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Memory Training Through Reading

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

We have talked before about the outsourcing of our database to the world around us, the negative repercussions of this to the creative mind, and to the ability to create new work in a reasonable time frame.

Imagine for a moment, (Or perhaps remember back!) we were first learning to read or write. Words come slowly to us. Perhaps we want to express the sentence, “An apprentice blacksmith is one whose hands have not yet grown the permanent callouses of the trade. How many of us still have that first hammer shaft, stained red with blood of the hours pounding rhythmically against the anvil like a trophy?’

A simple enough sentence, right? What if you didn’t know the word apprentice, blacksmith, callouses or rhythmically? Each of those words would need to be looked up, and found form general descriptions.

What is a word for a person who manipulates or works metal to turn it into tools? Blacksmith.

What is a word for a person who is new to a trade and has very little skill yet? Apprentice.

So on and so on.

We outsourced definitions, so construction of a sentence is slow, and external to our own mind.

That is what reading and writing is for everyone at first.

Thankfully, reading can serve as memory training if you let it. Good readers monitor their understanding and store data from time to time as they read. Perhaps you are reading a fiction or nonfiction about a tradesperson, learning their craft. You have general impressions of their struggles and path of learning they need to undertake in the timeframe and year of the piece. This is data. You put away a sentence long tidbit that says perhaps “Glassblowers in Venice in 1655 had to XYZ, before they could graduate from apprentice.” Etc.

But reading can only do this for us if we read consciously and train ourselves to perform the task. It is hard at first because perhaps we are all accustomed to just reading. But in college or in life, we must learn to read intentionally. Start with each reading session. It doesn’t matter how long the session is. One paragraph one page, one chapter or a two-hour binge all get treated the same way. At the end of that session summarize what you read in no less than a long sentence. Do this a handful of times if you read often, and doing it will start to become second nature.

Second, begin to move on to smaller chunks. Stop every chapter if you read for a long session and directly ask yourself what did I learn? Different than what happened, ask what is new to you as a reader? Methods, characters, settings … something. Keep on in this mode and break it down smaller. Every scene? Perhaps down to every few pages.

I personally find smaller than this to be where the balance of interrupting myself and learning sets in. If you did this long enough you begin to train yourself to unconsciously store information as a reader. You slowly increase your memory. The more often you do this you will begin to find as you are reading book ABC that you had a similar experience or similar reading over in book XYZ. You start making connections, and building a web of ideas that are in your head, immediately accessible and able to be used for your own creative endeavors. You have trained your memory, and by doing so you have trained your creativity.

Go work your memory. Go work your reading.

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