This is Your Brain on Books

Susan DeFcraft, fictionLeave a Comment

We all know that reading helps us gain skills and knowledge, and maybe even become better people (though of course, you can’t believe everything you read in the self-help aisle).

Which is to say, reading helps us grow new synapses, and become brainier. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the degree to which writing has taught me about the way the human brain works.

But sometimes I still am.

In my latest post for Jane Friedman, I shared three key strategies for fiction writers derived from neuroscience. This is the sort of craft post I’m always really happy to share–I think because the sheer amount of advice out there on creative writing can be so overwhelming, and it can be so freeing to learn which bits and pieces of that advice actually have some basis in fact, in terms of the reader’s brain.

But as far as writing goes, there’s another really important brain involved–yours, as the writer.

Creating and maintaining a regular writing practice often involves a whole lot of wrestling with the way your own brain works, and there are a lot of modern realities that just compound this difficulty.

I’ve seen this with my own work, and with my fellow book coaches as well, many of whom are writers.

I just spent last week with a fabulous group of these folks in Santa Barbara, as part of Author Accelerator’s annual Goal-Setting Retreat, and over and over, I heard the same thing: As our businesses have grown, it has become easier to neglect our own creative work.

For my colleagues struggling with this, I shared what I’ve found has really helped me re-establish my creative practice this year: First thing in the week, and first thing in the morning.

That’s a strategy derived from Stick with It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–For Good by Sean D. Young–specifically, principle “I” of Sean’s acronym SCIENCE, which stands for Important.

Basically, by making writing the first thing you do each week (something you focus on on Monday) and the first thing you do in the day (something you do before you start work) you send a clear message to your brain: Writing is important to me. It’s a priority.

Ideally, I do my creative work before I check email or social media, in keeping with the advice of many a productivity expert to do “one high-value thing” before checking in with these more mindless sorts of tasks.

Of course, not every writer works on the morning shift. Which is why I found myself sending off an email this morning to a client reminding her to switch her phone into airplane mode after work tonight, and to write for a half hour after dinner, no matter her word count. Because the word count is a lot less important than just turning to writing for a bit before she vegs out with social media or TV, or even with a book.

Let’s face it, writing is cognitively demanding work. That’s why it will always be easier to scroll Instagram than it will be to sit there trying to figure out what one character says to the other, or to figure out whether or not your protagonist should realize that her ex is lying to her.

That stuff is hard! But it’s also super rewarding.

And when the story you’ve so painstakingly crafted, by harnessing your brain, lodges itself forever in the brain of another?

Maybe it’s science.

Maybe it’s magic.

Maybe it’s a little of both.

Wherever you are with your writing practice, I’m wishing you all the best with it this week.

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