Guest Post: Writing a Novel with your Left Brain vs. Right Brain

left-right brain (Natasha)I’m a pretty solid left-brainer. I’m organized. Not to a compulsive degree, but close enough. I like things in the right places, dishes in the dishwasher, papers filed, pillows fluffed. My three kids’ diverse daily schedules are color-coded on my iPhone. I’m a slave to the clock.

So you’d think my left-brain would prevail even when it comes to the normally right-brain task of creative writing. You’d think I would break the seal on a fresh package of colored index cards, or open a blank document on my MacBook, and then begin outlining my novel in an orderly fashion – chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. Wouldn’t you think that? Me too.

But no. When I begin a novel, my left-brain hightails it. It cowers in the shadows, horrified, as ideas come in no particular order, in scattered bits and pieces – a mood, a setting, a moment, a fragment of dialogue. After much kicking, screaming and self-loathing over this disorganized plot-less thing, a well-meaning critique partner might gently suggest that I focus on creating an outline or a story map. Then there’s more kicking, screaming and agony.

But, it eventually happens. My brain – left and right – pulls all the pieces together – the characters, the plot and subplots – and the novel goes where it needs to go. Not in the first draft, certainly, but eventually. This is the inefficient, frustrating, miraculous process that somehow works for me.

So my goal as I trudge through the current torture of this novel-in-progress, is to remind myself to trust my own process. I have to allow the right-brain ideas to swirl in an uncomfortably messy chaotic mush for a while. My left-brain can’t force the ideas into their proper places until the right-brain is ready to give over some control. Though painful, this process will get a novel written. Maybe it’ll even be my best one yet.

What about you? Do you fall in the right- or left-brain camp?

*According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the left side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic and analytical thinking, while the right side is best at expressive and creative tasks. Researchers have debunked the theory, but, for this post, let’s just believe.

Natasha SinelNatasha Sinel is a writer of young adult fiction, represented by Linda Epstein. She lives in Bedford Corners, NY with her husband and three male children. When she’s not writing, she can be found muttering expletives while wiping off toilet seats and bathroom floors. She’s pretty sure that if she were male, she’d figure out how to do the whole thing right.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Guest Post: Writing a Novel with your Left Brain vs. Right Brain

  1. Natasha I think creativity, like life, is a big, messy, beautiful ride that is best enjoyed when you just go with it; occasional screaming allowed. And speaking of messy… I have a son and I laughed out-loud–and totally agree with you–regarding the whole ‘pretty sure I’d figure out how to do the whole thing right’ situation!

  2. “…after all, I want to be as efficient as possible and not write off on a bunch of tangents that will turn out to be wasted energy!”

    Well, yes, Sharon, this is the drawback of the right brain! Efficient it is not! I’m on the third 1st draft of my current WIP, so…I’m searching for the happy medium. The good news is that I do have some great usable scenes from the first two 1st drafts.

  3. I still have to fight my left brain a lot of the time. My impulse is to create a definite trajectory for a piece as soon as I begin writing–after all, I want to be as efficient as possible and not write off on a bunch of tangents that will turn out to be wasted energy! But I have slowly learned that this controlled, write-to-the-goal sort of writing turns out flat and uninspiring. So I’m starting to realize that, especially in the early stages of writing, I have to nurture my imaginative, somewhat hare-brained side, because that’s where the truly inspiring ideas come from. When I sit down to write now, instead of focusing on turning out as many “usable” pages as possible, I tell myself that my goal is to sit here and ENJOY writing. If I’m relaxed and having fun, the ideas come almost effortlessly.

  4. So happy to read this. For years I told myself that I couldn’t write fiction because I was a math teacher. Now I describe myself as a math teacher off on a tangent of poetry.

  5. I’m definitely a right brain person in just about everything, in spite of my best efforts to be more left brain. It is comforting to know that natural lefties can let their righties run for the good stuff. Thank you!

  6. Fun post, Natasha! I was horrified about the debunking of the left and right brain theory because that’s been my go-to excuse for so many things in my life, including scatterbrainedness. Also, that AMEN you heard from afar was me. Because we have four boys.

  7. Taking turns, a skill learned on the playground —I agree it seems to work well for writing too! Thanks for bringing this idea to the foreground, (front of brain?)

  8. Pam

    Cute!
    I like how you boil the writing process down to left brain right brain. It is also way to justify and silence the inner critic. Kind of like telling your brain they need to take turns. Thanks!!