This week, I was interested to read about brain waves and how they work, and apply what I could glean to writing.
Here's the basic info:
In our normal waking lives our brain waves pulse quickly, at between 14 to 100 Hz. These are called Beta waves and are good at keeping us awake and attentive enough for our daily tasks - working, playing, eating, socializing and watching TV and movies.
Curiously Beta waves aren't that conducive to prolonged study or activities like factory or office work because at the Beta level, the brain is looking for more stimulation. It's as attentive as a butterfly, constantly vigilant for more stimuli and easily bored by monotony.
Gamma waves pulse at a higher rate - from 24 to around 70000 Hz and are normally associated with a 'higher state of consciousness' in that they seem to give us an increased sense of meaning and connectedness to the world around us. Commonly, during times of inspiration and joy, or playing sports, gamma waves are pulsing through our heads.
Curiously again, though Gamma waves are great for coming up with ideas and getting ourselves motivated and busy, they're not totally wonderful for sitting in a chair and writing or studying for long periods.
Experiencing long bouts of Gamma waves is ultimately tiring for us.
Now these are the cool guys.
Pulsing at around a low 8 to 14 Hz, Alpha waves kick in when we're relaxing, staring into space or engaged in long periods of gentle, soothing activities like lying on the beach or meditating.
The brain finds this state of consciousness very satisfying. Not only are you able to rejuvenate yourself during Alpha wave activity, you're also able to access the subconscious and get in touch with who you really are - and, to an extent, 'reprogram' your thinking.
For instance, if you're unhappy or depressed, Alpha wave time will help you to change your mood. Or if you're stuck on a problem or suffering from ennui, a short period in Alpha mode will help 'clear your thoughts', so that when you return to Beta, you're more able to work productively.
Theta waves are associated with REM - Rapid Eye Movement - sleep, in other words when we're dreaming. The pulsing of these brain waves is shallow, around 4 to 7 Hz per minute.
Dreaming is the brain's way of collating information, making sense of it and filing it away in the subconscious. This is all very necessary. Simply put, if we didn't dream, we'd probably go insane.
The Theta state also produces catecholamines in the brain, which are associated with learning and memory.
Because the conscious and subconscious are communicating well at this level, our creativity is probably at its most active - and many of your best ideas will probably arise at this time - though of course remembering them later is often a problem. There again, the brain probably does this deliberately so that you don't get too overwhelmed by creativity!
One digit up from dead, starting at 0.1 up to 4 Hz, Delta are very long, slow brain waves linked to dreamless sleep. During the sleep cycle, we can take anything up to two hours of REM sleep to get to this level.
Curiously, experiencing Delta waves is necessary for the production of human growth hormones that regulate our health.
This is the real reason why, when we don't sleep well, our health and mental state deteriorate.
Have you noticed how children generally sleep more deeply than adults? It's crucial that they do, in order to grow and repair their minds and bodies.
As adults too, especially when we're stressed or unwell, or indulging in drugs or alcohol, a good night's sleep, as the cliche goes, can do wonders for our health and well-being.
Preamble over. Now the important question:
How Can This Help Your Writing?
Once you understand how brain waves work, then you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Have you ever started a writing project with a passion and then wonder why you can't get back the enthusiasm to write more later?
Simple, when you started you were in a Gamma State, which can't last that long. You need to get yourself into a more relaxed state to write well for longer periods.
Contrary to logic perhaps, the best state to write in is somewhere between Alpha and Beta. You need to be able to work steadily while your brain is in Beta (work) Mode - but also to regularly dip into the more relaxed Alpha (trance) State, where you can assimilate information, improve your focus and get access to your more creative subconscious mind.
In my Easy Writing System I recommend that you rely heavily on your subconscious to not only come up with ideas, but also, to an extent, write for you.
We all know that the conscious and logical Beta State likes to regularly criticize our writing - and undermine our confidence. That's its function. But in order to write for long periods, we need to switch off the inner critic and 'go with the flow' of the subconscious.
You can do this by relaxing, even meditating, for five or ten minutes at regular intervals during your writing.
Some people might regard this time as wasted - after all, staring into space is frowned upon at school and work. But this is to misinterpret what's going on when the brain retreats to the Alpha State.
Time spent relaxing, clearing your thoughts and essentially day dreaming is good for you - and very good for your writing.
I hope this info helps you.
(c) Rob Parnell