So I wrote another book.
Or I’m in the process of writing it, I guess.
I recently turned in the first draft of the manuscript, but it’s far from done.
There will be structure edits, copy edits, line edits. Then proofs. Then cover discussions. Then the pre-launch. And then the actual launch. Needless to say, it’ll be a while before I get to hold it in my hands.
But for now? I’m celebrating 85,000 mostly coherent words strung together to form one big idea.
But as I victoriously attached the 326-page Word document to an email and jotted a note to my editor, I felt something besides the elation of a completed task.
It was… sadness? A twinge of melancholy, perhaps?
I felt like I was closing the door on a part of myself I’d come to really enjoy. For the past six months as I’d spent every waking hour hunched over my laptop, scrunching my face into contortions as I silently mouthed phrases and deleted unnecessary adverbs.
And I came to enjoy it.
Writing is so freaking hard, but also… Invigorating. Thrilling. Challenging. And the source of some of the best dopamine rushes I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I like who I am when I write.
I love how my brain fires on all cylinders.
I love how I feel ultra-motivated to seek out deep ideas.
I love racing out of the shower with dripping hair to jot down a sentence before it floats away.
This book, though barely into its first round of editing, has changed me.
It showed me I was missing something big in my life.
And odds are, so are you.
The Danger of Skimming
I’m a hardcore skimmer. I wouldn’t call myself a “speed reader,” but I can consume hefty amounts of content in a short time, mostly by scanning the information and honing in on sections I find interesting.
This strategy is useful if you’re wolfing down copious amounts of clickbait articles on Facebook, but it’s entirely unhelpful when researching a nonfiction book.
I figured this out in week two of the writing process.
As I dug into mountains of peer-reviewed articles and stacks of books, I couldn’t get into the groove.
I had to reread the same sentence over and over.
I struggled to read more than a few pages at a time.
I began to wonder if my attention span was decreasing with age.
But I couldn’t quit since I had just signed a massive book contract…
So I persisted. Haltingly.
But then something happened.
The more I dug into scientific journals, nerdy research papers, psychology texts, and hefty non-fiction books, the easier it became to focus. I started to connect ideas. Light bulbs came on.
And then, ideas began to flow. They’d hit me at the most random times. And they were good ideas… Concepts I had never considered before. Connections and new revelations. I was scared to go to town without a notepad in my purse in case another idea came knocking. It was fantastic and intoxicating.
But even more strange, the frenetic world of social media that had previously fascinated me suddenly felt… boring.
It felt like my brain was changing. And now that I know more, I think it actually was.
You’ve likely heard about brain plasticity before. In essence, it’s a fancy way to say that our brains have the capacity to grow and change in response to experiences, even when we’re adults.
And I’m pretty sure some major circuits were being rewired as I wrote my book. And it started with reading.
In an Nieman Reports article from 2010, Reading researcher and author Maryanne Wolf explains what happens when we read a word. In the first milliseconds, we decode the word itself. But then, immediately after, we start connecting it to all the other ideas and concepts we’ve ever known that connect to that word.
This is why certain words have connotations that stretch far beyond their simple dictionary definitions. They are attached, sometimes culturally, to events, to feelings, and to broader ideas. And in these moments, we often come across our most crucial breakthroughs and understandings.
This is what you might call “deep reading.”
Yet, this process of deep reading doesn’t happen by default. It’s a process that requires “years of formation” and “ is built by use, or it atrophies from disuse,” writes Wolf.
Admittedly (and also slightly embarrassingly), I think my ability to chew on deep ideas had atrophied from too much time on social media.
Because when we only ever fill our brains with information that requires almost no effort to consume or regurgitate, our brains get lazy. There’s no need (and often no time) to ruminate on it, to make connections, to tie it to other ideas we hold. As a result, our ability to process ideas weakens.
“Sound bites, text bites, and mind bites are a reflection of a culture that has forgotten or become too distracted by and too drawn to the next piece of new information to allow itself time to think.” writes Wolf.
The good news?
We can reclaim this. And I like to think of the brain reclamation process a little like grazing.
Intensive Grazing for Your Brain
Christian and I have been talking a lot about rotational grazing here on the homestead. While we’ve known about the principles forever, there are a number of challenges to implementing them in Wyoming.
This year we finally invested in the fancy poultry netting that everyone on YouTube swears by.
And we promptly admitted defeat on the fourth day of our 80-mph spring winds when we sheepishly hauled the chickens back to their coop so they wouldn’t blow to Nebraska.
For our herd of beef cattle, it’s a challenge to figure out fencing and water for hundreds of animals over thousands of acres.
But we’re trying. And I’m determined to figure out a system that works eventually because the concept remains compelling.
The Magic of Intensive Grazing
When animals intensively graze a small patch of ground for a short period of time, it forces them to eat everything that is there. This, combined with the impact of their hooves and manure regenerates pastures and encourages long-dormant native species to return. It’s an ancient, logical model.
In contrast, the more conventional grazing model suggests covering larger areas for longer periods of time. While this isn’t always detrimental, evidence shows this doesn’t stimulate as much vigorous growth since the animals tend to wander around picking the forages they like the most and leaving the rest.
The latter reminds me of our brains on social media.
When we feed our brains an unlimited supply of cheap, abundant content, they tend to get a little lazy. They take a bite of this over here, and a bite of this over there, but since they never commit, the stimulation that is required for deep growth never occurs.
In contrast, when we intensively graze our brain on meaty books and in-depth ideas and force it to make deep, lasting connection, we thrive. As Sherry Turkle writes in Reclaiming Conversations, “If we decide that deep attention is a value, we can cultivate it.”
A silly example? Perhaps. But I can’t help by tie everything back to the homestead.
So how do I plan to implement my intensive-brain-grazing plan?
This new blog is my first step.
I have a whole list of ideas I want to explore. And when I say explore, I’m talking deeeeep dives. And a lot of that will happen offline.
Writing my latest book reminded me that there is a whole world of fascinating ideas that simply aren’t on the internet. You might find hints of them here or there, but to get to the really good stuff, you have to close the laptop, stash the phone, and dig deeper.
I’m tired of shallow, cheap content.
I’m tired of the same ideas being regurgitated over and over.
I’m tired of the endless hunger for entertainment and trends.
I want to dig into deep books and meaty conversations, not 15-second TikTok videos and mindless chatter about Hollywood stars.
I want my knowledge and understanding to be stretched, not just confirmed.
That’s what I’m craving.
And that’s where the writing comes in.
Writing is how I process ideas. I don’t fully grasp concepts until I can write them out in my own words. So that’s what I’ll do here. This space will serve as a journal of sorts, and you are welcome to read along.
In addition to writing here, I plan to continue to read 3-4 good books per month. (My current “to read” list is sitting at 58. I’d better get busy…)
So that’s the thought process behind my new corner of the internet.
In a sense, this blog breaks all the rules.
Long form written content without video or clips or audio is the exact opposite of what we’re used to consuming in 2022.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’m so excited to create it.
How do you keep your brain exercised?