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Brain Science and Book Writing: Three Tips to Boost Your Writing

I sat down at my computer and stared at a screen that stayed stubbornly blank for far longer than was comfortable. At the time I’d been writing professionally for more than 15 years, and I was tackling my first book, a novel. I had written thousands of words over those years – news and features articles, obituaries, press releases, briefing notes, speeches, sales letters, you name it, I’d done it. For pay. To great accolades. Writing a book should have been a piece of cake.

It was not.

There were lots of reasons why it took me 13 years to finish and publish that first book, but I’ve come to realize there were practical reasons, lodged in my brain, that explain part of my challenges.

I’ve long been interested in the magic of the human brain and my studies have led me to the powerful fact that the way our brain is organized has a major impact on how easy or hard it is going to be to write a book. Although this is a simplification, we tend to believe the left hemisphere of the brain is the seat of the logical, procedural aspects of who we are. The right hemisphere is the seat of our intuitive and creative characteristics. You will know people who tend to be mostly one way or the other and, more rarely, people who are fluidly linear and creative.

In the context of writing a book, fiction, or non-fiction, we need both parts of the brain working full out in order to write something that has major appeal and will do us credit. We need a strong structure providing the framework for the creative wisdom we are imparting: reading is itself a linear process, so without that structure, we risk confusing and losing our readers. But too much structure can make for a dry, boring read. Parenthetically, that’s why it’s so important to include stories in a non-fiction book: a well-structured story contains a lot of unpredictability and inventiveness, thus speaking to both sides of our brain. From a neurological perspective, a story is a guaranteed hit with our readers.

So how can you use this knowledge to make your book writing easier? Here are three tips:

Figure out whether you default to the logical or the creative side of your brain’s wiring. Most of us tend to be mostly one way or the other. Understanding this information will allow you to recognize that you are probably not automatically incorporating the “opposite” characteristics into your writing process or your writing content. Awareness is the first step along the road to excellence.

Look at your written work and ask yourself where it’s showing evidence of structure and logic and where it’s showing evidence of creativity. If one of those two aspects is missing, figure out how you might add it in.

Make sure you add some stories to your book. Stories include both structure and creativity and are an important way to engage your readers’ attention.

One final point to remember: whenever we do something for the first time —like bike riding or book writing—we do not have a neural network in place to help us easily and masterfully complete the task at hand. There is a skill set involved in writing a book. And it can take some time for our brains to catch up to our activity. But lots of patient repetition will task the brain with creating that neural network and it will respond.

The first book you write is likely to be your hardest. By the time you get to the second book, you’ve had some practice, you know more or less how to do it, your brain has a neural network in place to support you, and it will seem like a much less overwhelming project.

So, don’t give up on your book writing. With time, practice, and a whole lot of determination, you can recruit your brain to assist you. You’ve got this!

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