Finally. You have carved out a spot in space and time to sit down and write. Your desk has been decluttered (more or less); the lovely journal has been opened to a pristine page; and your favourite pen inked up and ready in your hand. With that smooth nib almost kissing the paper, you look inward to the thoughts seething in your mind, and you pause for a moment. And that pause lengthens... to the point of confusion as you strive to make sense of the Gordian knot in your head. With so many ideas and feelings yearning to be externalised, compounded by the pressure to express them adequately enough to be written down, you have come to a standstill; which some may call “writer’s block” (ugh, dread). Then your mobile pings, and once more you are called away to dive into the morass of social media. Or the doorbell rings, and you’re distracted by your latest delivery. So, the moment is lost, and the chance to make those brilliant yet fleeting ideas more permanent on paper has passed.
That may have sounded a bit melodramatic, but I think we have experienced this every now and then: that struggle to communicate our thoughts fluently through writing. The impetus is there; the tools are at hand, and yet we are stymied. There are a host of factors that can cause this roadblock, as well as more than a dozen solutions for it. Given this challenge of expressing oneself, let us take it one step at a time; and focus on one thing that could help, shall we?
Reading for Your Brain
The role of reading has been illustrated to go beyond the development of basic literacy. Scientists and educators have emphasised the numerous benefits to the brain and overall mental well-being; and research has been conducted to look into these further. The simple act of reading fires up those neural pathways responsible for recognizing symbols, decoding them into sounds, then transforming these into language. The more frequently these pathways are utilised, the more vigorous and complex they become. Therefore, the more we read, the more extensive our vocabulary becomes, allowing us more words with which to eloquently express ourselves.
Brain scans investigating these processes have shown that regions of the brain responsible for physical sensations like movement and pain are activated as well during reading. There is indeed a biological basis for “getting lost in a good book”, wherein your mind allows you to assimilate the protagonist’s experience as your own (as the character is struggling to reach the summit, so are you, Constant Reader). Furthermore, literary fiction that specifically delves deep into its characters’ lives helps develop that sensitivity to understand and share another person’s perspective in real life, or what is known as empathy.
Using an actual book helps enhance the positive impact of reading. There is an area in our brains responsible for assessing location through our movements. Leafing through pages gives our brains more context, which then aids in the immersive experience. Moreover, there is nothing like the scent of lignin and the texture of paper when you have that book in your hands. The more senses are involved, the more profound the learning experience.
Various studies have also proposed that reading is advantageous to mental health. A 30-minute reading session has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure and heart rate. This de-stressing effect can be applied to getting a good night’s sleep, with a book in hand as a step in winding down for the day. Reading engrossing fiction can also help with depression; where feelings of isolation and alienation can be alleviated by immersion into another world or another person’s life.
Similar to physical exercise, mental stimulation through reading, with the engagement of various parts of our brains, helps make our thinking processes quicker and more advanced, our concentration more focused, and our memory more reliable. Therefore, the cognitive decline associated with dementia can be mitigated. Reading does help reshape the mind.
Reading for Writing
Time and again, scholars and renowned writers have expounded on the vital role that reading plays in the development of writing ability. Aside from enhancing our cognitive skills, reading a good book helps us acquire a better sense of the written language as a means of communication. Grammar is learned more effectively within the context of its usage, from punctuation to figures of speech, among others.
Reading a wide range of genres or topics exposes us to different authors’ styles that can serve as founts of inspiration for our own writing. It helps us learn by example the principles of story structure, as well as character and plot development. Eventually, we recognize the flow and dynamics of superior writing, become more analytical about what we read, and are then able to apply these insights to our own work. In addition, discovering what resonates with you as a reader will also aid in making you a more effective writer. Reading avidly and comprehensively is one of the most significant tools for refining your writing.
Writing with Fountain Pens
(Please pardon me while I gush.) Personally, I find fountain pens to be one of, if not THE, best instrument for writing. Ever since I've started using them, they’ve been my primary choice for putting thoughts down on paper. One major contributing factor to this preference would be the ease with which I can use the pen itself. With the fountain pen nib just touching the paper, the ink flows out freely onto the surface. Long writing sessions are made more pleasurable without a death grip on the pen, or without having to bear down on the page.
The convenience of a refillable pen coupled with the variety of nibs available today open up so many possibilities for adding a bit of style to your handwriting. Moreover, fountain pen nibs with flex, or those with cursive italic grind for instance, can elevate your everyday penmanship to calligraphy levels. Though not necessary, imbuing those standard symbols with a certain visual flair can enhance the appeal of writing as an artful, creative act.
As someone who engages in the practice for mainly personal reasons; I can attest to how writing and the preparation for it can become almost ceremonial. For me, sitting down in a quiet space, my requisite fountain pens and other paraphernalia within easy reach, and the opportunity to just let the ideas take shape on paper all collaborate to make writing a technique for self-care.
To reiterate, writing for yourself or for others is certainly benefited by a well-built foundation and bountiful inspiration derived from discerning, extensive reading. Writing as a process is further enhanced by tools that make it a more fulfilling experience. Our capacity to write is made more substantial by cultivating the practice itself. Perhaps the next time you seem at a loss for words, it is but for a moment; then you find your voice once again.
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Written by Lekz Umali
Check out her art on Instagram!