Thanks brainyquote.com and quozio.com.
Keeping the brain working
If there is one thing universally feared almost more than death, it is developing dementia, and losing control of our minds – and the ability to be a grownup and make our own decisions.
The prospect of being taken care of is a grim one. Companies like Lumosity (which I tried) sell the concept of doing specific exercises to keep the mind ‘tuned up’ in areas such as memory, and keeping up the mind-body connection as fast as possible by practicing until you get very fast at games.
I have no idea how this affects writers in general, but writing is a complex mix of research, puzzle solving, paying attention, and synthesis (once you decide what happens, you also have to come up with words that make it INTERESTING).
IOW, if you’re a writer, and you keep writing, and you don’t write the same book over and over, you’re going to have to LEARN new things, and keep using your memory to recall the OLD things.
Technology is in an exponential expansion mode
In our day this comes with an additional burden: mastering technology.
There are a lot of parts to the actual writing, each of which has its own secret handshake: how to make your characters seem like real people; how to create story events which, though seemingly random, coalesce into an actual story that people want to read; how to be subtle in proposing themes; how to satisfy the conventions of a genre (I’ll include ‘mainstream’ and ‘literary’ as ‘genres’ here for convenience) but still have something fresh to say.
And now people have the option to learn a whole slew of technological parts which used to be left to ‘publishers’: covers, formatting, interior layout, editing, proofreading, word processing, even bookbinding. Each of these technological parts has equipment – computers, cameras, scanners and printers and copiers – and associated software. The software is getting more complex every minute.
Brain games touted as ‘the answer’
If, instead of fearing change and all the things that are necessary ‘just to publish a book,’ the writer embraces the learning experiences, and struggles with each one until it is mastered enough to decide whether paid help would make the end product ‘better’ – at an acceptable price – Lumosity and all those other companies (the ones who create crosswords and word searches and scrambled letter puzzles) are not necessary: except possibly for things requiring closer hand-to-eye coordination and speed than touch typing, all the areas of the brain are going to be continually challenged by merely choosing to BE a self-publishing writer in the digital age.
P. D. James, the British doyenne of mysteries, died recently – in harness – at, IIRC, 94.
LEARNING is what stretches a brain
I KNOW for a fact that me writing, which has been an extraordinary struggle these past many years, and which is (I hope) going to be producing that first published book much sooner rather than later, has stretched my mind in ways I never imagined.
Now I’m happily learning Pixelmator on my Mac – so I have a reasonably priced way to create my own graphics (thought, sadly, it doesn’t CREATE the graphics ability it serves). I mastered Scrivener – even wrote a few blog posts about the matter, and still get requests for my Scrivener template (nothing much – don’t get excited). I tackled the 2011 (newest) Word/Excel/PowerPoint version for the Mac. I just upgraded to Yosemite (still questioning that one, but we’re learning to get along). I do research online in obscure topics (California child custody for celebrities, anyone?).
I communicate with all kinds of indie authors (they have been most kind) and venerable institutions ranging from Oxford U. Press (which manages the British crown’s copyright in perpetuity on the King James Version of the Bible) to Trinity College in Dublin to an academic involved in the maintenance of the online version of the Montcrieff translation of The Song of Roland.
Every single one of these activities costs me days of my life – too bad. They keep my mind working, focusing on a PRODUCT, working to understand the digital advances the young take for granted (and acquire at a dizzying rate).
I am about to try my hand at the marketing side of things: I have read so much my head is full of plans to research everything from book reviewers to POD to velocity in Amazon rankings.
I don’t know if DOING these things will maintain the ability to do NEW things, or merely keep me involved in trying. But every time I experience the discomfort of not knowing what I’m doing, or the horrible state behavioralist and animal trainer Karen Pryor calls a ‘pre-learning tantrum’ (where the old ways don’t work, you can’t figure out the new ways, and the pressure gets unbearable), I find a way to learn. And go right back to finding the next thing that needs to be tackled. So far, so good.
I hope it means I will be USING the old noggin longer and harder and to some useful effect.
What else is there in the world of retirees that comes with so much payback? (I can’t walk, so don’t tell me to go do the traveling I was looking forward years ago.) Every aging person who can should take up writing – and the DIY philosophy – just for the benefits to the brain.