How to kill editorial brain drain, part 1 of 2

Brain!!Thousands of choices every day. That’s our life as an editor. Constantly, constantly choosing between This and That. Weighing options of What I Want… versus What I Actually Have… What They Want, versus What I Think They Want… What I Think Is Possible versus What Is Actually Possible. Take all those, jumble them around in varying orders and balances, and you have editing.

All those choices take a toll on the editor. If you approach a typical day of editing with even a moderate amount of focus and concentration, you will end up tired.

This isn't me. But that's what I did. Great big stacks of bales on the trailer and later up in the hay loft of the barn.
That isn’t me, but that’s what I did. Great big stacks of bales on the trailer and later up in the hay loft of the barn.

Focused, applied mental work is every bit as tiring as manual physical labor, in some ways even more so. And in case you’re wondering whether I’ve ever done anything other than sit on my butt for a living, the answer is yes – I helped local farmers bale and stack hay when I was in high school, and I spent my first two years in college working at a lumber yard packing semi trucks by hand in 100 degree summers with 80% humidity. I get the physical labor thing.

These days, though… at the end of a day of editing, I’m mentally drained. I’m ready to go home and begin the process of refreshing my mind and my energy for the next day’s edit. Oh, and have a life outside the edit bay too. Talk with my wife, have dinner, walk the dog.

Sadly, I don’t have a solution to eliminating editorial brain drain. It’s pretty much an occupational hazard. Having said that, here are three ideas to help minimize it and keep your creativity flowing throughout your entire edit.

IDEA 1 OF 3: Give yourself breaks.

That whole sitting at the console for hours on end without a break? That’s for the BIRDS, my friend. New research abounds on why sitting is killing you, and why extended sitting is the new smoking. Plus, for those of us constantly hitting the keys and rolling a mouse around the table, extended sitting takes an additional toll on our eyes and various parts of our hands, arms, or shoulders.

I use this. Super simple, big numbers. Click on the picture to get it on Amazon.
I use this. Super simple, big numbers. Click on the picture to get it on Amazon.

One of my most important editorial tools is a $13 kitchen timer with great big numbers. It sits right in front of me all day long. When my butt hits the chair, I start the timer rolling. When it reaches 55 minutes, I take a break. Period. If I don’t, my eyes get bleary, and my wrists start complaining.

Take regular breaks. Ya gotta do it. Especially for those of us who are no longer 21.

IDEA 2 OF 3: If possible, do your heavy mental lifting first thing in the morning or right after lunch.

Your mental energy is like the gas tank in your car. It starts full, and immediately begins emptying. Your best concentration comes after you’ve filled up the tank – by eating – in the morning and after lunch.

gavelOther than the above idea jiving with my own personal experience, it’s also been examined closely by the National Academy of Sciences. A fascinating study asked the question, “Does eating and the time of day affect judicial rulings in parole hearings?” The answer is a resounding YES. Believe it or not, judges were more likely to rule favorably right after they had a snack or meal break. Crazy yet true story from a blog post by James Clear, passed along to me by a member of the Power Edit Academy.

So for us editors, be aware of your snack and meal breaks. And for the sake of yourself and your work, TAKE THEM.


There we have it, ideas one and two out of three to keep your mental energy flowing throughout the day. To be sure, these kinds of ideas aren’t directly about editing. But they lay down the mental and physical highway for me to cruise through my edit, creating living, breathing stories by the use of creative strategies that you can learn more about here. And if you like the idea of hanging out people who are serious about learning and applying those kinds of strategies, then you should join us here.

And stay tuned for next post on the third idea of how to battle the brain drain. This idea is entertainingly controversial to many folks, and they will quite likely get their panties in a wad over it. It’ll be fun.

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