Don’t Let Your Left Brain Win

Rendering of human brain.

Image via Wikipedia

One of the most influential ideas that percolated into my brain at the writer’s convention was a basic neurological application.  Our right brain versus our left brain.

This idea was really delved into by a brilliant author, Kirt Hickman.  (If you haven’t read his book, Revising Fiction, or had the opportunity to attend one of his classes, I highly recommend both.)

As you may or may not know, the left brain typically controls your logical, rational, “editing” thought processes.  The right brain controls your creativity and imagination processes.  And it is absolutely crucial, during the initial writing stages where you are solely creating, to quiet your left brain.

Problem is, for most people (myself included), quieting the left brain is a near-impossible task.  It’s the little voice in your head who whispers things like “You really need to re-write this sentence.” And “Are you sure you’re satisfied with the dialogue on page 23?  You should go back and change it.”  And “Nobody’s going to read this.  You should just stop and do something more productive.”

Sound familiar?

If this is what you think while your writing, this is your left brain rudely interfering with your right brain’s creative processes.  And if your left brain continues to get in the way, your right brain will eventually give up and tell your left brain to write it.  This is the cause of many lost muses.

There is a solution.  Suggested by Kirt Hickman, there are several ways in which you may combat left brain intrusion.

  1. Get up early.  Your left brain is sleeping all night, but your right brain stays awake and gives you dreams.  If you wake up early enough (and skip the coffee) you can fool your sleeping left brain for a few hours of solid creative writing.
  2. Separate yourself from all distractions.  This includes internet, cell phones, children (not a personal issue but I can only imagine the difficulty of this) etc.  All of these distractions kick your left brain into gear and it can be extremely difficult to turn off once you’ve turned it on.
  3. Write by hand.  Typing is a neurological process that uses your left brain.  Writing by hand, especially in cursive, actually uses your right brain processes instead, immediately shutting down another subtle way your left brain can interfere.
  4. Write on unlined paper.  The desire for lines and order is insisted on by your left brain, but your right brain thrives on the open unconfined visual spaces of unlined paper.
  5. Never, EVER, stop to edit your work.  This includes poorly written sentences, misspellings, or any form of internet research.

These tricks aren’t necessarily easy, and for them to be truly effective it takes practice (after all, haven’t we all been taught to listen to only our left brain for the whole of our lives?)  It is likely our right brain is sadly underdeveloped and to truly create we must nurture and develop it with work, time, and energy.

Guess that’s another reason why you can’t be a writer without passion.

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10 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Left Brain Win

  1. Thanks for all the suggestions. You are so right about how the left brain can overtake the creativity. I am blessed that I am fairly well balances . . . but at the end of the day the left brain may rule.

    I blog about living a more meaningful and fulfilling life. I’d love your reaction to my blog and your readers may find it thought-provoking as well. You can read it at: http://findfulfillflourish.wordpress.com

    My best,
    Steve

  2. The problem with the left brain/right brain theory is that both sides of our brain work together, and in spite of the idea being debunked over and over again by people who actually do research in the field, it keeps hanging in there. The suggestion that you should always write by hand is sheer nonsense. If you can type faster than you can write by hand, the computer allows you the freedom to write at a speed that is closer to what your brain is producing. Your brain doesn’t give two hoots whether you’re seeing lines on the paper, and unless you’re totally obsessive about getting every word, phrase, and bit of punctuation exactly correct, editing while writing may let you see new ways to approach the material. If you realize that there’s a much better way to construct a sentence, why would you just ignore it and hope you won’t forget to change it later? Why would you put off research if it’s just what you need to get over a temporary hump?

    It’s bad enough when writing advice is based on the popular distortion of a scientific finding. Add to that some dogmatic rule-based advice, and what you wind up with is inexperienced writers struggling to function inside a strait jacket instead of simply writing and, in the process, discovering what’s right for them. Creativity is neither right nor left brained.

    • Assuming your point that this is not the only option for a writer wanting to adjust their writing styles to their brain styles, I am in agreement. There are so many approaches and varied ways to approach the creativity process of writing. Especially considering that every human brain is incredibly unique and that, overall, even general research studies try to categorize all that individuality into extremely general “rules”. (Although, in fairness to everyone, I’d like to point out that is in the nature of the human brain to categorize and put things into boxes before acknowledging subtle differences – all the subtle differences in the world could really overwhelm us.)

      Back to the point, I am simply offering some possible options for new writers – writers who do not yet know their “best way” to write or how to get everything they can out of their creativity process. As a new writer, I feel my only option is to explore all the options that experienced writers have put out there. Ideally, a young writer would condense all the different ways of writing into one program that works for that individual.

      And, personally, I find that silencing my inner editor is the only way to avoid completely halting my creative process in a long-term project.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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