In an insidious form of ‘writer’s block,’ I used to be brought to a complete standstill by something I didn’t even realize was going on: each side of my brain wanted to be the one in control, firmly confident that IT had the ONLY correct method for writing. EVER.
The LEFT side of my brain was convinced that we HAD to start by MAKING A LIST. It had good arguments: once everything is written down, I could then focus on each item, do it and check it off the list.
The RIGHT side of my brain was convinced that, no matter where we were in the writing process, it was much better to gather up ideas, possibly writing them all down to generate even more ideas – the number of notebooks generated by the WIP approaches 20 – and the ‘writing down’ was already a compromise: my attempts to nap were filled with wild flights of imagination.
That first step always wants to be ‘make a list’ – but I can never get to that step FIRST: first I have to even have an idea what I’m doing.
For strictly editing scenes, the list method is sometimes enough to start.
But for New scenes, even if they already have some notes, I need to not fight it when my brain goes a gathering into the large world of all possibilities. It happens every time – I may as well get used to it.
NEITHER side could win the battle, but EITHER could block the other side from gaining ascendance for long enough to get any writing done. Big loser: me.
When I realized what was going on, that the battle meant that neither side got the floor (control of the writing environment: me) long enough to achieve ITS current writing goal, I started using the same kind of time-sharing I used when the kids were little and two (or three!) of them wanted the same toy/swing/game at the same time: arbitrarily pick ONE (the quietest and best(better?) behaved of the bunch) for the first 5 minutes, set the timer, and switch to the second child, repeating 5 minute turns until each had had as many turns as desired.
In other words, find a way to let each have part of the desired object, but have to share.
Something similar has happened since then in my writing.
The LEFT side of my brain has plenty of good structural and useful and NECESSARY ideas – but it can’t, by itself, produce good fiction.
The RIGHT side of my brain has all kinds of good words and descriptions and NECESSARY metaphors – but produces stuff no one can read if allowed free rein.
The obvious answer is to get the two sides to cooperate – and in my case it means using everything both sides throw at me in a chaotic, but somehow controlled, manner. I can’t play favorites – the side losing always finds a way to derail forward progress.
Neither side can say the other doesn’t matter – just that it shouldn’t be the dominant one.
I have learned to listen to the ‘blocked’ feeling as an indicator that, whichever side is in control, a change is required. If I’m doing structural plotting, I may need to go create some dialogue between two characters. If the metaphor won’t come, I need to write the pieces down and pick and choose on some logical basis which pieces to keep.
So, with the cooperation of both sides, we have reached a flexible alliance by promising each not equal time, but as much time as it needs – and a regular alternation.
A result of this cooperation is the following image (the pdf is also available under Writer resources/Downloads):
The LEFT side likes lists, and the RIGHT side likes visual aids, so when I’m stuck, I glance up at the printout on my bulletin board, and usually find not only that a switch is necessary, but an indication of WHICH step I need to return to/go on to. Since I formalized the agreement in writing, I rarely find myself blocked. Tired – yes – but that’s another story – and even then I can usually put down a few words before toddling off to nap**.
I think many writers already do this, though maybe not so formally, in such things as switching projects, changing from writing to editing and back, going from computer to paper and yellow legal pad, and other switching strategies that ultimately let cooperation produce output.
I find I like it tangible, formalized, written down. I have benefitted greatly from other writers’ written descriptions of the way they work/write/problem solve.
I haven’t come across this particular subject in quite my way – hope it helps someone else to stop the HEMISPHERE WARS – and minimize the blocking they cause.
**Writing with CFS requires careful energy management – and necessitates doing things in manageable chunks because I can’t work long enough at a time to push through. Some of the things I do by necessity might be useful to people whose writing time is broken up into variable lengths and happens at odd times for other reasons.
It also means there have been twenty updates to this page, including at least two to the title, since I clicked publish! Ack! Sorry! Brain fog!
Please let me know if it is STILL messed up.