raspberry-jam-03How to prevent your brain turning to jam

I’ve never been one of those folks who can write in short bursts of five or ten minutes. Some people I know – let’s call them “women” – have this ability to juggle ten things at once, and whilst they make a phone call, surf the web, feed the gold fish, put another load of washing on, and gently remove the kitchen knife that little Johnny decided might be fun to play with, they manage to bash out another scene. If only my brain worked like that. Instead, the lump of grey matter inside my skull prefers to work on one thing at a time, and takes a while to warm up. I’m not suggesting this a male thing, but it’s definitely how I’m wired.

And that’s fine. Aside from the days when my assistant’s here, the only person who requires my attention is CJ. And given that there’s a garden full of birds to amuse her during the day, and mice to hunt during the evening, I’m largely left alone to immerse myself in “my craft”.

Which would be lovely. If only I could keep going.

Two hours in however and my brain is mush. It doesn’t feel like two hours, it feels like two days. I’m ready to throw in the towel, and congratulate myself on a productive, er.. time… if it wasn’t for the fact I’ve barely filled half a screen with words. I end up taking breaks. Tea breaks. Lunch Breaks. Just-check-my-email-breaks. Talk-to-my-assistant breaks. Phone someone-anyone breaks. Anything-other-than-continue-to-climb-the-damn-mountain-that-is-my-novel break.

And that’s a problem. Breaks do just that. They break something. In this case, my flow. I’d return to the writing, and I’d have to warm up my brain. Again.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

A year ago, through a set of circumstances that I won’t bore you with now (partly because I need something to blog about next month) I found myself writing a self-help book (How to Do Everything And Be Happy – available now – all good ebook stores- yada yada yada). Non-fiction writing is something that, like you, I’m so familiar with I don’t really consider it writing at all. In a world where so much communication has gone back to the written word (texts, emails, tweets, blog posts…) writing a self-help book just feels a LOT easier than writing a novel. It’s almost as if it uses less of your brain. Or maybe a different part. I’m sure some smart person will post a comment saying exactly that.

The really interesting thing though is what happened to my “Writing Days”. Rather than “taking a break” (to check my emails, make another cup of tea, etc etc.), I’d simply flip from the novel, to the self-help book – from fiction, to non-fiction – and when my brain felt less jam-like, I’d flip back. In my head at lest, this didn’t seem to register as a break – I’d feel rested yes, but my flow hadn’t been broken. I’d remained in writing mode the whole time so there was no need to warm up – and suddenly I was writing two books far faster than if I’d been writing just one.

I’m keen to know if this is just me. And if it’s the combination of fiction and non-fiction or whether working on two pieces of fiction at the same time would work just as well. Post your comments below.

In the meantime I’m flipping back to the novel.

Originally written for and posted on

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