poetry_brain_pageFollowing the fascinating recent scientific research that demonstrates the effect that reading literature can have on your brain, here is some more to show how the brain works while writing. And the conclusions are surprising. As described in a paper in Elsevier journal NeuroImage, “Professional training in creative writing is associated with enhanced fronto-striatal activity in a literary text continuation task,” and summarized in the New York Times, the research concluded that, while inexperienced writers tended to use the areas of their brain associated with visual images while writing, experienced writers used the areas associated with planning, organization of learned skills, and language.

The research, directed by Martin Lotze, a faculty member with the department of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Greifswald in Germany, “used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare 20 experts in creative writing and 23 age-matched non-experts.” The writers were provided by the creative writing program at the University of Hildesheim. The report continued:

During creative writing, experts showed cerebral activation in a predominantly left-hemispheric fronto-parieto-temporal network. When compared to inexperienced writers, experts showed increased left caudate nucleus and left dorsolateral and superior medial prefrontal cortex activation. In contrast, less experienced participants recruited increasingly bilateral visual areas. During creative writing activation in the right cuneus showed positive association with the creativity index in expert writers.

This could be no surprise in the light of the past research on readers that showed them using the areas of their brain associated with movement when buried in a very active passage of a book. But it could be also interesting to speculate whether the increasingly visual bias of our culture, and the barrage of film and TV narratives that writers are subjected to, have conditioned their minds to think of stories in visual terms. Who knows what a comparison with novice writers from a period prior to industrialization would reveal?

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


  1. I maintain a certain amount of skepticism towards these various brain studies but this jibes with my general experience as I’ve progressed in both writing fiction (and non fiction) and music. I used to have much more of a “dive into it” approach where I wasn’t very concerned with structure. Then I became much more aware of the structure and where a particular passage I was working on fit into that larger plan. Basically a matter of keeping the forrest in mind while working on the trees.

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