmen, you’re welcome. Writing this post was a self-reminder. Try harder? Me too.

  12. I had broccoli for lunch, I feel smarter already! Great post, and great ideas about experiencing something to make it stick with you. Time to revist my plans for tennis and golf lessons.

  13. Great post, Sharon. Very challengening. Excellent info.

    People – me included – seem to think the inside of bodies can take care of itself without specific exercise. Thanks for the poignant reminder our brains need exercise.

    I’d add playing games like Scrabble, Bridge (do any young people even know what Goren bridge is?), dominoes, etc to the exercise list. The younger generation may have strong thumbs, but I wonder how much most computer games strengthen their brains.

    Off to walk the other half of my six miles a day and praying I’ll have a plot break through while I’m at it!

    • Wow! Six miles. I am so impressed. Good point, Judy. Games like scrabble and bridge are great for the brain too. My grown-up daughters were playing Boggle the other day, and I couldn’t resist. Good for the brain and fun too!

  14. Sharon, super article. I worry daily about my brain. When I write in the morning my brain gets so foggy and I feel so tired, I end up having a morning nap. Does not sound the least appealing, but instead of a nap, maybe I should go walking. What’s with the maybe! I will get walking! Thanks.

    • Yes, Carol! Go for a walk!! I often hit a slump period in the afternoon when I’d love a nap. This is when I exercise instead of the morning like many people because I’m already energized in the morning. I need a boost in the afternoon.

      Try it!

  15. Great article, Sharon! I love walking but I haven’t been consistent lately. This has been a great reminder that walking promotes more than just good health, it strengthens brain cells too.

    Thanks for the extra motivation today!

    • Thank you, Katherine. I love it when we motivate each other. If a friend mentions they’re taking an exercise break, it’s like a poke to get off my chair. I need pokes!

  16. […] Stop The Presses and Get Your Brain’s Attention If you haven't read the Seven Principles of Schooled For Life, then click on the link below to go therehttp://schooledforlife.com/the-s4l-principles/ […]


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