Write your way to a better brain!

Last week I talked about writers who had kept up their craft well past what youngsters would consider to be their ‘prime’ (of course, in a few years those youngsters will most certainly redefine what they consider to be a ‘prime’ age!). Well, it seems that in fact, there’s more to this ‘aging and writing’ thing than I thought!

A recent study has revealed that as we age, word—both our writing and reading of them—can play an important role in keeping our brains healthy. Using MRIs, scientists have discovered that the more literary engagement we have, the lower the likelihood that we’ll develop cognitive problems (like Alzheimer’s or dementia) later in life. This includes activities as simple as letter-writing (don’t forget those Christmas letters), reading a newspaper, or even doing the daily crossword.

But aside from the cognitive well-being these activities promote, I’d argue there are benefits to our emotional well-being as well. Reading and writing helps us to engage with others and with our imaginations, and what can be more beneficial than that! Even in this digital age, the written word forms the foundation for all our interactions with the world.

So if you’ve had an idea for the next great novel brewing in your mind for years, what are you waiting for? Get writing—your brain’s health may depend on it!

Writing and writing ‘til ya can’t write no more!

I came across an inspiring article today for all those writers out there who came to their craft later in life, as I did.

As the article points out, writing can be a tough slog. It’s emotionally draining, and it’s physically draining when you don’t have the luxury of being able to live off your writing (the reality for most writers). So it’s always great seeing all the amazing writers who are still churning out wonderful books well into their 80s and 90s! Gone are the days where writers would “fade out by the time they were 70.”

I only started writing in 2000, inspired by a beautiful baby elk, named Butter. I credit that lovely creature with awakening in me a passion that had been dormant for most of my life. Once I started writing, I found I couldn’t stop! And I think that’s what it really all boils down to. If you’re willing to commit your time and energy to what can be an incredibly thankless task, day in and day out, then odds are you’re not going to want to stop—even as the years roll on! And I think this other author summed it up perfectly:

“You can’t stop writing,” says Salter, who notes that Roth is reportedly in active correspondence with his biographer, Blake Bailey. “Even if you say you’re not writing books anymore, you’re making notes, perhaps writing in your journal. I dare say, even when you feel, ‘Christ, I can’t do it anymore,’ you’re still observing life and taking things in. You’re thinking, ‘I’d love to write that story. I wonder how I’d do it?'”

Like I’ve said before, writers write. And a few more grey hairs can’t change that!

What’s in your toolbox?

Every writer has their toolbox—the assortment of items they use on a regular basis to help turn their ideas into that compilation of words cobbled together to make a story.

The toolbox’s contents will vary greatly, of course, from writer to writer. And they might not even be physical tools, it might be an activity or process a writer undertakes to inspire or relax them.

One of my most important tools is my trusty dictionary—it never leaves my side. I like to be able to remove any doubt that I’ve chosen the best word for any given situation. Now, I know a lot of authors opt for a thesaurus, but I’ve always been a bit reluctant to include it amongst my arsenal. Of course, once in a while it’s useful, but if you start to rely on it too heavily, you might be headed in the wrong direction, literarily-speaking.

The danger, for me, is that sometimes end up choosing a word simply because it sounds more impressive, and not because it actually is, ‘le mot juste’! And it as turns out, it’s a fairly popular concern amongst writers. Here’s an excellent explanation of the dangers that lurk behind a thesaurus’ cover! 

What’s in your writer’s toolbox?

Nothing says ‘holidays’ like snail mail.

November’s here and the run-up to the Christmas holidays has begun. Now I’m the first to admit that it’s a little too soon to be piping in the holiday music in shopping centres non-stop. But there are some things that do merit attention, even if the holidays are still several weeks away, and one of them is near and dear to my heart: the Christmas letter.

Most of my family is in Canada, so it’s not as much of a concern for me just at this moment, but it if you have letters or packages that need to be sent overseas or to another hemisphere or if you’ve got a big recipient list, then you’re going to want to get a jump on things and get started very soon.

Some people opt for the one size fits all newsletter—one larger letter that gets duplicated and sent to everyone on your Christmas card list. If you’re going this route, then go big or go home! If you’re not taking the time to write personal notes then I really think you should put some real effort into what you do send out. I even found some tips to help you craft the perfect holiday newsletter.

Then, of course, there’s the more traditional approach to Christmas communications, an individual letter or card. Personally, I think there’s nothing nicer than opening your mailbox to find a gorgeous card with a thoughtful message from a loved one (or even an acquaintance!) that I can display on the bookshelf throughout the season. And if you’re worried about the environmental impact of cards, there are tons of eco-friendly options out there.

It’s the one time of the year where we have the opportunity and craft a meaningful message for our families and loved ones. Embrace your inner writer and get started on those missives soon—once you start, you won’t easily stop!