Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Writing With Your Left Brain (or How Not To Be A Successful Author)

About a month ago, one of my crit partners (who’s also an artist) brought up the subject of left-brain versus right-brain functions. Left-brained people tend to approach things in a logical, linear way, have good language skills, and are often good at solving problems. Right-brained people are more comfortable using their intuition, often think in non-linear ways, understand spatial relationships, and are good at things like music.

Unfortunately for a left-brained guy like me, right-brainers are also good at writing.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a left-brained kind of guy. It’s one reason I became a chemist. Being left-brained helps me with linear concepts like story structure (which makes perfect sense to me) and applying the rules of grammar.

I don’t mean to suggest I never use my right brain. I’ve always had an active imagination, which is why I have all these stories running around in my head. And my best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower, or driving along the highway, or listening to ambient music—all times when the right-brain tends to dominate.

The trouble is, when I sit down to write, my left-brain rudely steps in and takes over. (Probably because words and language are a very left-brain function) So instead of imagining the scene holistically as a right-brainer might do, I often describe every movement or action in the scene as if I’m writing out a recipe. My descriptions are bullet lists of attributes. My words are, to put it bluntly, flat and utilitarian. For me, the process of transferring what I see in my head down onto paper is the single hardest part of writing.

The trick is learning how to keep my right brain more active when I write. I’ve already learned I can’t listen to anything other than ambient music when writing, because as soon as I begin to process the words in songs, my left brain takes over and knocks me out of that altered, creative state of mind necessary for writing. Perhaps I’ll try that old writer’s trick of writing in long-hand, another right-brain centered activity. Fortunately, the Internet is chock full of tricks and exercises for exercising and stimulating the right brain.

It’s said geniuses are people who use both parts of their brain at the same time. I don’t need to be a genius, but when I sit down to write, I need the two halves of my brain to coexist peacefully.

Then all I’d have left to do is figure out this darn telling versus showing stuff….



  1. I've always had a problem defining myself as either right or left brained. I'm very good at certain things in both areas, and very bad in others. (My son is a chemist!)

  2. I don't listen to music either. I like it quiet. Lately I can't get either half of my brain to come out to play.

    1. I'm with you. I find it quite distracting. Nature noises--that is what works for me.

  3. I think I'm equally both. But I do struggle with getting the thoughts down on paper. Music does help though, lyrics or not, as that engages my right brain and makes the words come faster.
    Even if you just get the basics down the first time, there is always revisions for adding that right-brain stuff.

  4. Of late, I haven't really had a problem with this. I think more linear with plots, but can let it go and just write. I don't feel like the whole right brained, left brained thing is even legit anyway. Everyone uses all of their brain, they just may lean in one reasoning or the other.

  5. As a fellow left-brainer, I totally feel you. I am the same with music too. And I think that left-brain stuff is why I struggle with writing emotions (I actually ended up doubling my prologue last night...again).

    That's cool that you're doing exercises. That sounds like a good idea. :) I think I'll look up some of those.

  6. Cool topic of discussion! I don't know which I am, but I'm probably more right-brained. I don't do so well with numbers, math and hard sciences. I've always been more artsy. I think trying to figure out how to be more right-brained is a good idea when you compose fiction. That's where all the creativity comes from. :)