January 10, 2021 Christi

Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Write

The Neuroscience of Writing under Stress or Trauma

Neither you nor I would expect to complete a memoir while crouching to avoid the shots of a bank robber; we know we couldn’t write a novel while thrashing to escape a tsunami. And yet we writers and creators make countless demands on ourselves without accommodating our brain’s needs. We tell ourselves we should be more disciplined, tough-minded, brilliant, and talented, and we push ourselves to become these things. In short, we stress ourselves out.

Neuroscience is discovering that creativity works in the completely opposite manner. The more you relax and shut down the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the more you can bring artistic, out-of-the-box solutions to whatever you’re doing.

I learned all this decades ago, before science fully understood it, by reading Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, by Henriette Klauser, a book which transformed my relationship with writing and led to my own experiments with creativity. In twenty-five years of working with writers, I’ve seen it over and over again: when you calm the nervous system, soothing fight-flight-and-freeze responses (which are actually trauma responses), you find inner resources such as:

  • breakthrough ideas
  • humor
  • playfulness
  • curiosity
  • unexpected flashes of insight
  • intelligence beyond the status quo

New students sometimes wonder why we do relaxation exercises in my class, why we minimize Zoom screen use (which overactivates the nervous system), and why we focus on the positive, often to the point that our inner critic thinks nothing is happening.

Something is happening. Something profound and deeply affecting, which can transform a stressed producer into a joyful maker who has a deep sense of well-being.

In my writing classes, we deactivate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – and no electrical currents or  intervention is needed, such as those used in recent research.

Meditation, relaxation, movement, breath, and poetry – these are some of our tools.

Remember, when you push, push, push, you’re expecting what isn’t natural. You’re running from Sasquatch and thinking you should be finishing that writing project with each step. Be here, relax, and let the writing flow in a way that’s natural, healing, and beneficial, not to mention super-creative and productive.

This is especially our agenda in QFire Class.

*****We have a last-minute seat open for the session starting Tuesday, January 12. Are you brave enough to join us?*****

Let me know if you want to try this counterintuitive yet nurturing approach to getting your words on the page.


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