By: Karen Albright Lin
A fresh brain is a ready brain.
That Burger King Triple Whopper Large Meal leaves you smeared with grease, bloated, and tired. How often do you feel incapable and unmotivated to write after imbibing? Lucky for us all, there’s plenty of food that’s more likely to make you feel clearheaded and so incredibly clever your critique group will bow to you. I use to be a weight loss counselor. I saw better diets turn my clients from potatoes into Iron Men—hyperbole perhaps, but you get the point.
In the '90s I changed course, turning to travel and food writing, eventually signing a literary cookbook contract with a publishing company, though it ended up falling through when I lost my photographer. Downer moment aside—I have the experience to confidently come to you with good news. Feeding your mind doesn’t have to take a ton of time out of your deadline-cloister.
Trends in writing styles change up; it’s possible Melville and Steinbeck’s crazy-long descriptions wouldn’t get a second look by Simon & Schuster today. Nutrition education, too, has gone through some tweaking since I was a counselor. The nuts and bolts have changed; even the food pyramid has been supplanted by a plate split into four sections: fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. Plus a lonely little dairy circle outside the plate—a minor character apparently. The primary aim of this image is to fight obesity.
Just as having rambunctious triplets and a needy spouse could make walking feel like trudging through wet cement, carrying around extra pounds can make your body sluggish and your brain sludgy. But it’s not only about keeping a healthy weight. There are specific foods that will help you maintain a fit mind.
A fit mind is a better writing mind.
You likely know how you should be eating. You know quality food helps energy, mindset, and even your relationships—after all, it’s incredibly important to have friends and family supporting you in this masochistic career you’ve chosen. You recognize the need, but you use excuses not to eat well.
Maybe you “don’t like rabbit food.”
Or you don’t have time to prepare elaborate meals.
You aren’t fooling anybody when you say you have a crush on the 20-something beauty at the drive thru window.
We don’t want to feel deprived.
I’m not suggesting ostentatious six-course meals (unless you’re a foodie and food writer like me) or fad diets (those can be more risky than hopping on board the tail end of a genre trend).
Writer-healthy eating starts with learning which foods feed our brains, then focusing on them. It can be as simple as adding more vegetables and whole grains. And fruits and oily fish like salmon, known to power up the brain, make learning and remembering easier. As an added bonus for us loony-toon writers, they also promote emotional stability.
Cut back on salt, fat and sugar. That last one damages your teeth anyway, leaving you unfit to do that keynote speech after your third bestseller.
Think variety, balance, and moderation. That three day binge fueled by fifty-six Frappuccinos and 20 Lindor truffles, may not be a good idea. Once you try better foods, your body will start to crave the good stuff. It’ll be like having an intractable addiction to a gripping mystery series.
Drink a lot of water (bathroom stretches are good for us). Minimize caffeine even when you aren’t on a writing binge; it can trigger panic attacks over deadlines. You may have stayed up until three am finishing that last chapter, making you late to work, but don’t skip breakfast (even if it’s yogurt, a piece of fruit and a granola bar eaten while on your tractor). Replace fried foods with some mind-power alternatives.
You know that pesky thought glitch caused by your 100th rejection letter? Fish, leafy greens, and eggs fight that sort of cognitive impairment because they are rich in B vitamins.
Some savvy scientists say vitamin E helps prevent cognitive decline, so try to eat more asparagus, leafy greens, olives, brown rice, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Vagueness being one curse of a first draft, I’ll be more specific: pumpkin seeds enhance memory and thinking skills that help us when brainstorming our next novels. They also lead to the uptake of that blessed good-mood chemical, serotonin. Many of us can use that.
Red peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruits are good for mental agility, making it easier to jump through all the hoops that are required to publish. As to the finer details, experiment with herbs and spices. Sage improves memory and concentration, but add it at the end of preparation to protect the beneficial oils. Kind of like a line edit!
I’m the antonym of vegetarian, and I’m not sure who came up with this bunk, but some bogus dudes claim eating less dairy and meat might help ward off depression over an unsuccessful pitch. Eat tomatoes rather than throw them at the winners of the contest you entered but failed to final in. And right before the awards banquet, where you’ll sit by your agent of choice, eat miracle blueberries so your teeth will be a lovely sapphire and those little skins will stick there as evidence of your healthy diet.
For samples of my food writing visit:
I had a generally healthy diet. But when I needed to lose weight, I did 4 easy things:
- Stopped soda and started drinking ice tea with lots of lemon and calorie-free sweetener
- Exchanged junk food for Qdoba and Chipotle—where I eat naked burritos
- Instead of ice cream, I got my cold sweet dairy fix by eating shredded wheat in milk with Sweetener.
- Started walking—often listening to the recordings of conference workshops, paper and pen in hand so I could stop and take notes when needed, then graduated to dancing.
- Activity and reasonable changes to diet can make a lot of difference.
About the Author: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com