One of the biggest conundrums faced by research scientists is finishing a way to study the abstract concept of creativity. It’s seems that in one small way, they have started to figure this out. Luckily for us, they chose writers to test and illustrate the concept. Check out the abstract or read/listen to Grammar Girl’s podcast (it’s much easier to unpack) about brain research, creativity and writing.
In order to test creativity and see what parts of the brain are activated in novice and experienced writers, researchers placed test subjects in an MRI machine, specifically a fMRI machine, known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, according to the study abstract. I’m no scientific researcher, so you’ll have to check out the abstract to learn more. But, basically, they had everyone lie down and write by hand because you can’t have a computer in the same room as the machine. Regardless, they found some pretty interesting stuff!
According to the study, the brains of practiced writers light up differently than novice writers. Specifically, the caudate nucleus which is, as Ellen Hendriksen (known as the Savvy Psychologist) explains in the Grammar Girl podcast, “a midbrain structure, which means that it evolved way ahead of the cortex and plays a role in a mind-boggling array of functions, including some really fundamental things like sleep and movement.” She also adds that “as you gain expertise, your brain economizes and automates..the task becomes automatic.”
To me (and Grammar Girl drew the same conclusions), this says one thing: Practice makes perfect. Okay, maybe not perfect. But it takes practice to get good at something. If you want to be a writer, you must write!
Another thing that interested me about the interview was the statement made by the psychologist. The “expert” writers tapped for this experiment reported that they wrote an average 21 hours per week. I wonder if this is just writing in general, or if you are working on a particular project (like a novel), then you gain that intimate knowledge of it. I easily write 40+ hours per week. The majority is my day job. And then, if I’m in the writing phase of a project, I spend about 1-1.5 hrs a day, as frequently as I can. Plus, there’s my blog which usually requires about 30 minutes to an hour to complete each week. I wonder what my brain would look like in this study?
To be honest though, you don’t have to write twenty hours a week or more to be a real writer. Maybe if you’re seeking that automatic habitual feeling that you get with other tasks like breathing and walking then you should. But, even if you only write an hour each week because that’s all you can give or all you have time for, that’s just fine. We all work at our own pace. So don’t be discouraged! 🙂 Write on.