How Writing Affects the Brain

I stumbled across this infographic a number of weeks ago and it popped up on my radar again this morning. I’ve always found the link between art and science fascinating. Science tests evidence against experience. Art is where your imagination meets experience. In an ever evolving and complex world, science broadens our collective knowledge and art brings us together.

Below, I’ve typed out two of the most interesting portions of the infographic. If anyone knows of its original source, please let me know.

Why is Telling a Story so Much More Memorable than the Bare Facts?

When you listen to a PowerPoint presentation about a topic in bullet point form, there are two parts of the brain which are activated; the Brocas’ Area and the Wernicke’s area. These are simply the language processing area of the brain where words are turned into meaning, but nothing else.

However, when we are being told a story not only are these language centers in the brain activated, but also the areas of the brain associated with experiencing the story’s events come to life, too.

For example, if the story includes an action such as kicking or running, the motor cortex of the brain will be stimulated. If the story has details such as mentioning someone’s “hands like leather,” our sensory response will light up. The brain reacts as if you were experiencing the story first hand.

Why You Should Avoid Cliches in Your Writing

Researchers in Spain performed a study on how the brain reacted to several different types of words. They found that common figures of speech such as “a rough day” have become so familiar to our brains that they are interpreted only as words.

These cliches might have evoked a sensory response in the brain when they were first used, but since the reader has seen them so many times before, they no longer have the same impact.

This is why good writing avoids cliches whenever possible, in favor of new and creative ways to evoke the reader’s senses.

How Writing Affects the Brain

William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

Articles: 120


  1. This is fascinating. I’ve heard several of the ideas before. This article pull is all together nicely. I’ve always taken hand written notes, although I often type them on my laptop these days for convenience. I wonder if laptop input is as effective or less effective for retention.

  2. The way of writing is somehow a tactile matter… The most important thing here is the way you think and perceive – to saturate your life with symbols means to open your mind to the world of metaphors. Just look: “… but Sarah looked as if she would cry too, and Emily yes she felt the tears in that place near your throat where they grow (seed tears) and yet she felt too…” (J. Morgan, The Taste of Sorrow). A powerful image opening new layers of universes for days on end… Opposed to the cool reality of a shopping list cliche 🙂

  3. What a wonderful article and info-graphic! True: whenever we give a speech, if we can “make” the audience not just understand but “feel, touch and smell” what we express through our words, our speech – and ourselves- will not only be nourishing but memorable. I also agree with the fact that reading acts like “meditating”, and that it really help us brad our vocabulary, language structure and refine our imagination. Thanks for sharing this great piece of information!

    • I’m glad you brought up the meditative component. I wasn’t conscious of it before, but there is something very calming about the process, at least when you’re writing about a subject that interests you 😉

  4. Hello,

    Thanks for sharing these insights with us all. I found them, “Quite” interesting.

    I myself, hand write in my journals always, especially when a writing idea comes to mind. I will, “Jot Down” every detail about the story as fast as my hand can write, (Which is never fast enough lol) and then I will start a file on my computer for this particular writing, or piece of work I created.

    I love to write my “Contemplations” because they are many. I find it interesting to go back through my journals and read what I had written long ago. At times I am amazed, and at other times I think to myself, “Good Lord I need to learn how to write, or I need a serious grammar lesson.”

    I believe it is very easy to distort the best parts of our writing, by “Thinking things through too much” and manipulating our sentences to fit what we “think” the readers want to hear. I feel strongly that by doing so, we lose sight of our own individualization of our story being told.

    That is my take on it.
    My best to everyone always, WRITE WRITE WRITE!

    Hand written letters are far more personal.

    Always Kay

  5. This is great stuff. Do you have any links to relevant research studies? I’m a writing professor, currently working on a project that argues for more storytelling and less “argumentation” in college writing, and this will be perfect–but I need my cites to be grounded in the primary research. Thanks! I look forward to exploring this blog more.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’ve done some cursory searches, but came up empty. With as much traffic as this post has received, I was hoping someone would find the original source. The subject is fascinating. I’d love to read more, so please let me know if you come across it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.