BRAINOUT: writing when the brain is OFF

What do you do when the brain is so off that you start looking at cat videos on the net?

It is writing time. I’m awake. But I surf because I can read, and not yet write. It is hard to explain: showing up, butt-in-chair, is just not enough if your actual brain doesn’t work when you’re there.

Days like today, in which the brain fog is worse than usual, are a hallmark of ME/CFS.

There is SOMETHING there, or I wouldn’t be even this coherent.

When I tell you that the thing I used to enjoy most about myself, the thing that made all the other minor insults of life bearable, was the quickness of mind that I had had since birth, you can see how much this hurts.

Losing your mind

When I came down with CFS, I lost the thing that made me ‘special,’ that made indignities like being big and tall and clumsy (relative to the cute, petite, social, well-turned out young Mexican ladies I grew up with) less important. I had brains; and while they weren’t particularly valued, they were enjoyable.

I spent my childhood optional hours with my nose in a book. I was good at that, found solace there – as many odd children do. I assumed one day I’d write books. I am sitting here right now, writing a book.

Except that today I can’t. I hope it isn’t CAN’T so much as CAN’T YET – and that the brain clears up enough to write with it soon enough so I get something written today, maybe followed by doing something useful (the paperwork mound is getting to the dangerous stage, and I really, really need to do some housekeeping).


It is a curious thing to watching your own brain, your most precious possession (what? yours isn’t your most precious possession?), make abortive attempts to connect with itself, right before your very eyes (?).

If it were occasional, I’d blame it on drugs. Or the weather. Or a bad night. Or the sugar I ate yesterday (only I didn’t HAVE sugar yesterday, or even this week).

But it is a daily occurrence, one which often clears away for a while and allows me to write. But not always.

And never reliably: I can’t count on my SELF.

Maybe I’m too self-aware. I over-analyze. My mother used to say I thought too much.

It is either that, though, or, through the luck of the surf, finding something online that somehow kicks my mind into gear.

Or merely the passing of enough time in my life that something else happens.

A new name for it: BRAINOUT

It is a very odd state. Even being able to write this much (it’s almost 1pm, and I’ve been up since 7am, already had one nap – and I cannot for the life of me figure out how long that nap was) indicates some neurons must be firing.

Calling this brain fog is a misnomer.

I’d like to propose a new name: brainout. Like whiteout. Or what happens in the desert during a sandstorm.

BRAINOUT: sitting around calmly, in no particular pain or distress, waiting for the brain, through some mysterious process known only the the body, to change from a state of quiescence to one in which it is actually capable of thought. And work. And writing the damn novel.

For anyone curious, this is ABSOLUTELY NOT WRITER’S BLOCK.

I am not at all blocked. My process is waiting for the neurons to fire, and then it will proceed with the next piece of this scene, which I have been planning along with the 8-scene arc that it starts.

I am in a good place. I know that following the process is interesting, and fun, and always, so far, has resulted in text that I can be proud of (YMMV – but that’s your problem).

I KNOW what I’m doing in the writing. I have the time. I just can’t focus, drag the brain out of brainout, enough to put words on paper.

I feel like Proust, micro-analyzing myself and my brain state like this, but what else can I do? This is writing time, and it’s going to be used for writing even if all I could manage would be to type a string of as: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Well, that didn’t hurt much. I will go see if the brainout is over.

If you have these fugue CFS states, what the heck do you do to get out of them?


5 thoughts on “BRAINOUT: writing when the brain is OFF

  1. Tamara Staples

    Alicia, are you drafting this novel for the first time? I have a theory that rough drafting is easier for me and editing is where I run into troubles, but I haven’t tested that. It seems that editing requires more brain energy. Since it is almost November and I am itching to draft a new novel for NaNoWriMo (I have missed the last two years because I was too sick), I am thinking of putting my WIP on hold and seeing if I can get anywhere drafting a new novel. It may be a dismal failure, but I might as well try. 🙂


    1. ABE Post author

      Slow and steady wins the race – for me. You do what works for you. You’re your own boss – and your only boss. It is both frightening and exhilarating.

      A month isn’t that long to commit to something new. I’d just ask myself if, at the end of the month, you know what you will do with each of the unfinished pieces.

      Maybe your subconscious wants you to take a stab at a particular idea?

      I can’t count on myself enough to try 50,000 words – and it isn’t the way my brain works, but for some people it is very freeing. More power to them. Hope one of them is you – and you have a blast if you decide to try. Let me know.

      Me? I’m doing the exact opposite of drafting this novel for the first time: I have been working for 13 years now with basically the same story, characters, and plot. I’m just slow.


      1. Tamara Staples

        I don’t know if trying to rough draft a new novel is the answer. I guess the question I am asking myself is what matters most to me. The answer that keeps coming back is that I love the process of creating stories. I love when I begin with an idea and my characters take off and go places I never imagined. It is exhilarating.

        Do I care if I ever get published or if anyone ever reads what I have written? Yes, to some extent. But I care more that I find a way to keep enjoying the process of creating.

        I feel for you, Alicia. I have only had ME for 2 1/2 years. I can’t imagine a decade from now if I am still unable to write. 😦


  2. currankentucky

    O my gosh, I can’t believe I just stumbled on you and this post. I love it, love it love it, for all the wrong reasons. I know the brainout thing, I hate it, Ive ME too, pain in the ass. I used to read, I loved to read, I cant read anymore I forget the plot, hell I forget appointments never mind books. I go through days of complete brain deadedness, nothing will come out, its up there, its stuck but it wont come out, today is one of those days and for me, theres no getting around it, I just have to accept todays a bad day. And hope tomorrow the fountain will work again and in a day or so it will, it always does. Ride out the storm and come back strong. (:


    1. ABE Post author

      It’s so good to connect with people who know what you’re talking about.

      You can love my post for any reason you like.

      I throw them up there out of a sense of despair sometimes – but I’m not letting this thing take all of ME (which is why I don’t like the ME new name – confusing). Fight on!



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