The Writer's Brain: Genius or Insane
Are writers crazy or are we all geniuses? As a writer, I want to lean towards genius; however, for the purpose of this article, I have to be fair and honest. Let's take a trip into the mind of a fiction writer and see what we find. This may be a little scary, but I'm willing to risk it for the sake of my blog. 👀👻😅
The brain and creativity: This is the only science to be found in this article, but it is necessary to understand how the brain functions during the creative process before I delve into the reason for writing this piece. When the brain is in a creative mode the following processes occur.
- Long-term memory retrieval is reduced causing the brain to forget what it already knows. This is achieved by a reduction in a neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. This is important because the creative process would be greatly impeded if the writer did not have the ability to suspend belief in reality in order to create new realities.
- Suppression of the ability to think critically about anything; including one's self. This is important because it would be difficult to get into the creative zone if you're always criticizing everything you're doing, right?
- The limbic centers are upregulated during the creative process. This unregulated limbic center heightens emotions. This is important because emotional awareness opens the brain to use more imagination.
There, that's all the science you're getting from me. Now, let's talk about getting out of your head and into your creativity...even when your cognitive ability is compromised.
Understanding the correlation between writers and mental illness
Many studies have been done trying to quantify the relationship between creative people and mental illness and/or other cognitive impairments. Unfortunately, there is a serious stigma when it comes to mental illness because most people fear the unknown. So, if you're a creative writer and people already think you're a little off anyway; if you are dealing with a mental illness or cognitive impairment, you may not be willing to broadcast that bit of news.
Research conducted by the Swedish at the Karolinska Institute found that "Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, and were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves." Okay, that was really the last bit of science. Promise. Not surprising, creatives tend to be a little more susceptible to mental illness and/or other cognitive impairments. Knowing this leaves me with only one question and I hope to answer it in this article: Are writers crazy or are we all geniuses?
How do you keep writing when your brain is on the fritz?
- Don't ever stop writing; even when what you write doesn't make complete sense, still continue to write. Even if what you write is a jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts, still continue to write. Once you have control of your mind again, pick through what you have written and pull out what you can use and discard the rest. No harm, no foul.
- Stick to your management plan. If you have an identified mental illness and/or cognitive impairment and you are being treated for it, it is important that you monitor and maintain the management plan that's in place for you. If something changes and your management plan needs to change with it...see the right people.
- Implement behavioral modifications that will allow you to continue to write and function accordingly. For example, during the morning hours, you may be more productive than you are at night; schedule your writing time for the morning hours and maybe light editing or research for the afternoon.
- Give yourself permission to have a mental illness and try to see how that illness can be used to enhance or add to your creative process. You feel a manic cycle coming on, make yourself sit down and write until you are calm enough to function at "normal" levels. Whatever the hell that is.
- Don't get down on yourself or wallow in your condition. Life happens and when life decides that it wants to send you flying out of orbit, go with it. Eventually, you'll get back in your orbit and things will move in the direction in which you want to be going.
At the end of the day, the most important nugget I will share in this article is simply writers are the most conflicted, disturbed individuals on the planet. We live in two worlds; one is real and one isn't. The beauty of being a writer is we get to decide which is which, not only for ourselves but for those who read our words.
With regards to my original question, writers are definitely both. Take a look at how the two words are defined by Webster dictionary.
Crazy: full of cracks or flaws, marked by thought or action that lacks reason, being out of the ordinary, distracted with desire or excitement, passionately preoccupied, obsessed.
Genius: a person who influences another for good or bad, a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit, extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity, a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude.
Based on Webster's definitions, fiction writers, by design are crazy geniuses. We are the perfect amalgamation of both and honestly, have you seen how the sane people live? 😕😜😱 I'll take living the writer's life any day of the week.