Surprising new study may change how you view creative writing


Creative writing is a skill. Like playing the piano or throwing a ball, you slowly get better at it as you practice. But what a group of researchers recently found is surprising, and it may change how you see creative writing.

The researchers were interested in what goes in a person’s mind while they’re engaged in creative writing. Would the brain light up like it does when you’re playing the piano? Or would it lie relatively dormant like it does when you’re watching television? To find out, they asked participants to do two things: (1) copy a sheet of text word for word, and (2) read an unfinished short story and then continue writing it. During both activities, they took MRI scans of the participant’s mind.

Unsurprisingly, not match was going on when copying, which is a mindless activity. But when asked to continue a short story, the researchers found that the brain lit up. In particular, there was a lot of activity in the visual processing area (the researchers speculate it’s because the participants were imagining the story as if it were a film), and activity in the hippocampus and other regions known for holding several bits of information. But the caudete nucleus — a region of the brain known for being associated with skilled activity — was quiet.

Intrigued, the researchers next turned to a group of expert writers, and there were some key differences. For one, the caudete nucleus became highly active, just as it does with trained opera singers or professional baseball pitchers. For another, though, there was very little visual processing activity yet a lot more activity in the regions involved with speech. Here, the researchers speculate that the expert writers had an inner voice that was driving what they wrote down.

For us, that last bit is pretty interesting. It suggests that expert writers and novice writer perceive creative writing quite differently. Whereas the latter structures it like a film, the former structures it like a narrative.

Source: New York Times




Nathan Caldwell is the owner and founder of the Young Writers Society and its group blog, Writing Gooder.

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