Writing: 7 Ways to Cure the Dumbs

Recently I’ve been experiencing a pretty extreme case of the dumbs. man-869215_1920People battling the dumbs often have a difficult time performing ordinary tasks: like replying to emails, speaking in full sentences, or remembering that their spouse asked them to pick up that thing at that place for an immediately forgotten but very, very important reason.

Writing has been painful this month. And, when I say painful, I mean that writing has been like pulling teeth. If the teeth were attached to my eyeballs, and my eyeballs were on fire, and I was being dipped slowly into piranha infested lava.

Despite the leaps and bounds made in today’s technological age, the dumbs are hitting people harder than ever. Information is readily available. Forget the name of your hellion’s teacher? Look it up on the school website. Want to learn how to cook the perfect scrambles eggs? Watch a Gordon Ramsey tutorial on YouTube. Need to know the name of the song playing over the radio? Shazam will tell you.

Retain much of that information?

Forget it.

A wide number of independent studies led by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators have found the web is actually changing our brains. The online world promotes hasty reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Yes, the Internet opens access to an unfathomable amount of information, but it’s also turning us into shallow thinkers with less of a need to exercise our brains by storing the information we seek for use later.

And don’t get me started on shows like The Bachelor and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which make society dumber as a whole.sub-buzz-2156-1484677751-3

A recent study done in the University of Texas actually found that the mere presence of smartphones where we can see them — regardless of if they’re ringing or on silent mode, facedown –dramatically reduces brain power.

The dumbs can hit working authors harder than anyone. When we aren’t allocating large portions of time to surfing the web for research on our current WIPs (or watching the Kardashians while we’re supposed to be), the very act of sitting in front of a monitor all day to write can be damaging to our brains (and eyes) all on its own. Not only that, it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

So, how do we beat the effects of extended computer use?

How do we overcome “the dumbs?”

1. Eat Properly

Eating too much junk food affects the way you think, negatively affecting brain synapses and several molecules directly related to learning and memory.

Increase your brain function by adding these “smart” foods to your daily eating regimen: Blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice,  freshly brewed tea, and dark chocolate.

2. Get Plenty of Rest

The need for sleep can vary between individuals, but most people require between 7 and 8 1/2 hours per day. 

People who are exposed to sleep loss can experience a decline in cognitive performance and changes in mood. Sleep deprivation can often lead to a rise in blood pressure and a decrease in things like metabolism and immune response.

Side note: the proper amount of sleep can help the way our bodies respond to stress.


Writers? Stressed? Never.

3. Take Breaks

A five minute break every hour to throw in a load of laundry, walk your dog, or toss some food in the slow cooker will improve your brain function and general well-being. Unsure whether Harry and Melinda end up together or Melinda runs off with Ricco? Making decisions like these all day can wear down your ability to reason, leading to simplistic decision making and procrastination (not to mention bad books). Breaks can restore motivation for long-term goals, productivity and creativity.

Which is great, especially for authors tackling an entire book.

4. Get Plenty of Exercise

Hellions 1 & 2, working it out.

The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, range from the molecular to behavioral level. Exercise releases endorphins and makes people happy.  Exercising for as little as twenty minutes per day improves information processing and memory functions.

On Sunday I opened my WIP to find myself incapable of editing a single word. I removed a word here, added another one there, and immediately erased all of the changes. My brain was peanut butter. A large part of the problem is getting the right amount of exercise in winter. I have an active job, but it’s not the same as flat-out, heart-rate topping, good old fashioned exercise. So, I went online to find a human hamster wheel, and two hours later I was setting up a brand new elliptical in my basement. Having only gone on it twice, I can already felt the effects of working out reinvigorating my brain. Writing a blog typically takes me three hours. (I’m slow, I know.) This one was finished in an hour and a half, after I had already achieved my goal of editing Old Souls for four.

5. Fuel Your Creativity

Your creativity is a living organism. If you don’t nourish it, your ability to think creatively will whither. If you find yourself incapable of working on your writing project, try passing a little time on something else. Meditate. Write something by hand. Paint. Listen to music. Daydream. (Shower daydreaming is ideal — just keep a pen nearby because you WILL forget all of your brilliant ideas the moment your hair is dry.) Laugh. Sit in a coffee shop. Drink writing wine. Loosen the hell up.

6. Talk to People

Yes, yes, we all know the vast majority of writers are introverts. But a conversation that lasts as little as ten minutes can actually increase your brain activity. In fact, simply looking at someone activates the brain’s language system. 

Keep in mind, not all conversations are beneficial. When you talk with someone you’re competing with, the cognitive benefits disappear.sheep-2372148_1920

7. Read

Reading a novel you enjoy enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.

It can drastically boost a writer’s vocabulary: a good novel is a dictionary and a thesaurus crafted with the express purpose of being interesting. Novels teach a writer how to develop tension, write dialogue, and create engaging characters. They offer writers inspiration. Writing is often hell, but reading is almost always fun, IF you find the right book.

We did it! 7 Ways to Overcome the Dumbs. Now we’re all just a little bit smarter.

Do YOU experience winter dumbs? What are your best tips and tricks to rally cognitive function?

112 thoughts on “Writing: 7 Ways to Cure the Dumbs

  1. I agree with the sleep issue. I’m a morning person by nature, but my writing time is in the afternoon. If I don’t get enough sleep the night before, I’m worn out by two o’clock. Great post, by the way. I also second the idea of taking breaks. When I stop and walk my dog, I’m more focused when I return. Rest, a walk, and a good afternoon cup of coffee are my go-to solutions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sleep can be a real struggle for some people. But, I know of a couple authors who completed entire novels while the rest of the world lay sleeping. Andrew Davidson, writer of The Gargoyle, wrote the bulk of his book in the middle of the night.


  2. The dumbs! Love it. While it’s hard for me I do know that getting creative actually helps restore my head. I got myself a mindful activity book for grown ups at Christmas (A book that takes its time-its great.) Playing in it felt like a huge luxury but it got rid of the ‘old gum brain’ feeling. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My “dumbs” are random and non seasonal! And anything…..anything that can make me laugh is my medicine. Life is SOOOOOO fleeting and we (I!!!) can take things WAY too seriously! One of my favorite people’s mantras to me would be to tickle me and say “Lighten up!”. And my man is a master of this. Cool post. Cheers! And love the hellions working out!!! 😄

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on e-Quips and commented:
    Have you ever hit writer’s block–what this blogger calls the Dumbs. He offers several easy, helpful ways to break on through to the other side. I especially like the writing wine. But first I will take my aging body to the gym for an hour and then stop by the library to pick up books for my next project–a list of real sites listed in the Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie mystery series.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. “If the teeth were attached to my eyeballs, and my eyeballs were on fire, and I was being dipped slowly into piranha infested lava” lol you paint a picture. Good advice, all of it. I do think smart phones and the internet have changed our brain. Considering that when I graduated HS the Apple Computer had just been invented and phones still had cords

    Liked by 3 people

  6. “[L]ike pulling teeth. If the teeth were attached to my eyeballs, and my eyeballs were on fire, and I was being dipped slowly into piranha infested lava.” is now officially my quote of the month! Great post and I’m so glad it’s not just me who’s feeling like this right now!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. These are great! We know really what is good for us, but it’s so hard to stick to sometimes – I have an odd thing where the more tired/braindead I become, the harder I find it to stop! I had sludge brain this morning and went for a really good walk, when I came back it was amazing how differently I felt..and yes, laughter helps too, so much. Instagram, Facebook, and randomly searching the internet for rubbish…not so much 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Excellent post … Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Diabetic Neuropathy describe the last thirty years of my working career. Thankfully, retirement hasn’t been so stressful and there are more tools to cope with the Dumbs. I found taking frequent breaks helps clear my thinking and straightens my path toward, in the direction of, or in the neighborhood of possibly achieving the ultimate goal. Thanks!.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. As I have my phone flashing beside me…after changing my bitmoji’s clothes to send funny texts…wait…what was I going to say?

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to leave the phone in the bedroom. Luckily, I have sheep to talk to on snowy days like this who force me to leave my house and lift bales of hay or I’d be done for.

    Thanks for making me laugh when I’m in the middle of editing/watching youtube/eating.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Reblogged this on COW PASTURE CHRONICLES and commented:
    I don’t know about you, but this post by J. A. Allen resonated with me! Somedays, I feel as if my brain, tired of all the nonsense rolling around up there, took leave, literally! What brain cells we do possess are being used less and less as technology rules our lives more every day.
    J.A Allen gives us a simple plan for Overcoming the Dumbs, check it out.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. This post could not be more relevant right now – lifestyle changes (and a splash of well-aimed humour) can make all the difference when it comes to being creative (and, well, most things really). Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I’m a newbie in the blogging world and really enjoyed this post! It is funny, practical and inspiring all at the same time. When I experience feelings of inconsequence and futility, a flick through social media is definitely the worst way to pass the time! Reading a blog like this, the right sort of medicine. I started training for a marathon properly on Boxing Day and this gives me focus and good sleep (most nights), but I need a little help from my friends to keep that human connection going with laughter and lightness. Thank you for a great post!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I had my first two boys 18 months apart, resulting in about three years of sleepless nights. My third was born with clubfoot, poor guy, and turned his momma into a zombie.
      This too shall pass. Soon you will be looking back on the late night feedings and wondering how you ever made it through.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Winter is the worse. The Dumbs come calling every day. Exercise? Nah, not gonna happen. Exercise and I do not get along. Sleep is an issue for me but I don’t want to blame it all on no sleep. Great post. Thanks for giving my inability to write a label.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. This has been an especially DUMB day for me…and after reading your post I poured a glass of wine and made a list of things that I’m going to do tomorrow to get SMART!! Yes, I’m even going to bundle up and go for a winter walk here in NH where its been freezing!! Thanks for this, darlin’!!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Reblogged this on M.J. Ortmeier and commented:
    Great piece by J.A. Allen along the lines of discovery I’m going through about my own writing and mental processes. But the Dumbs are not to be feared. All it means is that you have so much information swirling around inside your head that your brain is asking to be allowed to catch up. Revel in your muddled moment! Something awesome is about to happen.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Thank you for this informative-entertaining post. It appeals to me because you have to share the world with people and it is preferable that they be smart rather than dumb. Those particular seven tips seem to me to have a universal appeal since they apply to 400 other problems in addition to preventing getting dumb., For me the tough one is getting enough sleep. I’m an insomniac, you see, who may get an hours sleep a night. I read somewhere that there is a man who hasn’t slept in 35 years and it seems to me from my experience that may be possible But I will try to follow your tips, and I thank you for sending them out to us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • An hour a night? There was a time when I got about that much sleep, when my kids were little, but I’m happy to say that it’s not the case anymore. I’m not quite sure how anyone could function properly with so little sleep. When I tried to make it through the day on so little sleep, I became . . . a bit of a wreck. Thank you for your kind comments, as always. You are a strong person to survive and thrive on so little sleep (and quite possibly a demi god).


  17. I saw a message from you somewhere that I seemed to have lost. In it you asked about paperback of my book Fighting To Win.. In a time long ago, and a crazy time it was, there was a seven year battle in the courts between two publishers as to who had the rights to publish the book. The book sold extremely well in hardcover and expectations of lots of paperback sales were in the air–talk of a number one, two, or three national best seller. But because of the long delay–which wasn’t my fault –of those crucial years a paperback of it was never published.. I have become a Kindle reader and now prefer it to books and the same may happen to you, and the used hardcovers are pretty inexpensive these days. I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think. .

    Liked by 3 people

      • Oh, how sweet and generous of you to think of me. The ebook is an updated version and has some changes from the hardcover. Whichever you read–or both–I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged and inspired by it in your writing career and your personal life.
        Best wishes

        Liked by 2 people

  18. Despite regularly working out this winter and getting decent sleep I feel like some weeks I’ve spent in a mental fog. I attribute a good portion of this to all the bad for me foods from the holidays and those ones that I kept continuing to eat (can’t throw out sweets right?) after. I finally got to the point where I said anything that wasn’t eaten by the weekend was being tossed. I feel like now that my body is purged of excess sugar I’m focusing better. Having a few days of 50 degree temps has certainly helped as well… I’m guilty of going into mental hibernation when I’m cold!

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Pingback: 7 Ways To Overcome the dumbs | The Musings of A New Englander

  20. Thanks for the expression ‘the dumbs’. I do feel that using more twitter, blogging and surfing the web have changed my mind. It hits me when I’m trying to sleep at night. I seem to see computer screens. This scares me as I wonder how the youth are going to end up! Good tips. Variety is the spice of life. Writing by hand sometimes is another trick that I use.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    This is a Ping Back… I’m trying to stay up with new jargon. I love this post, because I can relate in a big way. Reading this post was meant to be for me and 7 is my lucky number. So, I am going to follow all 7 of these great suggestions and report back to J. A. Allen. Thank you J. A.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Omg, “piranha infested lava”! lol As though it couldn’t get any worse XD

    A week ago I was suffering “creativity block”. It’s worse than writer’s block. I didn’t even feel creative enough to edit a picture (which usually helps my brain during writer’s block). I’ve definitely noticed reading other people’s stuff, taking breaks, talking to people, like you said, relaxes my tense brain and I can somehow climb out of the pit of sluggishness. And watching documentaries on YouTube seems to help as well.

    Actually one big way I get creative again (and get rid of sluggishness) is force blogging while drinking coffee. Or writing poetry because poetry is short and it gets you thinking creatively if you want to rhyme words.

    As for the dumbs (good way of describing it!) I tend to stay away from social media because yes, it does give you the dumbs. Endless, endless scrolling through mindless stuff makes my brain turn off completely and then I’ve arrived at procrastination station.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Pingback: Hey, I lost my marbles – The Tiger Writer

  24. Pingback: Keeping the saw sharp for writers – Susan Taylor Brand

  25. Ahh, the dumbs. I know the dumbs have struck when I sit and stare at a blinking cursor and can’t seem to get it to move. Exercise is my favorite dumb prevention. I think of so many ideas while running. Unfortunately, I haven’t thought of way to write down those ideas while I’m running so I often forget 90% of them by the time I get home! 😀 Great advice and love the 7 tips!

    Liked by 4 people

  26. What the heck do you mean even having a smart phone NEAR you reduces your brain power….THAT IS TERRIFYING!!! When you put all these reasons together this honestly makes writing sound like a dangerous endeavor xD who new sitting by yourself could have so many side effects if you’re not careful!

    Liked by 4 people

  27. Pingback: Writing: 7 Ways to Cure the Dumbs – Author's Canvas

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