This morning I was reading a book about writing. It’s a subject that I enjoy reading about–when I’m not actually writing. I like to read nonfiction the way that a lot of people read fiction, because it gives me a chance to imagine myself as the subject of a different reality.
In this case, the book was bouncing along, recommending techniques for breaking the dreaded vacuum of procrastination. I have my own techniques, and I’ll tell you about them sometime if you’re interested, but I appreciate the opportunity to see what other people do when they’re faced with the same sucking black hole that looks like the desire to face anything but a clean white screen.
Then I was jarred out of my fantasy as soon as the author started talking about recommended ways to reward yourself for regaining focus. As I understood it, the idea was to write for a set length of time, and them give yourself some indulgent treat to reinforce the positive associations. And then he launched into a recipe for matzo ball soup!
Suddenly the engagement was off, and I could no longer see myself in the character of the writer receiving useful advice. All I could imagine was the thick, soggy mound of flour ruining a perfectly nice bowl of chicken soup.
The author of the book went on to recommend ice cream and other carbohydrate-rich foods, never once mentioning any of the healthier foods I might naturally gravitate toward, such as bacon, cheese, or a spoon of peanut butter. All I could do was imagine the effect that pile of dense carbohydrates would have on my system if I were in the middle of something mentally challenging.
But carbohydrates are still thought of as the go-to treat and the cure-all for all disease in our society still. Not a big surprise, since we’ve had more than 50 years of education and “common sense” telling us that grains are good for you, and sugar is a better low-calorie alternative to heavy fatty foods. Our bodies may be genetically hard-coded to gravitate toward even tiny traces of sweetness in foods, but the high-carbohydrate low-fat diet that’s been the staple of our existence for more than a century has proven that health doesn’t come on a flour bun with sugar on top.
I suppose I’m just too sensitive to the issue. I’ve spent much of my creative writing energy working through my own issues with carbohydrates, and come out the other side amazed at how addictive and yet repulsive these things I used to consider treats actually are.
If I were advising a frustrated writer about how to reward herself for getting through her procrastination, I would focus on movement, music, and museums for inspiration. There’s no value to feeding yourself something starchy and sugary when you’re trying to tempt out your creative side. Sugar is a drug, and it may spark a false sense of inspiration that will let you down once you read back what you wrote in your jittery moment of enthusiasm. And starch will just pacify you and dull your senses, putting you closer to sleep than to your goals.
It’s going to take a while before we stop using carbohydrate-rich foods as a stand-in for the rewards our bodies and our minds truly deserve. If you’ve come across examples of writers substituting sweets and starches for genuine rewards, I’d love to see some other examples. The more attention we pay to the phenomenon, the easier it will be to call it out and stop it from infecting a new generation seeking support through difficult times.