“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ~ Wisdom Teaching
Next month I’m giving a presentation to our local island writers and writer wannabes. The two questions I’m doing my best to answer are: How Does Your Brain Keep the Book Inside You Held Hostage? and What Effective Brain-based Strategies Can We Apply to Successfully Liberate It?
80% of Americans report they have a book inside them yearning to be set free; perhaps even paroled early for long-suffering, good behavior. Once they make the connection between disciplined creative expression and neural network function, many would-be writers become curious about the role their own brain might play in keeping that expression locked up inside them. That was certainly the case for me before and even after I wrote my very first book.
Book It, Braino
One of the ways I changed my own brain in advance of that first book was … I read a LOT of books about writing. Nearly 100, actually. The few that stand out are Robert McKee’s Story, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. In addition, and in keeping with The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience, I also began attending workshops and retreats for writers. And over time, as neuroscience and learning theory might predict, these actions gradually began to increase my writing output.
Another thing that I did – mostly driven by unconscious networks in my brain – as an undergrad I took an elective course in Book Design and Production with an impish, bushy-eyebrowed teacher named Haig Shekerjian. What Haig did for me was completely demystify the book writing and the publishing enterprise; and he did that by requiring me to actually write and bind my own book by the end of the ten week semester! Before I actually knew what it was, Haig’s demystification process served to address whatever neuroceptive threat around writing was alive and unwell and living in me at that time.
I did other things as well during the writing of that first book which worked to additionally change the wiring in my brain. For example, I read a lot about successful writer’s working habits. Almost every one of them advised establishing regular, disciplined working hours. They demanded that when inspiration showed up, I would serve it well by being at my desk working. I didn’t make that directive a rigid “have-to,” however. Because I know how much of the brain’s neurons are devoted to moving the body, I often take long walks with the dogs, Ollie or Bodhi, during my Writing Time. But I religiously bring along a reporter’s notepad and pen with me on those walks.
One bit of research I stumbled upon that profoundly changed my brain and improved the quality of my writing was an article in the New Yorker by Annie Proulx. In that piece she described her creative process in coming up with her work, “Brokeback Mountain” (which was first published as an original short story in the New Yorker). In that account Proulx reported that she ended up revising that story … 40 times! This admission underscored something I was taught as an undergraduate English major at UCLA: good writing at its heart is good editing (most of these blog columns get between 10 and 20 edits; and even then, after I publish them, I still find errors and make needed revisions later).
Two other pieces of advice have also stood me in good stead over the years. The first is: “Give yourself permission to write the worst crap in the world.” That’s important, because it’s almost impossible to write anything interesting or memorable if your mother’s or father’s voice, secreted away in your brain’s left hippocampus, is constantly critiquing everything you write.
The second piece is harder, but just as essential: write about what most disturbs you. This can be a tricky proposition. I devoted a whole blog to it last year. Essentially, what I argued is that writing about what disturbs us often works to unearth traumatic memories. And if we don’t do something to skillfully resolve and integrate those memories when we surface them, we run the risk of adding additional trauma to our brain’s already heavy burden.
I discuss many more helpful aids that specifically relate to brain function in the scheduled talk. If you’d like a sneak peek at the actual presentation before I stand and deliver it, simply click here: The Book Inside You. Password: birthingbookbrain