6 Ways Reading Fires Up Your Writing Brain

Give your brain a roadmap and it will serve you well

Posted May 27, 2016

Our brains are amazing thinking, dreaming, imagining, and producing machines, reliant upon their masters to program, nurture, guide, and direct them. What you do—or don’t do—to stimulate, guide, and fire up your writing brain has everything to do with whether you will maximize your own genius. Luckily, summer is upon us and reading is one of the best ways to stimulate and inspire a writer’s brain, and here are six reasons why: 

  1. It uploads information to your brain about what really appeals to you, how to write the kinds of characters, scenes, and plotlines you love to read, solidifies in your mind what you think you can do, and what would be a stretch.
  2. It provides ideas: Each work you read not only offers ideas, it indoctrinates your brain with the sort of material you want to produce, which will help your brain process input and find patterns that can be very helpful when writing. 
  3. It bolsters originality: Identifying how others have handled subject matters can infuse your work with originality—especially if you take time to think harder and alert your brain as to how you can tell a unique story.  
  4. It helps your brain create a template: If you’re writing in a particular genre, it is an excellent idea to read a number of works so you can get a natural feel for how to introduce the essential elements—and how to stand out from the pack. It helps your brain observe the multiple elements involved: words, language, rhythm, narrative, dialogue, setting, scenes, pacing, and so on. You are feeding your brain data that it needs to figure out what you’re attempting to do (to recognize and replicate specific patterns) and maximize neuronal resources.
  5. It stimulates brain connectivity: Reading creates “heightened connectivity,” similar to muscle memory, in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with receptivity to language. These significant increases in connectivity were centered on hubs in the left angular/supramarginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri that correspond to regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension. Which means that your brain is actively engaged in processing what it’s reading, and this effect lasts after you stop reading.
  6. It creates embodied semantics that last five days: Greater activity in the somatosensory cortex, the area responsible for the sense of touch and embodiment, suggests that your brain has a potential mechanism for “embodied semantics”—that is, the reader putting himself (figuratively) in the story, a sensation that persisted for five days after reading a novel. That’s a great return on reading a novel, particularly when you observe the techniques the writer used to engage the brain

So line up those novels, memoirs, plays, or whatever gets your brain humming and spend your summer reading, reading, reading.

Happy Reading . . . and 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 Writer. She also coauthored Train Your Brain to Get Happy, and Train Your Brain to Get Rich.