Friday, May 15, 2015

Can You Boost Your Brain Power--and Your Health--by Writing Every Day? (Yes!)

Last fall, the Harvard Business Review ran an article about the new use of story in business presentations.  Rather than Death by PowerPoint, the writer showed solid proof that stories work a LOT better to "capture people’s hearts--by first attracting their brains." 


When we engage with narrative, the studies showed, various physical functions, such as oxytoxin synthesis, improve. 


But not with just any story.  It worked best with character-driven stories.  When we hear overused phrases, our brains absorb them only as words, rather than images.  Cliches, for instance, do not cause the brain to light up nearly as much (check out the studies cited in this second article on science and storytelling). Only when the brain gets involved in a narrative--especially one with imaginative language that uses sensory detail--does it fully engage.

Science is proving that our brains love all the qualities of engaging writing:  "detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters," to cite a third article, which appeared in the New York Times. 

Stories "stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life."  That's the power of good writing!

Writing as a Way to Heal 
So, readers have it good.  Their brains get charged by story.  How about the writer who is writing the story?  Are our brains also affected as we sit in front of our laptops or notebooks and dream up great ideas?

Even older research says yes.  The act of writing, the work we do every day with our novels, memoirs, nonfiction books, has the potential to heal our brains, and our bodies. 

Many years ago, James Pennebaker, a social psychologist from University of Texas, wrote a ground-breaking book, Writing to Heal.  He shared his decades of research on the keen connection between writing and healing from trauma.  (Since then, he's received grants from NSF and NIH to study this connection.) 
Daily writing of a certain kind and quality actually reduced serious medical symptoms and promoted healing.  Physical and emotional health, not just brain power, improved.   But key to the change was the same quality of narrative, and detail, that brain researchers are finding today.

Plenty of proof to get involved in our stories every day, to sit down at the writing desk and open up our laptops or take out the pen. 

Your Weekly Writing Exercise 
Scan one or all of the three articles listed above.  Consider your own reasons for writing your book.  Freewrite answers to the following questions.  They may increase your motivation to take out your story after a long day.

How might your book-writing practice be benefiting your whole self? 

Are there areas of your life where your writing is healing you? 

Are there ways your writing allows you to be creative--perhaps for the first time?