Left Brain, Right Brain

Left Brain Right Brian - Writing Magazine - February 2012 1

Writing magazine:

Are you a left brain writer, or a right brain writer?


Are you predominantly a left-brain writer or a right-brain writer? Understanding which type of writer you are can help you to become a more positive writer. A positive writer tends to be a productive writer, and the more productive you are the more chance there is for success. The more successful you are, the more positive you’ll be, and so on. So how does understanding whether you’re a left-brain or right-brain writer help you become a positively productive writer?

School biology lessons taught us that the left side of our brain deals with the right side of our body, whilst the right deals with the left side. However, our left and right hemispheres of our brains also deal with other aspects of our lives. For example, the left hemisphere deals with logic. It scrutinises detail, analyses information rationally and sorts things into order. It’s where we process language, numbers and even helps us to control our bodies when exercising a skill, such as playing games, driving a car, or even typing. I call it our logical left side.

The right hemisphere of our brains deals with the bigger picture. It generates ideas and is where our creativity takes place. It processes photos, pictures and sounds, enabling us to recognise faces, shapes and music. I call it the radical right.

Armed with this information, you might assume that writers need to be right-brain thinkers. We do, but whilst having a right-brain dominance can help, what it means is that you probably find coming up with ideas relatively easy. Writers need to use both parts of our brains; we simply need to learn when to draw upon which side of our brains for the job we are doing. If the right side generates the ideas, then the left side is for editing. It’s the logical left that asks us why a character’s eyes were blue in chapter three but brown in chapter six. Writers need the logical left just as much as we need the radical right.

Because I earn my living from writing, I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block doesn’t put food on the table – words do. However, what I think many writers experience is a negative state of mind. That’s left-brain dominance. It’s when the radical right side of the brain comes up with an idea and immediately the logical left analyses it and tells you it’s stupid and it won’t work. That’s when we feel blocked. As writers, we then put more pressure on our right-brains to come up with more ideas, but as soon as we do, our left-brain dismisses them. Once you understand this is happening, there are tricks we can use to overcome this left-brain dominance and free up the right-brain’s thoughts.

  • Take any inanimate object and give it a different use. An egg whisk is no longer an egg whisk, but the joystick for your intergalactic spaceship! (It’s only an egg whisk because that’s what your logical left-brain tells you it is!) Spend one minute listing ten different uses for a hole-punch that doesn’t involve hole-punching! Don’t worry about how silly the ideas may be. It doesn’t matter. You have permission to be silly. That helps tell the logical left-brain to keep its nose out for the moment!
  • Listen to music. Music stimulates the right-brain and helps us draw pictures in our imagination. This can help generate ideas. If you need to write a powerful scene, have some dramatic music blaring into your ears.
  • Scrutinise pictures. Any pictures will do. They could be photos in a family album, or pictures illustrating a magazine article. What memories are triggered? What else could the picture illustrate? Can you create a name, occupation and family history for a person in a photograph you’ve found in a magazine? What other reason could there be for them to be in that picture? Is the picture from the right viewpoint?

When you have a fully developed idea, it’s time to start writing and this is where the logical left-brain can help. Planning is a left-brain activity and simply jotting down the basic ideas about your beginning, middle and ending can help with the writing process. Planning in detail can help writers overcome procrastination. Here’s how:

  • Create a list at the end of each writing session detailing what you need to tackle next time you sit down at your desk. That way, when you sit down tomorrow, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to get started.
  • Look at that list and break it down into detail. Don’t write, Contact interviewee and ask questions for article. Instead, write down the phone number of your interviewee and then list the questions you want to ask. Breaking things down into smaller steps makes them easier to accomplish, and therefore, more achievable, reducing the chances of procrastination taking over!

Interestingly, both hemispheres of our brain deal with emotion, although the left-brain deals with positive emotions and the right brain processes negative emotions. So the next time your work is rejected and you imagine an editor pulling out their hair in frustration because you think they perceive your writing is bad, just remember; that’s your radical right-brain producing an image in your mind for which your left-brain has no logical evidence to prove it! Rejection occurs for many reasons. Staying positive is all about understanding those thoughts, which will help you to be positively productive.

(c) Simon Whaley