What if the secret to writing well is in how you think about the story, not just how you write it?
Lotze asked 28 non-writers to copy some text from a page as well as finish a story based on a prompt, all while they were hooked up to an MRI machine. When it came to copying text, he didn’t see much activity in the participants’ brains. When they were coming up with a story, however, some of the vision-processing regions of their brains lit up, almost as if they saw their tale unfold.
While visualizing your story may seem like the right way to approach writing, it turns out that for full-time writers, the brain performs a bit differently. When Dr. Lotze watched writers from a competitive creative writing program perform the same tests, he found that experienced writers, while brainstorming, used parts of their brains associated with speech instead of vision.
That’s right: if you’re a professional writer, chances are you think about how you would describe a scene rather than envisioning the scene itself, using an entirely different part of your brain. Novice writers, Lotze suggests, are more likely to watch the story unfold like a movie inside their heads.
Could changing how you think make you a better writer?
Even more interesting, Lotze found that professional writers used the caudate nucleus of their brains while they wrote. What the heck is the caudate nucleus? It’s the part of the brain you use for things that might have been difficult to learn at first, but over time have become automatic. In other words, it suggests creative writing is a skill you can hone over time, just like playing sports — a skill that ultimately gets easier.
[bctt tweet=”Creative writing is a skill you can hone over time, research suggests.”]
While the Times reports that some other experts aren’t quite convinced Lotze’s experiment is an accurate representation of creativity, there are a few takeaways for writers from this experiment. When you’re brainstorming your next creative writing project, consider thinking about how you’ll articulate the tale to others rather than visualizing your characters and their actions.
And perhaps more importantly, write often. If creative writing is a skill your brain learns over time, then like anything else, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
What do you think — are you more likely to visualize a scene or think about how you’d describe it?