Hardwired for Story: What Are the Effects of Writing on the Brain?

Any writer who has ever sat down to put pen to paper (or, more likely these days, fingers to keyboard) knows the joy and frustration that are part of a writer's life. This can be especially true for screenwriters, who are not writing a stand-alone work, but something that will be endlessly manipulated before it (hopefully) ends up on the big screen. But, how does writing affect the brain? Are writers wired up differently than the rest of the population? Click below to check out a cool infographic and find out.

Alice Flaherty, a writer and neuroscientist, wrote The Midnight Diseasean excellent book on a condition called hypergraphia, or the uncontrollable urge to write (though many writers find themselves suffering from the opposite condition, the dreaded "writer's block.") And Lisa Cron's Wired For Story examines the evolutionary basis for storytelling and how it can help modern scribes create effective narratives:

Every engaging story must...ignite the brain's hardwired desire to learn what happens next. When writers tap into the evolutionary purpose of story and electrify our curiosity, it triggers a delicious dopamine rush that tells us to pay attention. Without it, even the most perfect prose won't hold anyone's interest.

This makes intuitive sense: anyone who has ever got lost in a great book or movie can attest to the "rush" that comes from seeing a well-crafted narrative play out. And seeing a bad movie or reading a poorly written story, the viewer/reader almost feels cheated. But how does writing affect the brain of the writer?

Writing can serve as a calming, meditative tool -- free-writing exercises can drastically reduce your levels of stress. It should also be noted that writing can hold a powerful influence over its readers -- Storytellers have the power to, “plant emotions, thoughts, and ideas into the brain of the listener.” But all of these mind-shaping tools can be completely disregarded if one chooses to insert a cliché into his or her writing. When you hear phrases like “love is blind” or “dumb blonde,” your brain skips over these ideas and simply accepts them as a collection of words. Clichés have become so familiar to us that the sensory responses they are supposed to evoke are often severely diluted.


What do you think? Does writing calm you down, or do just the opposite? What are some of your writing strategies? Do you have a daily routine that makes writing easier? Or do you wander around the house, chewing pencils and mumbling to yourself?

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Your Comment


I find that writing stories is just a way of getting stuff down and actually making something that I know if finished. Writing a screenplay takes a lot more effort than writing a straight story does and I find writing a story more rewarding. You can explain your ideas right there and then and know that they are on the page so they have been... made...

June 1, 2013 at 8:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I write in fits, if I sit in front of a computer I get so far and come to a brick wall. Often I'll get past that when going for a jog or brushing my teeth. It's strange, my best ideas come to me when I'm not trying to think of ideas. I find music helps in some situations when I'm trying to establish a mood. I don't think I've ever had one really good idea when I've sat down at a keyboard knowing that I need to think of a good idea. My friends an family hate it when I disappear off in the middle of the conversation as something they've said has triggered a thought related to something I'm working on. I have been rewarded by slaps across the face though, serves me right for being ignorant I suppose.

June 1, 2013 at 9:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Neill Jones

I have found that writing at the computer is very difficult. Its like the old days when I did my homework while watching tv, listening to the radio, and talking to a friend on the phone (no wonder I got horrible grades!). I am easily distracted (wouldn't believe how long it took for me to get this far on the comment) so having the internet pumped into the machine I am trying to write on does not make for good prose. I took a drastic step and purchased an old fashioned typewriter. Best investment I ever made for my writing. I know typing manually is not for everyone, but it has a way of focusing me. When I write, I know there is no delete key, so I feel more committed to the words that are down on the page. Writing 1000 words a day used to be torture. Now... still tough, but much, much, easier....

June 2, 2013 at 10:00AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


For the past two weeks, I've been freewriting three pages every morning. Three pages on a legal pad with a ball point pen. Definitely helps loosen the creativitiy and actually helps me wake up.

June 2, 2013 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Conor Kearns

Seinfeld and David used to write with ball points too. Glen and Les Charles apparently took a different approach of "talking a dialog" (they may have learned it from James Brooks on "Taxi"), where you just jot down the "best of quips".

June 2, 2013 at 9:30PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Right now I'm writing three scripts. To achieve this I set myself a routine where I spend at least two hours in the morning to write and two hours in the afternoon / evening. Sometimes I can do more than fine, sometimes it costs me more ...
That's my way forward in my stories

January 27, 2015 at 9:33AM

Mateo Baldasare