As a writer, words and language are some of the most essential tools we use to tell a story. The words, phrases, sentence structure, and style we use can take us from being a writer who tells an interesting story to a superb writer who mesmerizes, surprises, and delights our readers. Turns out that learning new words and deciphering complex language are also fabulous stimuli for boosting your creativity. Here are five simple ways you can mine metaphor and language, while reading or writing, to boost your creativity.
- Read outside of your comfort zone (field, genre, usual favorites). Reading something seemingly unrelated to what you usually read or write creates and sparks neuronal connections that often lead to a “bright idea” or a fresh way of thinking about something. It can lead to that marvelous “aha” moment we all desire.
- Read complex works that require you to decipher new material. If the sentence structure or the new information is complex and causes you to have to read more slowly, with a focus on interpreting what you’re reading, your brain responds to your request for it to “work harder.” It’s like working a muscle, something that doesn’t occur if you never read anything that you have to struggle to understand or that introduces you to new concepts or new ways of thinking about things.
- Practice Close Reading. A study in which literary PhD candidates were asked to read sections of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, sometimes casually and then intently, with close, analytical concentration, they found that close reading stimulated many more areas of the brain than casually reading. It literally lit up their brain, and the scientists concluded that close reading offers a kind of cognitive training, teaching concentration and the flexibility of moving between modes of focus. It also activated parts of the brain related to movement and touch – readers were “placing themselves” within the story, and these effects tended to last five days after they read the story.
- Work on your verbs: Writing teachers insist that verbs matter. Action-specific, uniquely apt, or surprising verbs are encouraged, and there may be some benefit to using them beyond exciting the reader. Researchers at Michigan State University created a “noun-verb” test to see if they could predict how the brain comes up with unusually creative ideas. MSU neuroscientist Jeremy Gray wanted to prove that the brain works hard to form creative ideas. “Nobody learns their ABCs in kindergarten and suddenly writes a great novel or poem,” he said. Study subjects were given a series of nouns and instructed to respond creatively with a verb for each. They were then measured for creativity through a series of more in-depth methods, including story writing, drawing, and on their creative achievements in real life. Those who came up with creative verbs were those also identified as the most creative in the second part of the test, as measured by the more in-depth methods. So when you need fresh ideas, to fire up your neurons, spend fifteen minutes focused solely on creating new and different action verbs.
- Learn new vocabulary before falling asleep. Right before you sleep is a great time to break out a dictionary and learn new words. Your brain can be highly receptive and, if you spend a few minutes intentionally studying the words, your brain will continue processing—linking neurons—while you sleep. Even better, create a few sentences using the word before falling asleep.
It’s always good to fire up your writing brain, and stimulating it by reading books outside your genre or comfort zone, struggling to understand complex language and new concepts, and learning new vocabulary words, most particularly verbs, is a fun way to do it.