Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from your blogging team at the Mixed-Up Files! May the coming year bring joy, peace, tolerance, and understanding in our world.

We’re honored to be able to share with you a wide variety of posts every week that highlight the diverse, adventurous, enchanting, fantastic, engaging, and mind-blowing stories in the world of middle grade books. Here’s to a wonderful year ahead!

All the best,

Julie Artz, Patricia Bailey, Amie Borst, Jenn Brisendine, Dori Butler, Heather Capps, Dorian Cirrone, Sue Cowing, Sean Easley, Laurie Edwards, Greg Fishbone, Annabelle Fisher, Robyn Gioia, Mike Hays, Hillary Homzie, Jacqueline Houtman, Michelle Houts, Michele Weber Hurwitz, TP Jagger, Amber Keyser, Sheri Larsen, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Kate Manning, Beth McMullen, Rosanne Parry, Andrea Pyros, Natalie Rompella, Jonathan Rosen, Julie Rubini, Tricia Springstubb, Valerie Stein, Suma Subramaniam, Jen Swanson, and Mindy Alyse Weiss


Be Good to Your Brain – Read!

You’ve no doubt heard this before, but it bears repeating — one of the best things you can do for your brain is read. Cereal boxes will do in a pinch, but mostly, it’s about books. This is especially important the older a person gets. I’ve been reading (haha) a lot about this topic and not just because I’m getting older (another haha). The truth is, reading is like a multi-faceted workout for our brains — weight training, cardio, yoga, and Pilates all in one. From mental stimulation to stronger thinking skills to memory improvement, the benefits for our brains are numerous.

One of the most interesting recent findings is that the storytelling aspect of a novel engages a broad range of brain regions. Neuroscientists have discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function by enhancing connectivity and increasing blood flow to the area of the brain associated with language. Even better — this area stays heightened for several days after reading.

When you read a book, especially a novel, your brain has to remember a variety of characters, their backgrounds and individual traits and nuances, as well as the arcs and subplots in the story. Every new memory forges new pathways in the brain and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory.

Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that people who read just 30 minutes a day lived on average two years longer than those who didn’t read at all. Reading, as well as a large vocabulary, may give us something called ‘cognitive reserve’ — the brain’s ability to repair damage caused by stroke, dementia, or decay. Studies also have shown that reading can slow the process of dementia, and possibly even prevent it.

A recent Psychology Today article cited a study in which researchers measured changes in brain connectivity before and after reading a novel. MRI scans revealed heightened connectivity after reading, specifically in the areas of the brain associated with language, comprehension, sensations, and movement. The movement finding was surprising, but the researchers thought that perhaps, the act of reading actually “puts” the reader in the body of the protagonist.

Reading has been shown to improve focus and concentration as well. Most of us check email, reply to a text, post something on social media, and work on a task all in the span of a few minutes. This type of multi-tasking behavior can raise stress levels, lessen focus, and cause brain overload, but reading does just the opposite. Reading allows our brains to concentrate on the words without other sensory input. And reading does something practically no other medium can do — in the absence of a spelled-out conclusion to a story, our brains automatically imagine and create one.

While novels have great benefits for our brains, so obviously do nonfiction books — filled with facts and knowledge — and poetry. A recent study on the effects of poetry on our brains found that it elicits strong emotional and physical responses in readers such as facial expressions and goosebumps. These responses occurred most frequently at the end of a stanza or at the end of the poem.

What more proof do you need? Open up a book and get your brain in shape for now, and the future!



How Travel Opens Our Writing Eyes

Writers definitely like their routines. Coffee, tea, a specific playlist, a brisk morning walk — whatever it is, we all seem to have something (or many somethings) we do regularly before we sit down to write.

There’s no doubt that routines can be helpful, especially for writers who tend to procrastinate. But recently, a writer friend who returned from a few weeks of travel to different locales remarked how stimulating the travel had been for her writing brain. It opened up her eyes, she said. Getting out of her usual routine made her think and see differently, and she came home with a new perspective on her work-in-progress.

And I thought, duh. Routines can easily turn into ruts for writers who work every day in the same place and at the same time, whether it’s at home, the neighborhood coffee shop, or that one corner cubicle at the library. Routines can drive and comfort writers but also can sometimes stifle creativity.

Travel, as my friend discovered, can open our eyes and writing brains to all sorts of possibilities.

First, of course, there’s setting. Being in a different place can generate all sorts of ideas for new and unique settings. When I travel, I love to look at big things like monuments and skyscrapers and oceans, but also small things, like how cobblestones are arranged on a street and the way people plant their gardens or what kind of curtains adorn the windows of an interesting looking house. And be honest, doesn’t an old, abandoned barn just beg to have you imagine its past?

Travel can provide numerous opportunities for developing unique characters with diverse backgrounds. Like many writers, I watch people wherever I go — their mannerisms, clothing, hairstyles, expressions, accents. I love observing people in line to buy hot dogs in New York, or a brother and sister building a sand castle on a beach, or an older couple holding hands on a park bench. I imagine their stories. I imagine how I would write their stories.

And dialogue! Travel gives a writer the chance to listen to people you might never hear again. Years ago, I took a summer class at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. One of our assignments was to sit outside for an hour and write down snippets of overheard dialogue. That was the best possible exercise in learning to write realistic, believable dialogue. I still do it sometimes, especially when I travel. I love hearing the flavor of another place through both natives and tourists. One line spoken by a passer-by can generate countless imaginary ideas!

Finally, traveling and getting out of a writing routine can make you remember to take risks and have fun! Sticking to a routine and having daily writing goals can sometimes make writers forget that all-important element of enjoying and having fun with your work. Traveling turns routines upside-down, and the unexpected, unpredictable places you go and people who cross your path will undoubtedly give you fresh, novel ideas. Even if you’re just going to a different coffee shop.