I am fiercely protective of my writing time. Maybe too much. The other day a friend asked me to lunch. At first, I was excited about it, but as I was getting ready, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d rather work on the WIP.
This happens all the time. A friend will say, “Let’s get together.”
“Sure. Just let me finish the first draft.”
After I’m done, they say, “Now can we get together?”
“But I’m getting ready to do the first read-through.”
“Now that you’re letting the book cool, can we grab lunch?”
“Oooh, ahh, I started the next book.”
Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. I say yes more than no, but begrudgingly. And I wondered why. Why would I rather be alone with my keyboard than out with friends? Am I becoming a recluse? Why is writing my favorite activity? And why, when life prevents me from writing, do I feel off?
This, of course, sent me down a rabbit hole. Some of what I learned about creativity and the brain I remembered from writing about this topic in 2017. This time, I wanted more. Why would I rather spend time with my characters than “real” people? It’s no secret that I prefer animals to humans, but I didn’t think that mindset extended to friends.
The other day, I did go to lunch. However, when she said, “We should make this a regular thing” I immediately thought, “that depends on your definition of ‘regular’.” Sounds terrible, I know, especially after I stopped writing for a solid hour without protest when a little black bear cub visited me last week. #CutenessOverload
Let’s see what the professionals at Brain World Magazine have to say…
“Writing is seen by many psychologists as a means for the brain to know itself. The brain is sometimes referred to as a meaning-making machine, and the process of writing allows us to examine the beliefs we have accumulated, to understand how we as individuals relate to the world, and to know our own minds better. In short, writing cultivates introspection that leads to better psychological health.”
Okay. I agree with that.
“All human cultures include speech, but not all have written language, and, even today, hundreds of thousands of people around the world never learn to write. Rather, writing is a complex linguistic technology that developed only in the last few thousand years.”
Fascinating, but doesn’t answer my questions.
“Writing requires a marvelous integration of multiple cognitive functions simultaneously: hand-eye coordination, language, memory, creativity, insight, logic, spatial intelligence, and abstract thought. And it is something you can only learn through consistent practice.”
Most writers know consistency is key. The brain is a muscle that will atrophy without regular exercise. And the more we write, the more we tickle the muse. Hence why too much social media can cause writer’s block and/or procrastination.
“Writing may also serve as an indicator of brain longevity. One investigation, known as The Nun Study, conducted by the National Institute on Aging, showed a correlation between writing ability and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Reported in Neurobiology of Aging, the study looked at the lives of 678 nuns, all of whom had lived similar lifestyles, to determine what factor might account for brain health in later life.
Detailed records existed for all of the nuns, all of whom had joined the order while still in young adulthood. Each of the subjects had written an autobiography when joining the order, and their average age at the time was 22.
Researchers were able to look at the old biographical essays and assess them for linguistic fluency and complexity of content. Only 10 percent of nuns who were able to write well in their youth ended up with Alzheimer’s, while 80 percent of those with less proficient writing abilities suffered from the disease in old age.”
Did you know nuns penned autobiographies when joining the order? Do all nuns do this? I’m all for it. It just surprised me, is all. Although, writing an autobiographical essay would force the nun to detail her life and the circumstances surrounding her decision to join the order, so it’s probably therapeutic.
“The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts and subject-specific vocabulary.” In other words, writing builds the brain’s muscles, which can then be used for all sorts of cognitive activity.
As you can see, I wasn’t getting anywhere with my questions.
Next, I looked at my writing process. If you were a fly on the wall, you’d hear me belt out a few lyrics with headphones on, then I go quiet, chair-dancing, then silent, all while the fingers are pounding the keyboard. I have an absolute blast!
Could it be that simple? An increase in serotonin induces feelings of happiness. Runners chase the same euphoria. Am I addicted to having fun? I’d say “alone” but we’re not really alone, are we? We’re with our characters, who are as real to us as anyone.
Or maybe—and this is an educated guess, after all the brain studies I’ve read—when we don’t write, our creative brain misses the workout like the muscles of an athlete who isn’t training. What do you think?
If you miss more than a day or two, do you start to feel off? Or do you look forward to long stretches away from the keyboard?