Brain Drain and the Writer


Pretty much everyone experiences it once in a while. Call it burn out or fatigue or brain drain (my personal favorite), but you stop running long enough to sit in front of your keyboard and get some writing done and your mind just goes blank. No one home. No ideas, no energy, nothing but the sensation of your brain cells possibly liquifying and draining out through your ears — the origin of my preferred moniker for the situation.

Honestly? That’s me right now. My blogging has been a little sparse in recent weeks, and I feel the self-imposed pressure to come up with an informative, thoughtful post for all of you. Something that’s not a list of links or a general announcement or an embedded video of someone else’s ideas or experience. All of those are wonderful blog content, but I always aim to keep a percentage of posts my own original material and, well… not much of that going on at the moment. Because the instant I clicked on Add New Post (a good 40 minutes ago), I realized that my brain was not going to be cooperative this morning.

What causes brain drain? In my case, I’ve been on a reading jag for work — more so than usual — pushing through a lot of submissions and client material, some of which require editorial notes. I attended a conference, taught a webinar, tackled a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes contract/vendor/distribution details on a number of projects. It’s been brutally hot on and off for weeks and I’m sleeping badly as a result. And I won’t even go into the personal end of things. So, business as usual? Busy life as always? Yes, of course, but it does add up, and my brain has apparently decided I’ve hit the point of maximum density. Time to drain everything and start over. In other words, it’s telling me I need a little break.

Now, brain drain is not the same thing as writer’s block, though they certainly can overlap. But where writer’s block often signals that you need to get a better fix on where your story needs to go (or where it has been in those last pages you wrote), brain drain calls for a letting up — taking time away from the chaos and the hectic schedule to breathe and clear your head. Brain drain demands a day off or a long nap with the phone silenced or an honest-to-goodness vacation. It’s tempting to try to squeeze the life out of every moment of your day, especially for writers who often need to fight so hard just to find the time to focus on their current work in progress. But as important as it is to commit to your writing, it’s also important to maintain your health and well being so you can produce your best work. And sometimes that means giving yourself a break.

So the next time you find yourself staring at the blank page, ask when you last did something completely mindless. You may discover you’re overdue for an afternoon playing hooky or a long weekend at the beach.

8 thoughts on “Brain Drain and the Writer

    1. Publishing is on a half-day Fridays schedule for the summer, so I’m planning to take the whole day and find a quiet space to recharge. No reading allowed — too much like a busman’s holiday at this point.

  1. I see you found the solution I normally employ. I understand taking a break can be wonderful to recharge, but sometimes deadlines loom.
    Just write; forget about any subject and just peck out words. Eventually, an idea forms and you run with it. Nice post.

    1. LOL! Yes, I definitely let my stubborn nature take over for this one. Part of being professional is getting the job done regardless. But I’ve also marked Friday as a day off on my calendar. You can only push through brain drain so many times before you really need to recharge.

  2. I needed to hear this today. I, too, am in brain drain mode. Probably because I’m busy correcting college essays and gearing up for finals next week. It’s amazing how freshman college papers have the ability to numb the mind. 🙂

  3. Thank you, Nephele! Needed to read your blog today. Have been editing an MS for weeks in prep for submission to agents/editors from a recent pitch conference, and was completely drained. Bottom of barrel editing all day yesterday. Need to stop obsessing for a day and recharge…for me that means reading something silly and fun. A beach read.

    I hope you get to recharge fully, and have a wonderful weekend! 🙂 Thanks again for the perfectly timed message. Means more than you know.

    1. Sounds like a lot of us are in the same boat. I’m glad this post was timely, and I hope you get a chance to take a breather!

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