Writing requires creativity and a style of thinking that increases brain plasticity. This is a good thing. A brain with more plasticity is a brain that can retrieve information (memories, words, references, etc.) with greater speed and accuracy than a brain with less plasticity. This is because writing, especially expert writing, is introspective. When you begin to put words and sentences onto the page, you necessarily trigger memories associated with the words that you write and the references that you make. Furthermore, this process can sometimes set off a domino effect that leads to a chain of other memories, words and sensations.
This brings to mind Swann’s Way, one of the most influential and beautifully written novels of the twentieth century. Moreover, I’ve always felt it captures the essence of the writing process. For those unfamiliar, the book tells a very long story that comes to the narrator after he drinks a bit of tea that has soaked up the crumbs of a small cookie named a petit madeleine. This taste reminds him of how he had done the same thing in his youth, and this fecund sensation allows the full reality of his youth to come alive in his head. Such a flash of memory is one of the most enjoyable moments a writer can have.
As writers, we are always recollecting and reexamining our own thoughts and memories. For fiction writers, one of our many goals is to put this head-world in which we reside on paper, sometimes in earnest, sometimes not, and sometimes in a way that reveals a part of ourselves that we didn’t intend for the world to see. This is also the case with nonfiction writing, though not necessarily to such a severe degree.
Such a process is very different than the typical nine-to-five life, which, more often than not, demands the silencing of critical thought in order to expedite one or a series of mundane tasks. Even as we engage the world in the hours before nine or after five, we expend the majority of our mental energy on what’s directly in front of us or on planning for the near or distant future. We talk about the weather with strangers. We think about what we would like to make for dinner.
As writers, however, we are constantly creating. Each sentence we construct is unique. We must constantly be thinking about the words we are using, the experiences we are conveying, the world we are creating on the page. Regardless of the content, the very act of remembering allows us the ability to stroll around inside our own heads, to search out wings in the mansion of memory that are visited with little frequency when we are not writing.
Does this mean that writers are more connected to their own pasts than non-writers? Perhaps. But such an argument cannot be won or lost, as it is highly subjective. What it does mean, however, is that the writing process aids in the creation of novel neural networks by making the writer retrieve information in the form of words, references and personal memories. In other words, these acts of recollection not only allow us the opportunity to stay connected to our respective pasts; they also represent a form of mental calisthenics that results in a fitter and sharper brain.
Jay F is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.