Demystifying Book Writing III

This is more a progress report than a full-fledged update. I hit a speed bump about 36 hours ago. I started Chapter 3 but no matter what I wrote it was dull, dull, dull. I realized last night what the problem was. I didn’t know enough.  I remembered something I learned a long time ago as a teacher. In order to explain even a small point clearly I need a mountain of information. Albert Einstein said it better: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

So, it’s back to the books (or Internet) for me. I know more this morning than I did last night but the journey continues. This exercise reminds me that there is no shortcut to a responsible, well-written book. And, even if no one ever reads my book, I don’t want anything less.

Demystifying Book Writing Part II

book for mystifying blog

I am in the process of writing another small book. A particular kind of concentration is required to complete this project.  There may be people who write from pure inspiration; that’s not me.  Inspiration is essential but not enough. Information is equally important, and patience.

The idea for my book took root only a couple of weeks ago. I had been itching to start on a book for a while but needed to hit on something that grabbed my imagination. Once I got the idea it germinated for a few days. Then I started reading. As I read I began to understand what I needed to learn about my subject. At that point my plan was taking clear shape.

However, I never know if a plan has ‘legs’ until I put words down on paper. Usually I just jump in. I find pictures that are interesting, and random bits of fascinating trivia. I’ve grown familiar with my subject by this stage, so there’s context in which to place the material. This is one of the best parts about writing. I know so much more than I did,  because I’ve been studying.

I love that.

As I put material on paper the practicality of my plan is either validated or not. Often the words lead me in a path that diverges from the original plan. That’s also something I enjoy. When this happens, I’m not just writing for others; I’m also writing for myself. Often I inflict my excitement on family and start to tell them about my discoveries.  This exercise is very helpful and I am grateful to my family for the kindness they extend to me.

The need to frame my thoughts into words that make sense to other people–my family–requires discipline. Not only must I speak logically, but I have to honestly observe the reaction to what I believe to be fascinating information. If people are bored, I’m in trouble.

On the other hand, if my family shows more than polite interest in the material I share, there’s a good chance my intended audience will be engaged.

I’m pretty sure where my current book is going, what my next step has to be.  I certainly know where the book finishes (although sometimes I may be surprised by that).  The beginning is down; the path is set.  The middle will be an adventure as I follow the stepping stones, the highlights of history that will direct the story I would like to tell.

One thing I can’t lose sight of is the audience.  If the attention of the audience is lost, so too is my objective.

The way I go about writing a book certainly will not work for everyone.  My ambition in my current project is very modest.  The intended audience is young people, though I anticipate that the occasional mature reader who stumbles upon the book will not regret the experience.

I love to write.  When I’m finished with a book, I pass it on and hope it has a life of its own. For anyone who creates anything, that is a miracle every time it happens.

Creative Writing and the Brain

brain imaging activity NIH 2
These pictures show magnetic imaging impressions of brain activity. These reflect responses to specific visual stimuli. On the left, the subject was looking at faces. On the right the subject was looking at houses. The MRI frames were provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Just about everyone agrees that writing is an essential skill.  Even the most frugal educators include at least some writing instruction in their curriculum.  What modern science is teaching us is that writing is not only a skill; it is also important in brain development.

Neurologists, with the aid of imaging technology, have been able to pinpoint the areas of the brain that are activated during specific creative activity. This applies not only to writing, but also to music, drawing and even “brainstorming”, which is preparatory to creative work.

During  creative writing activity, the right and left hemispheres of the brain interact with each other.  Although creativity is considered to be  ‘right brain’ centered, it seems that to complete the creative act, the left brain has to kick in.  This phenomenon was observed not only during the writing phase, but also during the period preparatory to writing, when ‘brainstorming’ takes place.  Visualizing, imagining material to be written, precipitates  coordination of different parts of the brain.

A study from the University of Greifswald, Germany looked at brain function in experienced writers.  The individuals in this group had highly developed writing skills.  The brain images of the writers showed increased prefrontal and basal ganglia activation. Also noted in the images was an increased development in the right cuneus, which is involved in reading processes.

Another  study at the University of  Greifswald looked at the creative writing processes during various stages of the work.   The authors of the study noted changes  in brain activity as the work progressed.   In the planning, or brainstorming phase, “cognitive, linguistic, and creative brain functions mainly represented in a parieto-frontal-temporal network” were activated.  During the actual writing phase,  “motor and visual brain areas for handwriting and additionally, cognitive and linguistic areas” were activated.   The authors of the second Greifswald study were careful to distinguish between groups that engaged in creative writing  and those that merely copied material.  The verbal association and integration patterns evident in the creative writing group were not evident in the brain images of the copiers.

Traditionally, creative writing has been part of many school programs because basic writing skills are important and creative writing is considered to be a nice extra curricular activity.  Perhaps it is time to reexamine the importance placed on writing and other creative activities.  Science seems to show that brain development is enhanced by exposure to creative exercise, whether that exercise is in writing, music or art.  Each of these areas seems to activate different parts of the brain.   Educators–and that certainly includes parents–should consider the evidence and think about considering creative activity to be as essential as the established pillars of education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

the three rs John_Chippendall_Montesquieu_Bellew
Master of one of the three Rs, John Chippendall Montesquieu Bellew. Here Mr. Bellew is giving a public reading. He enjoyed a reputation for being a great orator. Image derived from a cartoon, 1873. Copyright expired.