What Science Has to Say About Creative Types

Writing may be just the thing to save you.

Oh, I know that writing has saved me in a variety of intangible (but very real) ways. It’s allowed me to express myself, has given me an additional dimension to my identity, and has given me the power to put my demons to rest. But that’s not what I’ll be talking about here. Today I want to share what science has to say about being creative.

In my other life, I’m a biologist, and I’m fascinated with scientific research on creativity. For instance, did you know that all of the emotions that you experience when you read fiction (as opposed to non-fiction) allow you to develop more empathy as an individual? (For the original study, go HERE). Did you know that overall creative achievement may be related to how open you are to emotions, aesthetics, and fantasy? (For the original study, go HERE.) Science!

Scientific research also shows that when other factors are controlled for, creative individuals have longer overall lifespans. A longer life might be attributed to the fact that creatives keep our minds engaged, our neurons firing, and that this stimulation enhances the overall health of our mind and body. (For a summary of the study, go HERE.)

I know from personal experience that I’m a happier person because of writing. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget this because writing comes with its own set of stressors: deadlines, goals, queries, reviews, edits and revisions, and more, more, MORE! However, did you know that your optimal creativity is achieved when you (1) relax enough to trust your instincts and (2) are given more freedom to create with a softer deadline? (For a summary of the hot-off-the-presses study, go HERE.)

I have a serious case of Running Brain Syndrome. Note: “Running Brain Syndrome” is not an actual medical or psychological term, or if it is, I’m not aware of it. However, I am aware of the fact that my brain is constantly running to dream up ideas (or characters) and fix problems (or plot holes). You may have Running Brain Syndrome as well, which is why you may have to scramble to write an idea on a scrap of paper, a diaper, on your arm when you get that idea that “popped” into your brain at the most inconvenient times (like when you’re in the shower or on the toilet). You’re not alone; a lot of writers find ingenious ways to write on the go.

This is not to say that writing is all that we think about. I must engage my brain in my work (Science!), or in helping my sons plot their latest scheme for world domination, or in struggling to think about what the heck to make for dinner. But when I have those quiet moments to myself, I notice that if I am not engaged in something creative, my brain focuses on the wrong things. I specifically remember a time prior to when I was a writer (was that even possible?) when I would lie awake at night, thinking about some drama from earlier in the day, worrying about a scenario that hadn’t happened yet, running through dialogue that may or may not happen, speculating about what could happen tomorrow.

Creating drama. Forming scenarios. Running through dialogue. Speculating. The same thing we do as writers.

Now that I write, my brain still runs. I still take life events and process them, but not in a way that drags me and my mental state into a dark hole. Now my Running Brain travels along a more productive track. I still take notice of the drama, but I may or may not use it as inspiration 🙂

The thing about scientific studies is that while they are useful in revealing patterns, there are always other factors that could affect one single person’s outcome. Just like the *ahem* chemical reactions that Walter White utilized in Breaking Bad, there were differences in yield depending upon who carried out those reactions. So will being a creative individual help me live longer? The potential is there, but I have no idea how this scientific finding will apply to me. But I do know that creativity already saved me.

Do you have Running Brain Syndrome? And isn’t science cool?

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. (Oh, and as an Associate Professor of Biology, she is also a big fan of SCIENCE). You can find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

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