Right Brain Dominant: How To Make Your Writing Flow

Posted at 00:00am on 25th April 2009

A comment on my post The Structure Of A Novel: 12 Tips, complimented me for my articles on writing fiction, but asked when you should give up the brainstorming and simply sit down and let the narrative flow? It’s a good question and one which I thought deserving of more attention than I could give it in the comment box. Hence the observations that follow.

Please bear with me. I’ve found it quite difficult writing on this topic in a readily readable way. It’s been necessary to include some academic material, which I’ve tried to lighten with anecdotal stuff, but it has been hard not to get bogged down. I hope you’ll think it worth the slog by the time you get to the end. Let me know in the comment box below. Right, here goes:

THE ESSENCE OF CREATIVE WRITING

At the age of seven, my eldest daughter passed the entrance exam to a public school. Not to be confused with a State school, in the UK a ‘public’ school is fee-paying and prestigiously academic. Although not as avant garde as some establishments, the educational policy was that bright children should be given free-rein to express themselves.

The idea is that the stimulation of interactive, hands-on, role play methods of teaching infants could and should be extended into later student life. The lessons learned in this way then have to be written up in an exercise book in the classroom. However, the enthusiasm this method of teaching engenders in pupils has to be unfettered by the mechanics and structure of formal writing.

The important thing was for the children to get down, as rapidly as possible, their ideas, opinions, experiences and responses to what they had seen and learned. Editing a piece of work was for later, when it was finished. So spelling (which might hinder the flow) was not on the curriculum. But learning how to use a dictionary properly was. To this day my daughter spells tired phonetically as tierd. But, she has a university degree and a professional post in which her creativity is paramount. In other words, it worked for her – and has for others.

To my mind being a professional writer is a matter of balance. There’s the God-given gift, or urge, to recreate. And there’s the human need to learn the techniques of your craft, to hone those skills, and to know how and when to employ them.

Whether you’re involved in writing novels, painting a work of art, or designing a piece of furniture, the end product – be it a book, painting or chair – comes into being as an act of creativity. Its source is your imagination; your inspiration; your muse. Call it what you will, it is generated by a flash of conceptual understanding which at this stage lacks any, or many, specifics. You instinctively ‘know’ what you are trying to achieve without fully understanding how you’re going to get there. This is what is known as Right Brain thinking.

RIGHT BRAIN CREATIVE

My creative writing ‘career’ began when I was a child. Much of it started its life as unwritten dramas, acted out with my best friend as we walked the mile or so to school in London. It was then nursed through various dramatised versions before reaching the ‘maturity’ of manuscript form. And it’s important to understand that creative writing as a medium has to be breathed into being in this way.

Both sides of the brain are capable of thinking, reasoning, and learning, but the manner in which each functions is quite different. Your Right Brain is what’s known as a ‘simultaneous processor’. It uses a visual process which is emotional, instant and global. A ‘Eureka’ moment! You ‘see’ a problem, a solution, a concept, in an unarticulated manner. You may, in fact, find it difficult to articulate because your left brain hasn’t yet caught up with the specifics.

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTION

Hope you’re keeping up with all this studious stuff. Nearly there, and then I’ll get down to the answer to Erich’s question.

The left brain is analytical and more geared towards learning by rote. This is known as a ‘successive processor’. Most educational institutions rely on the step-by-step, detailed and sequential style of teaching on which the left brain relies, though this may not suit all students, and may, actually, be detrimental to their ease of learning. It certainly was to mine and, for that reason, I wish my education had been more like that of my daughter.

Left brain activity is required for editing a piece of work, when an unemotional approach is necessary. It is more suited to an objective scrutiny, where reason and critique are to be applied.

WRITING FLOW BENEFITS FROM RIGHT BRAIN ACTIVITY

The conclusion I reached long ago is that being Right Brain Dominant is a necessary requirement for writing novels – but only in the early drafts. Personally, I find that trying to write to a format kills any narrative flow for me. So what, you might ask, is the value of the lessons on structure I’ve been blogging about recently? Perhaps it’s best explained by telling you about my grandson.

As a farmer’s son, he learned to drive a tractor before he reached his teens. Watching him manoeuvre – a little lad in a huge, heavy John Deere – was enough to fill any grandmother’s heart with pride and delight. When he later took me on a hair-raising trip around the farm buildings in an old banger of a car, it was another matter.

But the point here is that although he could see over the wheel of the vehicle, jam it into gear, press the accelerator to the floor with ear-splitting results from the exhaust, there was no way that he could be called a driver. Because, quite simply, he’d never had to take a course in road safety, the highway code, or courtesy and consideration of other drivers. Neither did he have a grasp of stopping distances, three point turns, hill starts or simply manoeuvring a vehicle on a road.

He knew the thrill of driving. But none of the technicalities and procedures. And in a way, it was harder for him to have to learn the requirements of road awareness when he reached the legal age to obtain a provisional licence, than it was for a novice learner driver. He had to learn to undo all the bad habits acquired during his unstructured early years of driving.

Which is why I would always urge a beginning writer to grasp at least a rudimentary level of understanding when it comes to the techniques required in writing a novel. Knowing something about the composition before you begin will enable you to free-wheel in your writing in much the same way that a cyclist pedals along without having to concentrate on keeping his balance. It comes naturally.

So Erich, never allow technique to impede the enthusiasm and flow of your creativity. Sit down and write; let your imagination take you on a rip-roaring journey of excitement that your fingers and keyboard can barely keep up with. But make sure that along the way you find time to learn and to hone your craft. Until one day you can take the stabilisers off your bike, or your mind off the mirror, signal, manoeuvre techniques of driving a car, and take off on the ride of your life, bound for the heady heights of right brain dominant novel writing.

Your Comments:

Erich Keithly
4th May 2009
at 11:16am

Thank you. I think my problem when I sit down to write is that I
am so focused on the left brain portion and never let the right
brain do it stuff thats where it comes from anyway. Your posts
serve as inspiration while walking the path of a writer.

Mel Menzies
21st May 2009
at 4:40am

Erich, one of the techniques which encourages Right Brain
activity is NOT to think about what you're trying to do but do
something which is boring, repetitive and manual rather than
mental. Apparently, so I'm told, that triggers the Right Brain.
It may be walking, ironing, gardening, mechanics - anything that
takes your mind off the one thing you want to focus on. That's
when your Eureka moment occurs!

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