I fell asleep a lot in high school, but when I think back on it, my need to stare at my own eyelids only occurred during two class periods. First period, because I hated, hated, HATED waking up early. And if I could get away with it, I would catch a few extra minutes in first period. But this also happened in Fifth period. Periods 2,3,4,6… I was generally awake, and although I was never an amazing student, I never suffered from the narcoleptic fits of periods 1 and 5. I know I needed more sleep in 1st period, but what is the mystery of why I fell asleep in 5th period?
Fifth period is the period that comes right after lunch. As an American, you are pretty much used to accepting the lethargic, yawn-worthy, sleep deprived sensation of the post-lunch blues. But in reality, you are just taught that. You don’t have to eat the carbo/sugar/salt-laden lunches that knock you out.
This analysis is strictly for writers; but really, you can apply this to any line of work. I know if you’re an American reading this, it’s probably the last thing you want to hear, but you can get so much more out of yourself as a writer by…
Eating the Right Way to Maximize your Writing
I’m not here to tell you, stop eating from McDonald’s dollar menu (if that even still exists) or from Subway’s Eat Fresh Menu (in light of Jared Vogel’s crimes, “Eat Fresh” is probably no longer the slogan); I’m just saying, there are so many things going against you when you write, why not conquer the most simple part, at least when you’re about to start writing.
Every Writer’s Diet is Different
Everybody is different. That is the theme when it comes to this particular advice. Maybe you can eat a bunch of Snickers bars and knock out a screenplay in a few days, I don’t know, but my approach is similar to an athlete. And if you’re going for a Gold medal, you won’t throw fried chicken, sugary waters, and a dozen donuts in your stomach every time you train. You just won’t. This diet is strictly based on my experience. And I’ll tell you a secret… The Muse has never visited me when I ate like there was no tomorrow.
THE SCREENWRITER’S DIET
(to be applied before a screenwriting shift)
1. Avoid sugars. I am a caffeine junkie. I would mainline it, if I could. I try to keep my espressos to a couple a day (easier said than done). But I never put sugar in it. I don’t drink Gatorade, Coke, Vitamin Water, Red Bulls, sodas of any kind, fruit juices, any bullshit healthy drink (anything called “Smart” is a red light)… I’m not a diet expert, or a health expert, the sugar simply just knocks me out when I sit down to write. So, I just don’t have it. Yes, this includes bread (including the bread on most sandwiches).
INSTEAD: If eating tons of sugar is part of your everyday eating routine, don’t have sugar when you write. Any. Not even a grain. It’s probably in whatever you’re eating or drinking anyway. What I do is always look at the sugar content of anything I buy and if it’s higher than 8 mg per serving, I probably won’t buy it if I’m about to write.
I say this with pride…. my main beverage is water. It took many years to achieve this near impossible task. I was a chugger of sodas, juices, you name it, but now, when it’s not coffee, it’s water (which I even have when I eat junk food – if I want a gassy drink, I opt for soda water or San Pellegrino).
Why? Because water helps me write! The Muse likes to visit me after I had a glass of water. If you absolutely need flavor, squeeze a lemon or lime in it.
In terms of bread, eat Ezekiel bread, it feels great in your stomach and keeps you going. You WANT to WRITE after you’ve eaten this stuff.
2. Avoid fried or junk food. I love fried chicken as much as the next person. I really do. But when I make the mistake of ordering it before a writing shift, by the time I sit down, writing is the VERY LAST THING I WANT TO DO. That is never a feeling you want. Although fried chicken is delicious when you’re biting into that breast or thigh, you pay the price when you write. This goes for any junk food.
INSTEAD: You probably want the taste of salt more than the crispy, fried sensation of animal skin. I say, if you really crave it, have it with something super healthy. I actually apply this eating strategy when I crave the worse food. Once I ate two pieces of Popeye’s Chicken with two grapefruits. I felt no ill effects after. The trick is, the more junk food you have, the more whole fruits and/ or veggies you need to counter it. If you yawn, you have not balanced it enough and you’ll pay the price when you write.
3. Limit dairy products. Cheese, milk, butter, milkshakes, cheesecakes, mac and cheese, and so on… like 90% of foods have it, but if you want your writing shift to be intense, popping with juicy dialogue and inspiration, limit this. If you’re getting a sandwich with cheese on it, don’t ask for extra cheese, in fact, if you really want to write well, ask for NO CHEESE.
INSTEAD: Trust me, I have written under every condition. I ate badly for years before I discovered how eating affects writing. I know it’s too much to ask you to avoid dairy products. Just limit it. Don’t go crazy with piles of cheese, or cheese dips, or a four cheese pizza. I’ve seen it all. I’ve eaten it all. And then forced myself under cloggy duress to write well. Life would have been a thousand times easier if I didn’t put that stuff in my mouth, then stomach before hitting the keyboard.
4. Don’t drink alcohol. I’ve written drunk, but not for very long. I know it worked for Hemingway (who eventually blew his brains out), but it never, ever works for me. Yes, I’ve written after a glass of red wine or two, but my need to rest and chill becomes overpowering and I get a lot less done than I want.
INSTEAD: If you have to drink, do it one hour or less before your writing shift is over. I have employed this practice when I write in countries that have delicious red wine (like Portugal).
5. Eat fruits and vegetables whole. I know, its like a punishment, but it really does work. You feel it in your brain, and you just write more efficiently. I used to never eat vegetables when I was kid. I skipped it, and my parents let me do it because I absolutely refused to put anything green in my mouth.
Now, I didn’t say eat ONLY vegetables. I said, make sure its part of your lunch. The problem with veggies is that it can take a while to eat and its rarely filling. And you need a full stomach to write, especially with all the coffee you drink. So by all means, eat that crap with a piece of meat, or lentils or nuts or whatever.
HOW: “But fruits and vegetables repel me!” (you think)! Calm down. The trick is, as it took me like 25 years to learn, you have to find out which fruits and vegetables you like to eat. I like tomatoes, spinach, pineapple, but you may like something else. Find out. Chop them up and make sure they’re ready to be eaten when your stomach (and brain) is asking for more fuel. Because a good writing shift is exhausting and hunger inducing.
Get a juicer. That’s what they’re for. Juice all that crap up and have it with your burger. Somehow, get the stuff in your body and watch the Muse hang out with you longer than you imagined.
EPILOGUE: Notice I did not say not to smoke or drink coffee or do cocaine. This dissertation is only about food… you know, the things you have to put in your body everyday no matter what happens. You can’t avoid it. Not even if you’re a Super Model. At some point, you have to eat. My thing is, why not make that thing you have to maximize your writing, instead of doing the opposite, making you feel like writing is the LAST THING YOU WANT TO DO… which is what writing already feels like. Eating can be your single greatest ally. You have a choice… eat like there’s no tomorrow or write like there’s no tomorrow.
We’ve assembled all 13 of our screenwriting tips in this monster of a page to help you improve your screenwriting habits and enjoy the craft more than ever.
Written by: Norith Soth