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Write-Brained: The Origin of Language & the Ancestral Need for Stories

Write Brained: The Neuroscience of Writing

Part 2: The Origin of Language and the Ancestral Need for Stories

In the upcoming entries of my Write-Brained series, I’m going to dive into the question of how the different parts of our brain interact with language. To get there, though, I’m going to take you back into the origin of language itself—and search, briefly, for the purpose of storytelling.

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Write-Brained: Part 1 – The Creative Space in the Human Mind

Part 1: Finding the Creative Space in the Human Mind

Today’s task is an easy one: I’m going to take you on a quick tour of your brain so we can locate your “creative brain,” and through that discovery examine the neuroscience and psychology involved in writing and writer’s block. Shouldn’t take but a moment, right?

Write Brained: The Neuroscience of Writing

The main purpose of this brain tour is to identify the creative brain so we can examine creative processes and what gets in the way of those processes.

The Brain in Six Parts

The brain just a little bit complex, so when we talk about its territories we can easily divide it in numerous ways. For the sake of this tour, I’m going to divide the brain into six parts, or specifically: three sections, one gatekeeper, and two hemispheres.

As with any explanation I could give in a reasonably brief time-frame, this will be a gross oversimplification. The biggest qualification I’ll make before jumping in is that, while I will be treating these as separate parts of the brain, they are deeply integrated and interactive with one another. It’s useful to think of them as independent entities, but no part of the brain works entirely on its own. (And just so we’re clear: We use the entire brain. Those who say that humans only use 10% of their brain may be speaking accurately about themselves, but most humans take advantage of the whole mass of grey matter.)

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Write-Brained: My Background and the Mandatory Disclaimer

Write Brained: The Neuroscience of Writing

Preface: My Background and the Mandatory Disclaimer

Since I’m about to be diving into your brain, let me introduce myself—and, more importantly, give you a sense of my background and experience.

I’m not a psychiatrist or a brain surgeon. They don’t certify people in giving brain tours. What I am is simply a writer—and in that regard can transmit a clump of specialized data that, hopefully, you’ll find to be as beneficial as I’ve found it to be.

Learning How to Hate Writing


My story really starts in 1995. I was nine years old and, after reading The Phantom of the Opera, I decided the book needed a sequel. As I “authored” that book, I came to love writing as a process. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, and I haven’t turned back since.

The closest I came to quitting was in early 2010. In January of that year, I decided I would make freelance writing my full-time career. I’d been picking up gigs here and there since 2008, but I was sick of my high-stress, low-satisfaction, middle-management job—and I knew that writing was what I loved. I worked tirelessly to build my portfolio, acquire my first clients, and create an at-home office that made me feel like a true professional.

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Three Blinding Myths of the Writing Community: A Debunking

I spent most Thursday in heated discussions incited by my latest LitReactor article (“8 Reasons Intelligent Writers Must Read Twilight”). That article drove at but never fully elaborated on some of the key misconceptions of the writing community. I want to talk about three specific myths told commonly in writing circles. These myths are based on dangerous assumptions which blind writers to potential opportunities and build unnecessary walls between the writing community and the rest of the world.

3 Blinding Myths of the Writing Community

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The Walter Scott Monument and Writing as Cultural Preservation

In describing Sir Walter Scott, Lord Cockburn’s Journal stated,  ”Scotland never owed so much to one man.” In part, Cockburn was referring to the work Scott did in preserving Scotland’s cultural heritage. Scott’s work was often concerned with Scottish heritage and mythology (both ancient and more modern), and it partially because of him that Scotland has retained its sense of identity.

For his contributions, Scott received a monument that was described by Charles Dickens as a “complete failure” because it looks like a Gothic steeple planted in the ground without a surrounding building.

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Me vs Stephen Fry on Language

A friend of mine posted this video and tagged me, what with me being a punctuation/spelling/grammar/language Nazi.  Even after this well-phrased video, however, I stand my ground.  Here’s my response to the video.

A decent video with some decent points, although I myself argue in favor of precise language for the sake of clarity. Yes, contextually, we can understand what “ten items or less” means, but it also adds ambiguity to the language if we accept an amorphous linguistic approach.

Ambiguity, artful errors, stylistic punctuation, and even misspellings have their place, but I think it more than a little important that these be done intentionally—not out of ignorance. Language is about communication, and we can no more communicate without agreement on a standardized language than we could if we were all speaking in very different dialects of one only vaguely cohesive language.

What is important here is that the standardized version of language we accept be based on the appropriate principles: clear, effective, and (yes) linguistically beautiful communication. In order to accomplish this, we need to adapt to new linguistic trends, accepting that verbing is how much of our language came to be, capitalization rules change, and experimental language (intentional, expressive, experimental language) has a strong purpose.

But “freedom of beautiful linguistic expression” doesn’t do anything to safeguard using the word “alot,” saying “your so funny,” or using the sentence “please no dogs.” These things decrease clarity and warp language—and no, they are most certainly _not_ beautiful.

So let me be a pedant, because I’m part of that group that Fry doesn’t recognize here. I’m a pedant who indulges in the sultry succulence of language at every possible opportunity—who hinges on beautiful phrasings and the color explosions of proper word combinations—who finds poetry in the pining pauses of a dash or a semicolon—and who certainly uses commas more than necessary because that little mental gasp can change entire cadence of a thought.