Breakfast Of Verbal Champions: How The Writer Starts His Day

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January, twenty-ten. Time to hit the ground running and penetrate your perimeter with some more writing advice (thatyoushouldprobablyignore).

So I’m sitting here thinking — well, where to begin? I could just lurch forward, hip-waders on, and see where I land. And yet, should I hope to begin on something more fundamental, that wouldn’t really do it.

I figure, go to the beginning.

What? The first words of the day? Nothing comes before those.

Except — hey! Holy shit! Something does!

Well, a lot of things do — wake up, feed the dogs, perform the morning constitutional, design the diabolical blueprints for instigating the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse — but one thing in particular comes before you set fingers to keys or pen to paper in the morning.

Food.

Breakfast, in particular.

Let’s begin there. Let’s begin with a writer’s breakfast.

The Writer’s Diet

Hello! I Brought You This! Writers, creators, artists — we maybe don’t eat as well as we should. We sit, like cubes of quivering bacon fat, for hours at an end. We put into our mouths whatever is nearest — bag of chips, some leftover cookies, a French fry under the wheel of the office chair, a USB key. Rarely something healthy.

The goal is, by starting your day off in a way that isn’t heart-clogging or body-destroying, you’re getting off on the right foot.

Further, it’s worth considering that if you’re one of those writers who has a hard time Getting His Shit Together, you might want to cast a wary eye at your diet. If you shove dead leaves and pig’s blood into your car, it won’t run — I mean, unless it’s a car that runs on some kind of crazy Druid alchemy. The fuel matters. You want your brain to go and your fingers to go clack-clack-clack, you better prime the pump and give it the right gas.

Oh, by the way, to be clear: I’m not a nutritionist. Or a nutritionologist? A foodspert? A victualographer? A nutrifoodist? I dunno. What I’m trying to say is: I’m good with words.

Obviously.

So, you can take or leave my advice as the meanderings of an imbecile. (Though, I’d hope that such a caveat is implicit across every post on this blog.)

Back to the point: you write. You write with your brain and body. You can’t seem to get that shit going, it might be the way you start your day.

Super Sugar Shit Bombs

Just A Spoonful of Sugar Sugar is awesome if you’re going to, say, run or jump or swordfight a dude atop some powerlines. You’re not going to do those things. Sure, you might write about those things. Not exactly the same, though.

See, if you eat sugar and then, mmmm, go absolutely nowhere and do absolutely nothing but move your little fingers, you’re going to die in the water. That sugar’s going to look for some kind of exercise to burn it off, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s going to release Hypnotic Sleep Chemicals into your brainstream, and evil life-sucking elf-cells will start attacking your Motivation Centers.

And that’s good science.

(It’s not good science.)Off With Their Heads

Regardless of my dubious grip on biology, I have it essentially right. Intake complex carbs and your body can’t burn it off, and you’ll get fuzzy-headed and slumbery, like a bear with a fat belly and a winter gale howling outside the cave. This plainly doth not make for good writing.

You want a little sweetness in the morning?

Eat some fruit.

Dried fruit isn’t bad, either, as long as it’s not processed food-style — meaning, does it have an ingredient list? Does that ingredient list include something more than, say, “Fruit that is fucking dried?” Then don’t eat it.

In fact, most processed foods are going to be complex enough that your body is going to expend too much energy untying that tangled knot. It’s like a kid who gets frustrated with a knot in his shoelaces (or, like when I get frustrated with a knot in my shoelaces). That’s no good.

Fruit, simply put, is your pal.

“Oatmeal” Rhymes With “Goat Squeal”

And everybody loves the ear-warming sounds of a melodious goat squeal!

Okay, probably not.

What I’m trying to say is, oatmeal isn’t a bad deal when it comes to breakfast food. It apparently has a lot of health benefits (antioxidants, cholesterol attacker, whatever), and while that’s all well and good, I’m talking about oatmeal simply as “fuel for writerly awesomeness.”

When I eat oatmeal, I find that I have good energy, but even better, I’m not crazy hungry. I can last a while on oatmeal, especially if you toss a little something-something into the oatmeal — fruit, nuts, the placenta of a Pegasus, whatever floats your boat.

So, you want a good, easy opener to your breakfast — go oatmeal.

Fiber, protein, good stuff.

If you do instant oatmeal, be aware that it has a higher Glycemic Index (also known as: “Elf-Cell Hypno-Quotient”), and you’ll feel that faster. Further, some instant oatmeal is heavily processed. And processed food is basically garbage-flavored food science rather than, y’know, straight-up food.

I’m Totally Eggcited About The Eggpocalypse!

I Am The Egg Man (Or, Hey, fuck cholesterol.

Eggs are good food.

Protein is magic. Fry up some eggs, or scramble them, and put them on some whole wheat toast with just a little butter. Real butter, not fake butter. (In case you missed it: Real Foods Take On Fake Foods. This is a very important thing to read, so read it. I’ll wait.)

Seriously. Love the egg. Love the fact that it will keep you from being hungry. Eggs are also brain food.

Caffeine Kick To The Dome

Coffee: The Enemy of Daylight Savings Time Say what you want about caffeine — it’s good stuff. I use it. I love it. I NEED IT. COFFEECOFFEECOFFEEJUMPJUMPTWITCH.

Okay, it’s not really like that. Like most things, everything in moderation. I drink one good-sized cup of coffee (12-16oz?) a day. That’s it. If I need more caffeine, I’ll go with some green tea. No soda. Soda is the Devil. You may think soda isn’t the Devil, but trust me — that’s how the Devil works. He plays his fiddle, and you’re all like, “That can’t be the Devil! He’s got fiddlin’ skills like an angel!” Well, duh. The Devil was an angel! That’s how he rolls, that fiddlin’ fucker.

Soda may have a caffeine kick, but it also has a crap-ton of sugar (30-50g), and that sugar is quite likely of the “we molested corn with science until it yielded cheap sweetness” variety. Sure, some science says that corn syrup is just like any other sugar. Of course, some of that science is paid for by the Corn Lobby, which is a big, angry beast with lots of government money stuffing its wallet. Other science will handily tell you that this shit is bad voodoo and gives children the die-uh-beed-us.

Coffee — if you believe Ben Franklin — was like, a super-panacea (redundant, shut up). I wish I could find something on the Internet that confirmed this, but I remember Franklin writing about all the magical health benefits of coffee (and beer, if I recall). Damn you, Internet, for failing me. Or, damn you brain, for lying to me. Either way, coffee is said to have some health benefits, and so does tea, so nyah. Bleah. Blargh.

The Point Is, Don’t Gorge

Eating a huge meal will bog you down. Eating lots of refined sugars and complex carbs will similarly force you to slog through the mental mud. Fiber, protein, and a little bit of caffeine should — if you’re like me — give you the proper “lightning bolt up the ass” you need to commit words to page.

Further, keep some light snacks around — again, nuts, dried fruit, stuff like that. You get a little peckish, dart out a greedy paw and insert Awesome Food into Open Maw.

Tab A, Slot B. Boom.

Don’t skip breakfast, either. It’s like driving to work with your tank on the ‘E.’ Never know when the car might stall and leave you stranded. Where you will be raped to death by hillfolk and their pet bears.

Oh, and maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t write in the morning.

That’s your business, but me? I like to get going early. I like to knock my work out as soon as I can, so anything above that is Bonus Points — icing on the word cake. Y’dig?

Eat right, and bang out the words early.

Happy eating, happy writing. Nerds.

22 comments

    • No fake bacon (facon)! Fake bacon is food science, not food! Either eat bacon and be comfortable with it, or eat no bacon at all. That is my motto. And you’ll follow it, or I’ll come to your house and push you down a set of cellar steps. I will. I’ll do it. (I won’t do it.)

      — c.

  • January 4, 2010 at 7:58 AM // Reply

    Eggs make me want to fall asleep. Seriously. I just had a hard-boiled egg and two slices of wheat toast, and I could curl up on the couch and pass out right now and I’ve only been awake for an hour and a half.

    Then again, the fact that I’m carrying a passenger might have something to do with that too… Does eating for two + eating for writing = eating for a small army?

    • Maggie:

      Your body is not your own. It has been taken over by the demanding spirit of a nascent soul. I can not be your sherpa for foodlightenment, lest your burgeoning passenger kick a whole in your womb and come find me to destroy me.

      — c.

  • It’s chicken bacon (Chicken – the other animal with an identity crisis. I refer to the dissertation on turkey by Mitch Hedberg… except I can’t find a link). Maggie’s gallbladder can’t handle the fat content of lean bacon right now, so we have chicken/turkey until then. It is not fake in the fact that is not meat, just that it is not pig.

    Also, you’ll have to dig me a celler (You will do it).

    • This is where I get on my soapbox.

      This is where you’re free to walk away and ignore my mumblings as if I’m deranged.

      Chicken bacon does not exist.

      A chicken has no part of it that exists as bacon. A pig has many; a chicken none.

      What that means is that the chicken or turkey bacon is a food science product, which means your body must do extra laps in breaking it down and making it usable. Western diseases (diabetes, cancer, heart disease) are quite likely the result of the over-processing of food.

      It speaks to that link I posted:

      Bacon – pork, sugar, salt, spices

      Turkey Bacon – Turkey,mechanically separated turkey, water, sugar, salt, contains less than 2% of sodium lactate, canola oil, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphates, smoke flavor, sodium erythorbate (made from sugar), autolyzed yeast extract, sodium nitrite

      If chicken and leanness is on the agenda, you could always do something like chicken sausage. Preferably from a local butcher, but Aidell’s looks like it has a reasonable ingredients list (meaning, ingredients I largely recognize) —

      Ingredients
      Organic Chicken, Organic Dried Apples, Sodium Lactate (from Beets), Organic Apple Juice, Sea Salt Organic Spices and Celery Powder in a Natural Pork Casing.

      Again, feel free to ignore my ramblings. Your diets are your own. I will only add that by choosing to eat more naturally (“organically” is meaningless, as it’s a politicized lobbyist term now), I’ve lost weight, lowered my cholesterol, and feel healthier (even though the food is sometimes “worse” by modern nutritional science standards). As has been pointed out many times, food has changed more in the last 50 years than in the last 5000. Which ain’t necessarily a good thing.

      Stepping off soapbox now.

      :)

      — c.

  • January 4, 2010 at 8:38 AM // Reply

    My diet normally consists of grain cereals, whole wheat bread, and citrus fruits. That’s all my gallbladder allows me to eat on a regular basis. (Get it, regular?) Occasionally, I’m permitted chicken strips, hard boiled eggs and bacon-style strips of other animals (turkey, chicken, etc), but that’s it.

    I’d eat turkey and chicken as they were meant to be eaten — charred black over a campfire while dirty, naked people cavort and fight around it — but I’d have to pop a dozen Demerol shortly thereafter, or die of pain as my gallstones rose up in rebellion and overthrew my tyrannical diet.

    While there may be no part of a chicken or a turkey that can be called “bacon”, I’m seven months pregnant, dammit, and I love bacon. Let me have my illusions, for the love of god. :P

  • My breakfast this morning consisted of an orange, a banana and orange juice. I fired up the coffee machine the red-hot second I arrived at the day job office.

    Seems to be how I roll lately.

  • I know what you speak of was directed at the writing community, but I find a lot of this good advice for anyone doing anything…but I’ll narrow my scope to any creative process. Photography is what I do, and I find diet to be among the best things I can do for my mind. After all, without a well ticking clear mind, I struggle with my photography.

    Thanks for the wisdom and insight, great and wise Wendig.

  • January 4, 2010 at 1:37 PM // Reply

    Oatmeal: Boil water to make green tea. Get out cereal bowl and add 1 part oatmeal to 2 parts green tea. Add flavorings you like – I add cinnamon, ginger, sage. Cook for a minute in the microwave or until it starts forming a big bubble (don’t let it escape the dish) Add a combination of fruit, seeds, nuts. Can sprinkle some chocolate chips on top. If you use dried fruit, you can go forever without grocery shopping

    • Ruth:

      I’m into that recipe. I’ll try it out — thanks!

      Travis:

      Always glad to profess my wisdom, which is usually wrong, but once in a while might be right. :)

      — c.

  • January 4, 2010 at 2:05 PM // Reply

    There’s a physiological reason for an expectant mom to be tired after eating. Her heart has to pump enough blood to meet her own needs and those of the baby but if mom lies down after eating, her body doesn’t have to work so hard returning the blood from her feet to her heart while some of her blood has been diverted to the digestive system to process what she’s just eaten.

  • January 5, 2010 at 11:26 AM // Reply

    Due to the process of weening myself off proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, etc.), my eating habits have strayed toward, “anything that doesn’t set my stomach on fire or make me want to curl up and die,” of late.

    However, non-citrus juices have been my best friend lately, since cutting back on diet soda is part of the plan to keep my stomach from rebelling again. Not exactly the best thing ever, but it /is/ no-sugar added juice.

    Baby steps, damnit. Baby steps. . .

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