4. Turn off the Technology and get a Real Life!


Near my home in Hong Kong there’s a wonderful wilderness where I often walk my dog Bobby.  It’s off the road up an old path beside a graveyard. It has trees to climb and bushes to hide behind.  It’s covered in wildflowers. It’s quiet and it’s safe (Hong Kong is famously safe for children). Best of all it has old abandoned village houses which would make perfect cubby houses and dens.

But in all the time I’ve walked my dog there at weekends and during the holidays I’ve never ONCE seen a kid playing there. And I think I know why. Many of those kids are indoors either playing on their X-boxes, or surfing the internet, or watching TV or a DVD, or texting their friends.

In 2009, the Council for Research Excellence in the USA found that most Americans, no matter what their age, were spending at least eight and a half hours a day looking at a television, a computer monitor or the screen of their mobile phone. Frequently they were doing all three at the same time.

That is just HORRIFYING! Imagine – eight and a half hours a day sitting still with your brain only half engaged and your imagination just about nowhere!

Now think about it. If you are reading, or drawing, or making something, or collecting something, or playing at war or climbing trees or putting on plays with your friends, what is happening to your brain? It’s working hard, that’s what – especially your imagination. And we all know that imagination is the most essential tool of a writer:-

  • when you read a book your imagination is constantly visualizing what the author is writing about;  you are also building your vocabulary and your understanding of the world;
  • when you are playing at war or in cubby houses you are imagining a whole world of adventure;
  • when you are climbing trees you are learning about your body and the build of trees and all the things that live in and on them;
  • when you are collecting stamps  or shells  or comic books, you are learning about them and also the places or cultures they come from;
  • when you are making something, be it a model plane or cake or a hat, you are learning about shapes and materials and how things fit together;
  • when you are playing with your friends face to face, you are building your communication skills and forging friendships out of shared real life experiences.

And all of this thinking, communicating and imagining goes into your brain and stays there, really deep, because you are so focussed on what you are doing. You are experiencing life deeply, either first hand or in your imagination. And because that experience is unique to you, your thoughts are truly original. And original thoughts make original writers.

So what happens to your brain when you are watching TV or DVDs or playing on your X-Box or surfing the Net?

  • Your imagination is out of a job. Think about it. All the information is already supplied – what things look like and sound like and what happens next – because all that information is already built into the software. Okay, in a computer game you can sometimes choose what happens next, but that choice is limited by the options built into the program;
  • It’s impossible to concentrate for longer than a few seconds at a time. And that’s the way the big businesses making money out of kids want it. Did you know that the flashes of colour and rapid zooms and sudden loud noises on kids’ TV programs and computer games are there because advertisers have worked out that this is the best way to engage your brain’s attention without you even noticing? It makes you an easy target for people who want to sell you things you don’t need and stops you from making up your own mind about their products. It’s a brain-washer’s dream!But writing requires concentration – deep concentration;
  • You get addicted. There’s a growing body of evidence that kids who spend too much time on technological devices actually get addicted to the extent that they lose their social skills in the real world, not to mention their vocabulary. And if you can’t cope with the real world and have limited vocabulary, you’ll never be able to write about it;
  • You stop thinking deeply. Your brain is as good as what you put into it. When you are using technology, the constant distraction of widgets and gadgets and moving objects and buttons makes it impossible to access your long term memory, so that any new information you acquire cannot be absorbed properly. Your thinking becomes shallow. Research has found that reading books encourages the brain to cross-reference all your own experiences, things you’ve read before and ideas you’ve heard to make up one very original mix. That’s because reading books requires deep focus, allowing your brain to access its long term memory where all your other experiences and ideas are stored. Remember: deep thinkers become great writers.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that you never watch TV or surf the Net or play on your X-boxes. But I am saying that you need to switch off all that technology as often as you can, and get a real life!

The research suggests that for kids, more than one hour a day on technological devices, be that be that TV, DVDs, X-boxes or the internet can stop your brain developing properly. And if you want to be a writer – or anything creative for that matter – your brain is your most precious possession.

So after you’ve read my blog, go on…turn off the computer and do something really radical! Like reading or drawing or making something or climbing something or actually playing with your friends face to face! That’s the way to train a writer’s brain!

Copyright Sarah Brennan 29th September 2012





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  1. Great tips, Sarah Brennan! I think you should also add about publishing books! Your websites and books are funny and excellent! I think the Chinese calendar tales are a good topic! You must have followed these tips to become an author without books that fail! Your books are the best and I hope I will be as great as you when I grow up! Your tips are helping a lot! Thx:)

    Hillary 🙂

    • Thanks so much Hillary. But you too are a great writer, as you are proving in my Clever Competitions! Keep up the good work!

  2. i just luv ur tips! SO inspiring. great work!!! how do u get ur books published????????? pls reply; i wanna publish my own book.

    *sorry abt the abbreviations; im in a rush. thx!!!!

    • Yorkie I’m glad you liked the tips but PLEASE don’t write in these ugly, awful abbreviations. I HATE this sort of writing! It’s simply insane that you’re too rushed to write properly. The only way that we’re going to create great writers of the future is to SLOW DOWN, BREATHE and MAKE TIME for our writing and for our reading. And refuse to bow down to the text jargon of our current day – it’s rubbish and is destroying the beauty of our great language. I see that you want to publish your own book, so that’s a really important Top Tip from me to you!

  3. I think your tips are so good! My kids – Jojo and Benny – love your books. One day, they were playing video games and I told them to turn the computer off. They didn’t listen to me, so I showed them this page (hope it’s ok). They were like, “WOW! GEE WHIZ, MOM, YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD US EARLIER!” and they went off to play. I must thank you for your tips. 🙂

    • That’s my huge pleasure Claire. I think we ALL have the same issues with our kids, but it’s a hugely important one, and I’m delighted to hear that it helped!

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