Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Write Brain, Left Brain

by David Sharp

We've all probably taken some quiz describing us as a right-brained (creative) or a left-brained (analytical) person. It's easy for us to relate to a tendency for one kind of thinking over the other. However, right-brain/left-brain dominance is a modern myth of science -much like the one about only using 10% of your brain. (Unless you're catatonic. But then, how would you be reading this?) The truth is we use both sides of our brain.

Inspiration? It's just past the hippocampus and left at the
medulla oblongata. If you hit the cerebellum, you've passed it.
Certain functions do tend to take place in one hemisphere or the other, but most tasks require the joint effort of multiple thinking functions communicating between both hemispheres. Speech, for example, is made up of vocabulary and grammar (left brain functions) as well as intonation and emphasis (right brain functions). Sarcasm would be incomprehensible without all these functions firing off at once. Like you'd totally get sarcasm with only half a brain.

We choose between our wizard robe and our lab coat. 

Nevertheless, we tend to approach our writing (and revising) with a creative emphasis or an analytical one, switching out from day to day. Will today be about unbridled creativity, or logical structure? Allow me to opine that the best writing sessions don't make you choose. Composition is the process of translating creative thought into a structural format we call "story." Apologies for the technical jargon. My best writing (and revising) sessions are somewhere to the left of brainstorming and to the right of line-editing. These are the ones where the story seems to write itself.

I am not saying that I don't have chaotic brainstorming sessions or that I don't go back and perform grammar surgery. Sometimes it is important to look at my writing with a cold analytical lens. All writing sessions can't be magical, nor should they be. But those truly memorable sessions, the ones where time melts away like M&M's in your mouth (but not in your hand), are about synergy. It's when all that wild creative energy translates into the perfect structure as "words," "sentences," and "paragraphs." -More jargon, I know. Sorry.

Layered characters require layered writers.

Why make yourself out to be 2-dimensional by pigeon-holing yourself as a right or left-brain person? My desk testifies that I am into creative chaos, but I also like spreadsheets, because I enjoy giving form to things that are abstract. The full process of writing, with all the revision and editing that goes into it, takes an enormous range of mental processes. You are applying organization to inspiration. If you've so much as produced a short article, that's a lot of brain-juice.
Structure and imagination come together
to make a pretty nifty staircase!

What's my point here? It's this. Don't box yourself into a right-brain/left-brain mentality. Outside of being scientifically inaccurate, you're selling yourself short. Achieving a state of flow is all about balance. Those times when your brain is firing on all cylinders are those times that you feel as if you've left your brain altogether, right? That's when the magic happens. You are absent from your own mind, and fully present in your story. And that is why (forgive me for this) the write brain is the brain you've left behind.

For more on writing-brain science and achieving flow, check out the following articles:

How to Find Your Writing Flow
(This one includes some great thoughts on what constitutes a state of flow, as well as a nifty chart.)

Being Creative: The Right-Brain/Left-Brain Myth and Flow

Modern Myths of Learning: The Creative Right Brain


April Moore said...

I confess; I've always fed into the right/left brain thing. It's good to know both sides are working together, although, whether or not it's translating onto my Word Doc is a whole other thing. Great post, David.

David Sharp said...

Me too, April. I've often thought about myself as a right-brained person, but somehow I still like charts and biology. After years of trying to develop rounded characters, I've discovered maybe people are kinda rounded too! Thanks for commenting!

JC Lynne said...

I will say rather than a right brain left brain thing, there are types of logic and reasoning that are characterized by what the Beard and I call symmetrical and asymmetrical. Engineers are an entirely specific type of thinker compared to the typical writer.

As an air traffic controller, I learned to channel my buried logistician. In my experience, it's a challenge for one type or another to tap into those recessive traits.

And don't get me started on the rounded rant ;)

David Sharp said...

Very true. Different brains certainly operate differently, though it's much more complex than I think we tend to see it. I've also read that some people retain and process information in a categorical way and others in a relational way. That may be similar to your symmetrical and asymmetrical. I really like the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which is sort of an annex on the ol' Meyers Briggs test. It gives a multidimensional view of how we operate.

Thanks for commenting!

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