This is your brain…on writing

A good book often manages to wrap itself around my thoughts and feelings in a way that can compete for attention with my “real life”. Even after the last page I am left contemplating, turning over ideas and plot points in my head. Finishing a good book sometimes feels as if a friend has gone away, and I might catch a glimpse of them somewhere only to realize they are no longer here.

This kind cognitive and emotional attachment to words on a page is increasingly reinforced by scientific research about all of the exciting things that happen our brains while we read.

Research shows that reading or being told a story actually activates areas of the brain associated with written actions or events. For example, hearing a story that describes actions like kicking or running stimulates not only the language centres of the brain, but the motor cortex as well – as if you were the one doing the running. Similarly, a story can plant emotions, thoughts and ideas into the listener, manifesting brain activity patterns that parallel those of the storyteller. But not all text is created equal – an overused cliché fails to stimulate the brain in the same way that it may have when encountered for the first time.

So that’s reading – what about writing?

Whatever the effect of reading, writing takes it even further. The act of writing something down by hand brings it to the forefront of our brain, making us far more likely to remember – a key tip for anyone wondering whether it’s worthwhile to take notes in class.

Understanding this, what becomes most interesting to me is the great power and responsibilities that writers have on the ideas, images, and sentiments that they convey, knowing the impact it is having on their readers minds. I know for myself when I come away from reading something I can be left uplifted or in despair, drained or energized, cynical or hopeful. This is perhaps more so in the case of a long work like a book or novel, because it is so immersive, but even shorter articles and stories can leave me with a strong impression and emotional response.

And so I ask myself: as a writer but also as someone who wants to contribute to the betterment of individuals and the world, what responsibility do I have for the response that I words will elicit in their brains and minds? Will that change how I function as a writer, or will I allow my work to be guided by other motivations?

Check out this awesome infographic (who doesn’t love infographics!) from for a fascinating look into some of the facts I’ve mentioned, and more.