How reading keeps you creative (part 1 of 3)
November 16, 2018 / Productivity / Greg Atkinson
If you’re stuck for inspiration, or you need a constant source of inspiration to keep you creative, the best thing you can do for yourself is READ. Which means the fact that you’re here is helping already. In this post, which is part 1 of 3 of our Reading Series, we discuss why reading helps you stay at the top of your creative game. In part 2, we’ll talk about what sort of stuff to read, and part 3 will show you how to get the most out of your reading time.
So, how does reading keep you creative?
1) You’re exposed to new ways of thinking
Unless you’re reading your own autobiography, books (and Kindle of course, but let’s keep it Old School for ease of reference) let you peer into the minds of others. And quite frankly, unless you had all the time in the world to conduct exhaustive personal interviews with all your favourite authors, there’s no better way to learn. Regardless of genre, subject material, or whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, you’ll be exposed to new information, opinions, and world views. This helps immensely in aiding creativity, because it pushes your brain out of the stagnant information pool it was previously operating in. When you’re exposed to new things, your brain is inspired to make new connections, find new problems to solve, and new ways to solve them.
2) Your imagination is engaged
Unlike watching television, reading compels you to use your imagination. Even the most descriptive passages need you to actually picture what the author is talking about in your head. Your picture will be completely unique, and though inspired from the words you’ve read, it will be entirely your own creation. This means that you’re not passively absorbing stimuli, you’re actively engaged in creating fabulous new worlds. And what better fodder for creative work than these worlds you’ve created?
3) You can relax and safely explore new thoughts
Reading is one of the most popular and enduring leisure activities for a reason. It’s a wonderful way to get some Me Time, and decompress away from other people. And unless you’re reading an edge-of-your-seat horror or thriller (which provides its own strange enjoyment), it’s also very relaxing. Rest periods are crucial for your brain to reboot, as we discussed in our early birds and night owls post.
While you’re reading, your conscious brain is engaged in figuring out the meaning behind the words and recreating the author’s world for yourself. However, your subconscious brain will be beavering away in the background, making connections and solving problems. Giving your active mind a rest and allowing your unconscious mind time to play often results in unexpected and wildly creative ideas. We explored this in depth in this post about why the Shower of Genius really works.
4) You’re exposed to new language
Over time, you get used to the speech patterns your friends, family, and colleagues use. New words will rarely make their way into your lexicon unless you have new experiences. Through reading, you’ll be exposing yourself to words and phrasing you don’t normally come into contact with. In fact, a paper published by the University of California, Berkeley found that books expose readers to 50% more words than prime time television. As philosophers from Locke to Hume to Descartes have noted, words are both crucial and inadequate for expressing all our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We need words, but somehow they’re not always able to capture the totality of what we want to express. One way to help ourselves express more of our inner world is to have more words.
5) You learn to read between the lines
As we noted above, reading forces your imagination to make sense of words to create a world. In doing so, it also forces your brain to fill in the blanks and make connections. An author might come right out and say ‘She was angry’, but more likely, it’ll be inferred by ‘She wrinkled her brow, and sighed impatiently’. All the stuff that’s implied is supplied by your brain. This gives it great practice for finding hidden solutions to problems. And because creativity is about coming up with unexpected solutions, the more practice you give your brain, the better it gets at it.
6) Your memory stays sharp
You can’t solve problems if you don’t remember anything, can you? And while a To Do list is invaluable for helping you remember the myriad tasks you have to do, nothing replaces a good memory to keep track of all the life experiences and theoretical knowledge you need to do them. When you’re reading, your brain needs to store a considerable amount of information it learnt from previous chapters to make sense of your current chapter. Regular reading has been shown to slow the process of aging and memory decline.
7) You become more empathetic
You may have nothing in common with the characters in books, but just by seeing the world from their vantage point helps you get into their headspace, and become more empathetic. This seems to be especially true for readers of literary fiction. Narratives which describe a character’s psychological or emotional state allow you to travel a few chapters in someone else’s shoes. The lessons you learn can be applied to the real people in your life, and the real challenges they face. So, when people ask for your help, the solutions you offer will not only be something they haven’t thought of themselves, they’ll also be sensitive to their emotional or psychological needs.
8) Your own writing improves
By far one of the best ways of learning is first observing how it’s done well, then trying it out for yourself. Although not all readers are writers, you can be fairly certain that all writers are readers. Whether you’re reading for leisure or research, you’ll see how other authors build their narratives, use words and phrasing, and develop distinctive styles. So, when it comes to writing yourself, you’ll have a wealth of good references to be inspired by.
‘Big deal,’ you might say, ‘I’m not a writer, so why should I care?’ You might not be writing for an audience, but writing things down is a fantastic way to delve into your own mind, and make sense of your life. As we noted in our To Do list post, having everything that’s swirling around in your head visible in one place is a crucial step to solving problems. And the better you can articulate the problem to yourself, the better you’ll understand it, and what’s required to solve it.
And remember that writing skills are essentially better communication skills. It’s the ability to articulate information you want to convey – the ability to express yourself. So, even if you’re not planning to put pen to paper, being able to use words effectively makes you a more creative speaker and communicator.
As we mentioned above, this post is part 1 of our Reading Series. Follow us to part 2 for suggestions on what to read to improve your creativity.