Here’s a great guest post from Rita Robinson, an author and journalist.
Writing and Travel Boost Brain Power
Lightening flashed, thunder roared, and unrelenting rain bombarded our 21-foot RV as we crept along at about 20 miles per hour on I-40 near Nashville, Tennessee. We could barely see the windshield wipers slapping across the front window, and finally took an off-ramp toward a crowded Flying J truck stop.
Andy, my husband, squeezed our small RV in among the big rigs jammed side-by-side at the truck stop, while a steady stream of other trucks parked along the adjoining road, and the parking lots of nearby churches. The truck stop, without electricity and using generators, kept everything, except the gas pumps working, as it became the hub of activity for all who parked vehicles in the area.
Portions of I-40, a main interstate highway for cross-country truckers, eventually flooded, causing closures, during the news-making, and record-breaking torrential storms in May of 2010 in Tennessee.
Once the sun shown three days later, and the sweet smell of grass and spring flowers permeated the air, a mélange of people gathered outside the station’s restaurant chatting and shaking hands as if all had known each other forever. We felt rejuvenated, and ready to continue our trip.
Stimulate Writing by Breaking Routines
Such is the stuff of travel and also writing. We change our routines or plans, and consider it part of the travel or writing experience. Not that routines are bad, but it’s good to break them once in a while.
A few times traveling, with tornado warnings ahead of us, we’ve changed routes. We had once driven through a town hit by a tornado and had seen an RV like ours that had been thrown on top of a barn.
These types of experiences make us acutely aware of our surroundings, feelings, motivations, and the idea that we’re not always in charge. As writers, Andy and I know that writing also leads to adventures.
Change and Surprise Boosts the Brain’s Power
We’re at our best when we surprise ourselves with what we put on the page. Writing transports us, as if on a magic carpet, to places of delight, anxiety, fright, awe, insight, imagery, depth, spectacle, and unanticipated adventures, virtual or real. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
“Traveling new places, meeting different people and taking part in variety of lifestyles, including foods, shops, noises, and cultures, stimulates cellular connections and promotes brain resilience, so important to the health of your brain,” says Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., Brain Health Center, and Clinical Neuropsychologist and Adjunct Professor of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Could this be why so many noted writers have also been travelers, or vice versa? Consider Mark Twain’s, The Innocents Abroad. He wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Out of Our Comfort Zones
It does not take traveling great distances to jazz up the writing mind. Changing minor routines at home can give the brain’s neurons a kick in the synapses. Sitting in a different chair than usual; eating something never tried before; walking backward; changing the writing location, maybe from a customary desk to the kitchen table; sitting on the floor to write; or writing by hand on a tablet, removes our comfort zone and fires up the brain.
Published writers have composed in coffee shops, bus terminals, airplanes, on couches in front of TVs, sitting beneath cherry trees, at the beach, in prisons, and just about any place the imagination can travel.
Emily Dickinson wrote in an attic, Ben Franklin in a bathtub, and several have written in bed, including Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past) and Barbara Cartland, prolific writer of conservative romance novels.
The editor-in-chief of a newspaper where I once worked knew about the beauty of making minor changes to jazz up a place. About every six months he would stomp out of his glassed-in office with, “OK, time to change our desks around.” We grumbled, since most had piles of other work to do. All, however, pitched in to push and shove desks and chairs to new locations with new views, and across from someone different. It worked, and we laughed at the feel of that kick in the synapsis.
We’re on an adventure when we travel, or when we write, and being open to change and surprises not only recharges the brain, it enriches our lives.