01 January 2010

Christmas Repost: Left and Right, Editor and Muse

Reposted from May 19 2009. Updated to include video.

A little while ago a trend went through the writing blogosphere (as trends tend to do) for posts about one’s ‘Muse’. Belatedly, because what I taught in my creative writing class yesterday reminded me of it, I’m going to chip in with my own two cents ;)

There’s long been a theory that the two halves of your brain have different functions: generally, the right brain is typified as being the centre of creative impulse, of emotions and intuition and irrationality. The left, as the opposite, gets the job of being rational, logical, precise, mathematical, and has the ability to recognise patterns and so forth.

These days, the accuracy of this theory is beginning to be questioned as we learn more and more about neuroplasticity (the idea that your brain is ‘plastic’, or malleable, in terms of function: there’s no one-to-one relationship between area and function, because your brain can learn to perform any given function using any given part of the brain, if it needs to), but there’s still this basic concept ‘out there’ that people tend to be either right or left brain dominant, just like they tend to be left or right handed.

You’d expect, I suppose, writers to be predominantly right-brained: creative, intuitive, etc.
But here’s the thing: I firmly believe that you can’t be a really good writer without being in touch with both sides of your brain.

If you think about it, what I’m saying isn’t all that out-there. We discuss this concept as writers all the time – just in different terms.

For example, hands up who’s heard the term ‘muse’? Don’t you think the concept of the ‘muse’ – the creative impulse, who functions by instinct and spontaneity, who struggles with logic sometimes and is intensely intuitive – meshes nicely with ‘right brain’?

And what about the left brain? Well, who’s heard the term ‘inner editor’, or some such? People are pretty fond of personification, it seems; we even personify the different parts of our brain :D ;)

So we have a ‘muse’ and an ‘inner editor’, or a left and right brain for the more prosaic amongst us. Both of these ‘creatures’ can be right pains in the backside – the muse stubbornly refusing to reveal more of an idea, and the inner editor constantly criticising the ideas that we do get, both at their extremes resulting in writing paralysis – but both are intensely necessary to the writing process.

You can’t write both drafting and editing, and you can’t draft without imagination, nor edit without logic and an eye for detail.

Two halves: one whole.

Both may seem painful at times – but as writers it’s in our best interests to learn to work with them both – and most importantly, to learn how to switch between one and the other.

If you're interested, I highly recommend the following video, hosted by Alan Alda, which clearly demonstrates just how awesome the two sides of the brain are.

If the embedded video isn't working, try this link.

So – how about you? Do you personify your brain, or not?

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