I come by my interest in psychology, learning and intelligence the honest way. Back in third grade, when I still couldn't read, my teacher told my mother, "Daniel is a slow learner." But in sixth grade, I received straight A's. In-between, my best friend had started reading Spider-Man and other Marvel comics. When I discovered them, and began writing and drawing my own, my life as a writer began.
My first job after graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin was to help create and serve as editor of the Clayton Times, based in the suburbs just outside of St. Louis. Determined to write for national publications, I sold a few stories to the National Examiner, a supermarket tabloid, including my first cover story, "I Was Attacked by Killer Bigfoot."
In 2009, after more than 25 years as a freelance science journalist, I wrote a piece for Neurology Today, the official publication of the American Academy of Neurology, about research into drugs that could improve the cognitive abilities of people with Down syndrome. One of the doctors I interviewed, Alberto Costa, had published the first study to show that a drug could immediately improve the ability of mice with a version of Down syndrome to navigate a maze; he was now testing the drug on young adults with Down syndrome. His own daughter, the same age as mine, had been born with the disorder. I ended up writing about Dr. Costa and his search for Down syndrome in the New York Times Magazine.
Then I wondered, "Is it possible to increase the intelligence of people who don't have Down syndrome?" I learned that dozens of studies had been published showing that the intelligence of children, adults and older people, whether healthy or facing cognitive challenges, could be increased through a variety of methods: physical exercise, specially designed computer games, learning a musical instrument, mindfulness meditation, transcranial direct-current stimulation, and more. A handful of prominent skeptics continue to insist that it's all a lot of baloney, that IQ is forever. I've now described the latest research in two other feature articles in the New York Times Magazine. And for my new book, "Smarter," I personally combined all the methods shown to work, including learning to play the Renaissance lute. (That would surprise some of my old friends, who recall my college band, the Mutations, for which I sang songs like "I Hate You" and "I Want Your Body.") As a result of my training, my fluid intelligence increased by 16%.
Another part of my career as a writer is something called 60-Second Novels. Back in 1983, I decided to take my manual Remington typewriter onto Michigan Avenue in Chicago, tape a sign to it that said, "60-Second Novels, Written While You Wait," and see what the heck would happen. It was meant to be an absurd performance-art experiment in which I expected most people to squint at me and tell me to get a job. But like in "The Producers," my bizarro idea turned out to be a success: a line of people formed and started handing me five dollars a pop to talk with them and then write something inspired by our conversation. Within a year I quit my job as an editor at the American Bar Association, moved to New York, and became a full-time 60-Second Novelist, earning as much as $300 a day on the sidewalks of New York. Eventually I started writing 60-Second Novels at corporate and private events around the country. Is this a great country or what??
But after 30 fricking years of it, I'm giving up 60-Second Novels. This science writing thing just might work out.