Experts make complex tasks look easy, approaching them with a grace and style that is admirable, even enviable. So, what does it take to become an expert?
When you practice something repeatedly, over time you activate areas of your brain that allow those actions to become automatic. This development occurs with athletes, video gamers — and writers.
Your brain on writing
The brain’s ability to develop writing expertise prompted a group of neuroscience researchers at the University of Greifswald in Germany to study the brains of both novice and experienced creative writers in action. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor changes in brain activity as their subjects wrote.
The team began with a group of 28 novice writers. The participants read part of a short story, and then continued the thread in their own words. The subjects had plenty of time to consider the story and formulate ideas on how to continue it. Later, the team recruited 20 volunteers from a university creative writing program (the experienced writers) and asked them to do the same exercise. The results were fascinating.
Before the novice writers started, the researchers asked them simply to copy some text to create a baseline of neural activity for each volunteer. The fMRI results showed that some regions of the brain that were inactive during copying, such as the regions responsible for vision processing, were activated when the volunteers began to think creatively. One area in the forebrain is strongly associated with the ability to juggle multiple pieces of information at once. This area was also activated, possibly by the demands placed on it when writers considered multiple plot lines or characters simultaneously.
The results for the experienced writers were quite different. For example, when the novices were considering what they would write, the areas of their brain associated with visual processing activated; however, the experienced writers’ brains relied more heavily on the speech centers. Another startling difference appeared when the two groups of volunteers began to write. The caudate nucleus, an area of the brain strongly associated with developing skills based on practice, lit up in the experienced writers but remained inactive in the novices. The caudate nucleus and surrounding areas are responsible for coordinating activity during the shift from conscious effort to automatic skill.
So, what’s the lesson here?
The lesson is simple: Practice makes you a better writer. Even if your writing isn’t perfect, you have the ability to develop expertise if you continue to practice your writing skills. The same is true whether you’re writing short stories or technical reports and SOPs: The more you write, the easier the process becomes and the result is a more effective product.
Hurley Write, Inc. can help your team develop writing expertise. Contact us by phone at 877-24WRITE (249-7483), or visit our website for more information on how to write like a pro!