Your brain has the ability to crystalize intelligence, i.e., to bolster neuronal connections related to an activity you do regularly and the thinking and memory required to do so. To become a better writer, here are 4 things you can to do bolster neuronal networks and thereby fire up your writing brain.
- Create a small world network centralized around writing. As you grow, your brain both prunes what you don’t need and begins to form what one neuroscientist called a “vast neuronal forest of the cortex around what you do need, or choose.” The cortex is the “thinking” part of your brain, and the way it works is that neurons stimulated around the same time or around the same subject tend to group together and form strong, interlinked networks that will then “fire together.” If you build a vast neuronal forest around writing in general, you can bolster your writing skills significantly, simply because you’ve added lots of new trees and branches to what your brain knows about writing. And the more you fire up those webs, the better ideas you’ll have while writing and the stronger the forest will grow. Think of it as sinking roots and expanding branches.
- Stimulate your brain. It’s important to be constantly adding information and taking extra efforts to link information. Ways to do that include expanding your knowledge base, studying your craft, reading works similar to what you want to write and genres or styles that are far different from what you want to write. Reading all types of material, especially poetry, essays, and “high brow,” complex literature, taxes and challenges your brain, which kicks your thinking cortex into overdrive. All of this extra work creates a stronger neuronal network based around knowledge that will come in very handy when next you write.
- Practice “deep reading”—defined as reading that is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity—is distinctive from light reading—little more than the decoding of words. Deep reading occurs when the language is rich in detail, allusion, and metaphor, and taps into the same brain regions that would activate if the reader were experiencing the event. Deep reading is great exercise for the brain and has been shown to increase empathy, as the reader dives deeper and adds reflection, analysis, and personal subtext to what is being read. It also offers writers a way to appreciate all the qualities that make novels fascinating and meaningful—and to tap into his ability to write on a deeper level.
- Write in cursive, on good paper to encourage slow thinking. As opposed to fast thinking, slow thinking involves reasoning and careful consideration (metacognition, thinking about thinking). It tames impulsive, unfocused thinking. The simple act of writing in cursive tends to slow how quickly your brain processes your thoughts, and this can be very helpful when seeking emotional depth and when brainstorming.
The more you crystalize your intelligence around the act of writing and the topic you are writing about, the easier it will be to fire up your writing brain when you need it.