Right Brain, Left Brain: The Writer's Balance

I have a friend who is brilliant with words. A natural storyteller, he can weave an engaging narrative around just about any subject. He pulls evocative words and images together seemingly out of thin air, off the cuff, without any discernible effort. He can talk circles around anyone, and can drag you around to his way of thinking even if you start off at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Of course, this guy is a brilliant writer. (He also went to Harvard Law School for fun, but that's another story.) 

I used to wonder, when we conversed over coffee, how I could possibly consider myself a "writer" when people like my friend existed in the world. I am not a verbal gymnast, nor am I a natural storyteller. Was I condemned to mediocrity on the page because I didn't share his natural talents and innate verbosity? 

For a long time, I let my beliefs about inborn talent and natural facility keep me from writing. I got stuck in the nasty mud of comparison and self-doubt. But then, I realized something: writing is a multi-faceted process, and each part of that process can be learned and mastered if we are willing to practice, stay curious, and fail epically a few times (or a few hundred times) before a new skill "sticks."  

Writing is interesting in that it requires a balance of opposites: inspiration and analysis, intuition and practicality, creativity and applied learning. The process of creating a piece of writing engages both the right and left sides of the brain, and requires the writer to operate on multiple levels of consciousness, sometimes simultaneously.

This is actually ... well, really cool. It's why so many people with different backgrounds and personality types can succeed as writers. It's also why every writer seems to struggle with a different part of the writing process. 

Writing requires a combination of raw creativity and acquired skill. Some people are naturally more creative and "right brained," and so may be able to pour words onto a page and create material seemingly out of nowhere. However, when creative energy predominates, planning processes (like outlining) and revision can be highly challenging. The opposite is true for more analytical, "left-brained" types: organizing and planning are easy and fun, but when it comes to putting words on a blank page, they get an instantaneous "brain freeze."

Here's how the writing process shapes up in terms of right-brain, left-brain balance: 

Overall message & themes: Creative
Planning: Analytical
Outline: Analytical
First draft: Creative
Revision: Analytical/Creative
Incorporating feedback: Analytical/Creative
Self-editing: Analytical

If we are naturally right-brain dominant, we will probably be at ease with the creative aspects of the writing process. We will be brimming with new ideas, and thrive on "downloading" new material from our creative Source. But when it comes to revision, self-editing, or organizing what we have created, we may run into challenges, and either ignore the need to organize/revise or move on to another project without finishing the current one. 

If we are left-brain dominant, we may love creating structures and outlines, and the process of planning our writing projects. We may also be more comfortable revising existing work than creating new work. And we may be tempted to "write what we know" (instead of creating something new and different) in order to stay out of that uncomfortable creation zone where there are too many unanswered questions.

Bridging the Gap

The great news is, any skill we don't naturally possess can be learned. No one is entirely right-brained or left-brained; we all have some combination of creative and analytical traits. The key is to recognize where we need to strengthen our connections on the other side of the mental aisle, and then fire those connections over and over until our new skills feel comfortable and natural. 

(It's also worth mentioning that there are some skills in writing that are not natural to anyone. No one is born knowing how to conjugate verbs or punctuate a complex sentence. Grammar and syntax are acquired skills that need to be studied in order for a writer to master his or her medium.)

When I decided that I was going to follow my writing dream, I needed to let go of my misconceptions about what was possible for me to learn. Contrary to popular belief, creative facility can be trained - and, like any skill, it diminishes when we don't use it.

For example, I realized that, if I wanted to become adept with metaphor, I needed to train my brain to think in metaphor, and to "see" connections between things which, to my logical brain, seemed entirely unrelated. When I did this consistently over a period of several months (and stopped chastising myself for the crappy, cliché metaphor I was writing in the meantime) my underused creative brain began firing on all cylinders. I started seeing the world differently. Now, metaphor occupies a large space in my teaching toolbox. 

So, if you're struggling with any part of the writing process - creative or analytical - don't beat yourself up over it. It's not a case of natural talent versus the field, and you aren't doomed to failure because certain skills don't come as easily for you. All you need to do is look honestly at your brain's natural "comfort zone," and then make a commitment to push those boundaries until you master what you desire to learn.

Happy writing! 



Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books. In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.