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.



For the Telling

How amazing is the power of stories.

Today in my training session we touched on the idea about the power of example in imparting positive behavior in the kids that we work with – this is true, and it is almost a silent teacher that speaks louder than words, as so often the tone for the group is set by our own example.

But we also distill the example of an action or an experience – at least a certain perspective of it – in the stories we tell of them.

Often we relay stories almost unconsciously, as a mere discursive act, but today I paid a little more attention. I noticed that in a few moments I related stories of my own and others’ experiences working with their kids. At another instant, I relayed a story from a book that I read yesterday. I later found myself in a conversation about an obscure BBC documentary I watched last week, which my strange coincidence this friend had also recently seen.

Interestingly, I found those stories from my own experience to be most helpful to people to others, and likewise I was eager to hear their own. They stood for the crystallization of hours and weeks and months of effort and striving to do something that we are all striving together, and reflected back to us all in a mere few minutes – not in fragments, but reconstituted artfully into a coherent whole.

In the telling, it struck me that what we immerse ourselves in rises most closely to the surface of what we have to share with the world, and in fact, it often comes out as if by its own will. It is almost as if we are impelled to share it as a means to process our own reflections and observations on our experience, as we integrate it into our evolving conceptual framework.

And herein lie two reflections.

First, we need to be conscious and conscientious with what we surround ourselves with every day, and also recognize how quickly we can learn things. If I fill my days and hours with advertisements and television shows and empty consumption, that is all that I will have in me to share. But if I really want to become a part of something, to know more about it, to master it, by making every effort to surround myself in it, it becomes part of me.

Second, these are stories worth telling, even if only for our own expression. And always in the process we discover much more, as the very structures of thought appear to transmute under the grounding weight of new words. While my reason keeps refuting this simple assertion, I keep finding my way back to stories, and they to me – because every time, something is found.