Monthly Archives: February 2017

Left Brain, Right Brain Writing and Editing

While at a writer’s group last week, listening to a writer comment, I had a thought that bears more consideration. Which side of the brain should I use during writing and editing? (see: )
The right-brain abilities include: Recognizing faces, expressing emotions, music, reading emotions, color, images, intuition, creativity.
The left-brain abilities include: Language, logic, Critical thinking, numbers, reasoning.
More recently, research suggests the two sides communicate easily, so it is not clear that the right brain/left brain is real distinction is valid.
These comments refer to writing fiction. My comments do not apply to non-fiction.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake that bifurcated brain functions are real. Expert advice suggests that on your first draft, you write without editing. Why? Free style writing uses creativity, and intuition, and expresses emotion, all right brain functions. When you edit, you are using a left-brain functions, critical thinking, logic, reasoning, and language. So, if you edit while writing, you are stifling your creativity.
I know people who say they cannot write without editing. Translated into brain speak, they are saying, “I can’t turn off my critical thinking and rely on creativity. They hamper themselves.
Then, after you get a first draft, you let your work get cold, don’t look at it for a week or more. What’s going on here? If you try to edit immediately, your right brain is still engaged and you can’t to detect errors. It happens to me all the time. I write something, and then ‘edit’ it immediately. When I read it at a critique group, the others stop me and say, you didn’t write what you just said. I am reading what I thought I wrote and not what I wrote. I cannot see my errors.
If I let the work cool for a week or more, I can see errors immediately. That’s because, my right brain has lost its connection to the work and when I’m reading, I’m using my language and critical thinking functions.
The same thing happens in reverse when we read someone else’s work. Our language/critical thinking functions are working and we can see other’s errors immediately.
After my story has cooled, I look at it again. I’m looking for errors of any type, weak verbs, too many adverbs, passive voice, and weak sentences. On one of my edits, I’ll have my computer read aloud to me what I have written. Again, I usually find a few instances where my eye skips over errors I ‘can’t’ see.
Finally, after I’ve polished my work as much as I can, I have one more task. That is to put in character’s descriptions, clues to the reader about their emotions, express myself musically, talk about colors and textures, create images for the reader, and creatively engage their intuition about the characters, their interactions with others, and their lives.
My shorthand expression about this is that I want to help the readers suspend disbelief, become emotionally involved with my characters, and experience the character’s world using their own right brain activities as a proxy for the character.
If I do otherwise, I lose them. If I use language that jerks them out of relating to my character, say I’m writing science fiction and I have a character use old west language, they’re lost.
If my logic fails, for example I have a passive character commit a violent act with no reason. Their critical thinking kicks in, as in ‘this character wouldn’t do that,’ or things don’t add up, or reasoning fails them. I lose the reader and they put the book down.
Any violation of left-brain thinking pulls the reader our of suspended disbelief, and the story falls apart.
In short, the formula looks like this:
1. Write the first draft quickly using your right brain
2. Edit several times using your left brain
3. Edit several times using your left brain to engage the reader’s right brain to connect with the story and the characters