Friday, December 7, 2012

Writing With Both Sides of Your Brain

Most people think writers are clearly right brained. The right brain after all, is responsible for creativity. So why is it that we frequently see so many classically "left brain" thinkers like myself and other logical, problem solvers diving head first into writing? The short answer? Because writing is so much more than just creativity.

Sure an idea is what sparks a novel, but there's so many other things that go into writing a story. Stories have to be well plotted, have conflict, contain story arcs as well as emotional arcs, and they have to have a logical flow. Did you see that word logic I slipped in there? But that's not the only place logic comes into play. There is no denying that writing is a pure stream of creativity especially early on in the process when the ideas are flying, but the more you hone your writing and your idea, the more the left brain factors in.


*brain by TZA

Even at the very beginning of the writing process, one could argue the use of the left brain. In fact, I tend to use my left brain a lot in the planning stages of my writing. If I don't have some sort of outline to work with I'm sunk. And in planning an outline, I'm very methodical (imagine that for an engineer). I start with the beginning, a very logical place to work from, and I write small paragraphs about what I want to happen in each chapter. I organize my thoughts into a step by step progression of how I want the story to unfold. Does this organization change as I write? Most certainly, but it gives me a place to start and a good guide as I go.

I was however, extremely surprised to find that outlining is something a lot of writers struggle with. Surprising to me, because I find it so easy. When I get a bunch of ideas, I can clearly see how all the puzzle pieces fit together almost right off the bat. But I think the fact that most writers have a difficult time with outlining, also explains why a lot of writers like to "pants" their novels. Because they would rather the creative side take over and just write. I think this is one of the reasons why I have a very hard time with the blank page.

Blank pages are my nemesis. That little blinking cursor loves to mock me as I stare at the blinding white screen. Which is why I would rather rip apart my entire story, completely rewrite and rearrange it before putting it back together than start from scratch. And this is my left brain talking. I'm a problem solver so I work well with puzzles. I find editing is often like a puzzle that has to be solved. What are the missing pieces? (plot holes, character depth, scene descriptions, world building etc.) And what are the extra pieces in the box? (too much detail, extra characters, abused words, excessive dialogue etc.) This is where my problem solving skills really shine. Granted creativity doesn't get thrown out either because it takes a lot of creativity to work yourself out of a plot corner, but it also takes a lot of rearranging, adding, and the ability to see a clear path to the finish.

So while I love the "shiny new idea syndrome" that takes over and creates a flurry of typing, nothing beats the feeling after a good problem solving edit.

What do you think are you strengths and which side of your brain do you tend to favor?


  1. I SO agree with everything you've said, and this gives me an understanding of the different creation cycles--both of which, i Love. revision=rough draft. thanks for this.

    1. You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I 100% agree I like all sides of the creation cycle but I'm definitely better at the planning side and editing sides :)

  2. I so resemble this article and was just commenting on this very thing on CPseek. It seems there is a growing number of us equal brained engineers moonlighting as writers. So happy to connect! I thought I was all alone.

    1. haha so I think we just crossed posted! I literally just commented about this post on cpseek! So nice to meet another fellow engineer writer! You are definitely not alone :)