Blog 24: If you can’t write, then READ instead.

August 23, 2016

Sometimes writers just don’t feel like writing. We’re all human at the end of the day and sometimes we are busy but often we have times where we lack motivation. I’ve spent the last couple of days distracted by other things in my life and unable to write a word. Even writing this blog has been difficult. I’ve been umming and ahhing about what topic to cover and how to give old topics a new spin, but my brain wouldn’t work and I was getting nowhere with it. Then it struck me, ironically I thought to myself ‘why don’t I write about not writing?’ I dug into my old topics and decided to take the advice I had already written in other blogs, if you can’t write, then READ instead.

Some people would probably groan at the very idea of reading a book. Unlike listening to the latest chart songs, books require hours of dedication and in our busy world some would say that they simply do not have enough time. However, not all books are epic fantasy novels with hundreds of sequels and prequels, there are short stories out there too.

Why am I championing reading? Well, yes, maybe I’m biased here since I’m a writer and reader, but reading fuels the imagination and by doing so it keeps the brain healthy and boosts creativity. This is important for a number of different reasons. Countless articles and blogs have already discussed the health benefits associated with reading, it can prevent dementia and it keeps the brain active. However, what I find interesting is how reading, in my opinion, could help future generations with problem solving. Let’s face it, the current generations are already facing difficult global problems and it is likely that the future generations will face even more: form ever-growing population, climate change and resources running low or becoming too difficult to extract, the future generations are facing some of the most difficult problems yet.

We use our imagination when we read to visualise a picture of the written scenes inside our own minds. A study in the Journal of Literacy Research, although somewhat dated, investigated spontaneous use of imagery and its relationship to free verbal recall. Although no significant correlation was found within this research, it was noted that ‘total verbal recall declined over the retention interval (i.e., forgetting), imagery did not.’ This suggests that your brain is more likely to remember pictures and images over words. This seems simple and logical enough, I know that I’m more likely to remember someone’s face than their name for example, and I’m sure a few of you will be nodding in agreement too.

Being able to create a mental image from a written scene in a book is a powerful and useful skill. The more you read and use your imagination, the easier it becomes for you to imagine, well… anything. If you are in the work place and faced with a problem, you can then imagine it as an elborate mental image. It is easier to see the problem from all angles and hopefully you will be able to come up with a solution. Furthermore, everyone’s imagination works slightly differently, so if you had a room full of staff members who could each individually imagine a problem, they’re likely to come up with different and potentially original solutions. I write this from experience here, I was once on a field trip in 2013 where our professor asked a group of thirty or so students a question. No one answered and so he kept repeating the question almost to the point of exasperation. I pictured his question as a visual image inside my mind and albeit somewhat reluctantly, stuck up my hand and gave him the correct answer. The question wasn’t difficult but as soon as I recreated it as a mental image, it was easy for me to find and see the answer. My imagination helped me to answer a question that everyone else at the time couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

It’s easy to understand how imagination is important in the business world too. ‘Innovative’ is a popular word used in the business world today but what does innovative actually mean? If you’re referring to a product or idea, it means featuring new, advanced and original methods. If you’re referring to a person it means, introducing new, original ideas and creative in thinking. However, since schools mainly teach via fact recall, where does innovation come from? I would argue that innovation comes from the imagination, and the imagination can be largely fuelled by reading. Imagination is required for leaders to envision the bigger picture just like Martin Luther King Jr’s famous words ‘I have a dream’, and what is a dream if not the imagination in action?

When we read a story and create a mental image we are more likely to remember the mental image and associate that image with that story, even if we can’t remember exactly what those words were. I find that reading gives me more ideas which I can store away as mental images that can call upon a number of my senses for use and inspiration at a later date. Since the imagination has been deemed important by thousands of people, including Albert Einstein, and can help with problem solving, when I found my mind would rather do anything but write over the last few days, I decided to read instead.



Journal of Literacy Research study: