The Brains Behind the Books
It's important for writers' brains to be in good working order. Why? Who cares? Intelligence -- or cognitive capacity -- isn't everything, right? Right.
There are fantastic artists whose strengths are their determination, perseverance and flexible, off-the-page inventive style; qualities that require hard work and faith, but not necessarily a ton of thought. While these heart and soul aptitudes are wonderful for writers, critical thinking, problem solving and elevated communication skills are equally crucial to cultivate in the creative craft.
What do we want? Brains that learn. What do we need? Minds that question and examine. What must we have? An operating system that relentlessly pursues unknown information in order to share new stories in an original way.
Oof. That's a tall order. A high bar. A set of seemingly-unattainable standards.
Or is it?
If you want to build your brain so your books blossom, read on, my friends. Read on.
I hope this doesn't shock you, but having a healthy mind is helpful when you're a writer. Before I expand, it's important to note what I mean when I use the word "healthy". If we accept that our brains -- at birth -- are designed to serve our needs, and our 'meat sack' obligation is to care for our genetically allotted aptitudes in the best possible way, then my definition of "healthy" is "the state in which your mind operates when it's peak potential is nurtured". Please don't compare its capacity to others' -- or limit what you're capable of achieving because of societal and culturally-conditioned standards. Trust that your brain is perfectly good enough already, and the growth and maintenance strategies I'm suggesting in this blog are designed to keep your mind in a place where it consistently thrives -- not push you to be something you aren't.
If you are a person who is neurodiverse, behaviourally diverse, or your IQ hovers below the average, these strategies can absolutely work for you. Neuro, behavioural and intellectual diversity doesn't fall into the "unhealthy" category, regardless of how some ill-informed humans choose to qualify it. That being said, every brain can use a little love and that's what this blog is all about -- providing a suitable external and internal environment for our writer's mind so it can flourish.
“Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn
"Because the brain controls so much of daily function, it is arguably the single most valuable organ in the human body." - World Federation of Neurology
"Optimizing brain health... not only improves mental and physical health but also creates positive social and economic impacts, all of which contribute to greater well-being and help advance society." - World Health Organization
When you have a profound realization, you need your brain mechanisms to work long and strong to see that story through to completion. When your self-assurance is assailed by differing opinions and competitive gate-keeping, knowing how to manage your thoughts can keep the doubt behind the door. When your ideas are insulted and your failings flagellated in formal forums, having the inner strength to withstand social scrutiny can help you sail those shame-filled storms. When you're faced with plot holes, clunky sentence structure and uninspired imaginings, flexible and knowledge-seeking neural pathways can dig you out of those creative holes.
Basically, a healthy mind is important if you are an artist. But how can we be our best brainy selves?
Try to integrate these different tools on a regular basis to support you mind and -- ultimately -- your writing. I'm aware of the repetition between my blogs -- ie. YOU NEED TO DRINK WATER -- but that's only because these basic caregiving tenants are neglected too often.
Protein, Whole Grains, Fruits and Vegetables: eat foods that nourish -- please
Sleep: deep sleep, preferably, so your thoughts can be converted into memory (to gain wisdom, build complex thinking patterns and improve your factual recall)
Hydration: drink water, then drink the fun stuff like tea and coffee and a tiny snifter of booze every now and then -- but YOU NEED TO DRINK WATER
Check out these great articles from Harvard Health, Forbes and Brain Health
Emotional Regulation: practice responding, not reacting -- breathing, not heaving -- feeling, then dealing
Positive Framework: every D&D dice has multiple sides -- so do opinions, impressions and criticisms; practice 'rolling your thoughts' to challenge your perceptions
Meditation to Create Space and Objectivity: yes, everything is subjective -- but striving for objectivity is better than leaning into biases
Check out these step-by-step routines from Trade Be, All Health Network and Mindful.org
Our Ego (or Persona)
Practice Non-Judgement: a quick clarification -- judgement is good, but first you need to pause, assess, then judge -- immediate judgement can come from a place of reactionary prejudice, not fact-based evidence and whole life experience
Suspend Criticism: when you observe and absorb all information through an open, inquiry-based mind you strengthen your analytical skills (and off-kilter creativity)
Approach Fears with Courage and Compassion: yeah, we all have something in our field that scares us shitless -- challenging those uncertainties with love and acceptance instead of loathing and denial gives us the opportunity to incorporate the full human experience in our writing (instead of just the safe stuff that soothes but ultimately falls flat over time)
Check out these educational resources from Art In America, Writers Edit and Simply Psychology
Games and Play: it's so important to have fun when you're a creative -- whip out those video games, do a sudoku series, finish that puzzle; your brain is building problem-solving mechanisms
Get to Know Your Readers: talk to your audience, find out what they like, discover their daily habits and incorporate them into your stories -- relating to your readers allows for more accurate specificity within your stories
Push Knowledge Boundaries (Read, Research, Risk): read books, research your story topics in detail, challenge what you know about a subject before exploring it -- when you do a little academic rigour your work goes from 'yikes' to YOWZA!
Check out these recommendations from Very Well Mind, Text Metrics and MasterClass
Thanks for blogging with me today! As always, feel free to comment below -- and maybe ask some questions. Have a great week!