Susan Reynolds

Prime Your Gray Cells

5 Ways to Crystallize Your Intelligence Around Writing

How to become a more creative, productive, and successful writer

Posted Dec 08, 2015

Your brain has the ability to crystallize intelligence, i.e., to bolster neuronal connections related to specific tasks, particularly those that you do regularly. When writing is the task, there are five things you can to do bolster neuronal networks and thereby fire up your writing brain.

Courtesy of Gabe and Amanda Phoenix
Source: Courtesy of Gabe and Amanda Phoenix
  1. Create a small world network centralized around writing. As you grow, your brain both prunes what you don’t need and begins to form what one neuroscientist called a “vast neuronal forest of the cortex around what you do need, or choose.” The cortex is the “thinking” part of your brain, and the way it works is that neurons stimulated around the same time or around the same subject tend to group together and form strong, interlinked networks that will then “fire together.” If you build a vast neuronal forest around writing in general, you can bolster your writing skills significantly, simply because you’ve added lots of new trees and branches to what your brain knows about writing. And the more you fire up those webs, the better ideas you’ll have while writing and the stronger the forest will grow. Think of it as sinking roots and expanding branches.
  2. Choose A Topic That Excites You: Your neurons construct elaborate networks in response to frequent cognitive activity, such as writing. The more these neurons are fired up, the more they wire together, formulating a complex, multilayered web of synapses that grow stronger and more complex with use. It’s the practice of firing up those neurons that causes them to increase their outreach and to create new and more unique connections. You have writing genius at your disposal, but you have to make a conscious decision to use it to its fullest advantage, and one great way to do that is to choose a topic that really gets your juices flowing, something that has a certain urgency, something you’re somewhat obsessed with, something that’s important to you. The passion for what you’re writing about will ignite those neurons, initiating the sort of “global excitation” that spurs original thought, surprising and unique connections, and the desire to re-create those feelings. Basically passion energizes your brain, gets it fired up, and makes it sharper than usual. Writing about something you feel strongly about provides the neuronal juice that will make writing a pleasure and will likely result in your best work. If you have to write about things that aren’t deeply and personally important to you, then get excited about the craft and art of writing, and be passionate about your abilities to tell a good story and what your resourceful brain brings to the table. If you can’t love the topic, love what you do, and help your brain feel excited about it. And if all that doesn’t do the trick, at least choose something that grips you like a vise.
  3. Stimulate your brain. It’s important to be constantly adding information and taking extra efforts to link information. Ways to do that include expanding your knowledge base, studying your craft, reading works similar to what you want to write and genres or styles that are far different from what you want to write. Reading all types of material, especially poetry, essays, and “high brow,” complex literature, taxes and challenges your brain, which kicks your thinking cortex into overdrive. All of this extra work creates a stronger neuronal network based around knowledge that will come in very handy when next you write.
  4. Practice “deep reading”—defined as reading that is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity—is distinctive from light reading—little more than the decoding of words. Deep reading occurs when the language is rich in detail, allusion, and metaphor, and taps into the same brain regions that would activate if the reader were experiencing the event. Deep reading is great exercise for the brain and has been shown to increase empathy, as the reader dives deeper and adds reflection, analysis, and personal subtext to what is being read. It also offers writers a way to appreciate all the qualities that make novels fascinating and meaningful—and to tap into his ability to write on a deeper level.
  5. Write in cursive, on good paper to encourage slow thinking. As opposed to fast thinking, slow thinking involves reasoning and careful consideration (metacognition, thinking about thinking). It tames impulsive, unfocused thinking. The simple act of writing in cursive tends to slow how quickly your brain processes your thoughts, and this can be very helpful when seeking emotional depth and when brainstorming.

So get busy doing whatever it takes to crystallize your intelligence around writing and the topic you are writing about and your writing will soon reflect however much effort you put into it.

Happy Writing!

Susan Reynolds is the author of Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful WriterShe also coauthored Train Your Brain to Get Happy, and Train Your Brain to Get Rich.