Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process? Left side for outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene? Right side for writing the rough draft and letting the story flow? Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble...
When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.
Here’s another one:
In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:
We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.
…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.
Cameron also writes,
Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?
These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.
Left Brain and Right Brain
My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.
A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.
“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.
But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.
Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.
I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.
Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.
Left to Right and Back
I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?
Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?
My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?
My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?
Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!
Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.
As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”
I think somebody is trying to tell me something.
I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!
It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!
For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”
Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:
…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)
…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)
…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)
There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.
Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:
1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.
2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.
3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?
Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!
Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.
Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?
Time and conscious observation will tell.
What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?
Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?
Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?
(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂