Right brain + left brain = magic

Everyone’s perception of the direct process of creativity is going to be unique to them. I experience it in terms of two halves working together – right brain and left brain, for lack of any terminology that works better.

The story itself, the content, often feels like it comes from outside of me; I’m just watching the events, writing them down as rapidly as my hand can move. Characters and setting are there, waiting for me to tap into them, and once I tune in properly, the characters go ahead and do their thing. Friends have many times heard me muttering dire curses on a character who simply refuses to do what I would prefer that they do. The pure raw material comes from the creative and holistic right side of my brain, which immerses itself in the emotions and experiences and sees the story as a unified whole.

That’s wonderful, and intoxicating, and that side has strengthened over a lifetime of encouragement although it was pretty vivid even as a child. Maybe it just never had the chance to curl up and go dormant. However, it isn’t enough to make a writer.

The left side of my brain wraps words around the images and emotions and events. Without the ability to convey what I’m seeing in my mind, it’s entertaining only for me and even then it’s fleeting – I can only remember so much for so long. It’s in re-reading my work that I can watch the progress this side has made. My earliest stories are at the mercy of the imagery, even if that means the logic has flaws or the pieces don’t fit together smoothly; those ones I keep safely hidden away, not so much in embarrassment as because they aren’t what I would prefer people see me as, but I keep them. Over time, I can see the development of that side of my brain, growing sharper and clearer and better able to weave the raw material into a polished piece that truly expresses what I meant to say all along. It not only fixes grammar and spelling, but searches out small inconsistencies; it identifies the central plot and restructures the rest around that; it spots the details that were missed in the initial mad rush because I could see them and forgot that a reader wouldn’t. Its job is to turn me from a daydreamer with pretty pictures in my head into a writer who can share that with an audience, and over the years, it has become very good at it.

When both sides are working in harmony, it’s a euphoric sensation, an incredible high that usually leaves me, afterwards, with something to show for it as well.

The two sides have an unfortunate tendency to get out of balance. Often, my left brain will step in too early and attempt to drag the story in one direction or start nagging about details better left until the re-working process. Worse, it may start murmuring to me about “what people would like” or “what’s acceptable”. Any of this generally derails the entire story, bringing it to a halt and silencing the characters until I figure out how far back I jumped the tracks and I go back and fix it.

At other times, though, generally when I’m heading into a major depressive episode but sometimes if I’m just tired and stressed, my left brain will instead get lazy and sluggish. While my right brain is still awake and the characters are still jumping up and down waving their arms to get my attention, the part of my brain that’s supposed to be putting it into the perfect words curls up and takes a nap. I can get around this, and sometimes choose to do so deliberately for fun: filling my MP3 player with music that resonates with the current story and going for a long walk has, since my teens, been a way to access the story material directly, bypassing the need to fit words around it. (I can use the left brain without the right, as well – how else would I be writing this? That’s less fun, though!)

Since my right brain goes quiet only in the worst depressions, I’ve concluded that 1) my right brain, the storytelling part, is more natural to me, or 2) my left brain, the analytical part, takes far more energy to keep functioning, or 3) some combination of both.

The old saying is “Ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration.” When the two sides are in balance, it feels like a much more even distribution than that, but there have been times it felt true.

I’m inclined to believe that everyone has the potential for a similar process – if not with writing, then with the countless other kinds of creativity. There are two catches.

One is that Western society, while encouraging sitting passively in front of a TV, discourages adults from playing – doing something simply for the pleasure of doing it, with no ultimate goal, no concern for what others think of it, perhaps nothing produced at the end. Once you lose the knack of just letting go, it takes some time and practice to regain. Play is what feeds the right brain.

Ideas are priceless, but without the skills to give them form, ultimately of no use to anyone but you. Learning skills, whether language or painting or knitting or music or any of the infinite other forms of creative expression, takes time and work, often quite a lot of both, to master. In a society that expects instant gratification and in which shallow garbage somewhere below the lowest common denominator makes bestseller lists and tops charts, it takes intense resolve to keep pursuing something that doesn’t offer up a quick reward, and may in fact never reward you with fame or money.

Me? I think the ecstatic moments when everything comes together are a reward in themselves. Combine that with sharing what I write and hearing from people who enjoyed it, and the countless thousands of hours of my life I’ve devoted to writing are all worth every minute.

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About Steph Shangraw

More often known as prysma-kitty, prysmcat, or variations thereof, than by my "real" name of Steph Shangraw. I'm a crazy cat lady, indie fantasy writer, and admin of Cheezland.org, in no particular order. When not writing, I'm generally maintaining a lolanimals website for my friends, serving my three feline overlords Trick-or-Treat and Cory-Bear and Freya, making cat toys for friends all over the world or for Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative (TNVR and then some) as fundraising, and occasionally eating and sleeping. Anything writing-related, including my blog about the process and my serial fantasy Moonblood, can be found via my author site, apart from my old collection of shorts. Since I tend not to say something simply for the sake of saying something, that blog and my cats-and-life one are updated irregularly. A series of major household disruptions beginning in mid-2015 has caused some serious delays in everything, including novel releases and writing, but I'm hoping to resume all around as soon as possible.

Posted on 8 August 2013, in writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Wow, you really tagged it Prysma! I always had a suspicion that is how it was supposed to work but had no way to express it as well as you did. Ob corse, wif mi dees lexxxia, da rite/leff fing jus duzzint mak cents anniwai. So I never gave it much thought. I just went about mi vida loca and made sure I could work in my creative side. I HAVE to be creative with something or I will explode! If I have noting else, I will fashion somethign out of what ever is at hand: string, twist tie, bits of paper, beer can. I have been lucky that I can create with my brain or hands especially since my lupus has restricted the use of my hands quite a bit. Through the years I have worked with drawing, tried painting but was good only with furniture, sculpture, designing structures (left brain mostly?), fabrics, logos, sewing. And da liss grows ebberry dai anna allus will! Fankees fr dis post, ai enjoyed yur faut pwocess anna lubs yur mine! (Ai habs a hoapful dat dis wuzzunt jus silly wamblin onna mi pawt.)

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    • Well, this is my personal perception of it, not absolute truth. I bet there are other ways people experience it.

      Given my personal experience with dyslexic folks, who have generally been intelligent and creative, I suppose within this system that would translate into, “Right/wholistic brain working just fine, left/analytical part has some things it can’t process.” But, y’know, I think that’s everybody, really. While I was being praised for my language skills in school, later the same day I could find myself practically in tears in art class because I couldn’t draw a simple flower – it looked like something done by a kid half my age. Our society is just more fixated on one than the other. Lolspeak can be creative in itself, of course, and I’m getting the sense that there are a substantial number of people using it that are dyslexic – which is interesting, since it’s a specifically linguistic game, just with different rules. 🙂

      Sometimes I actually envy people who can do more material and tactile forms of creativity well. I’ve dabbled in various crafts over the years, frequently starting as research (“What happens if I make a basic frame loom out of dowelling and try a very old way of weaving?”) but really mastering any of them takes time, and I start getting restless fairly rapidly because I want to go back to the art form that I’ve already specialized in and that both sides of my brain are trained in! About the only exception is my cat toys, and they generally happen in the lulls when my left brain goes offline for a bit.

      The combination of dyslexia and lupus sounds like it could get seriously frustrating, especially with the creative part of your brain so strong and active. I guess it takes a certain amount of creativity to find outlets for creativity under restricted conditions! I’m glad you can and do. I always think it’s sad when people go through life without letting themselves create. Their lives must feel so empty, something like going through life without ever forming a true close bond with a cat, dog, bunny, horse, whatever (not something you or I have any shortage of). Maybe that’s where trolls come from, y’think?

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  2. You may be right about the Trolls. I just cannot imagine living a life with no interest in or contact with animals and nature and only living in a left-brain, no emotion/creative state of mind all of the time. How sterile! (how did Mr. Spock do it?) And I think when you have something so powerful in you that says you WILL create! or else, it will come out no matter what restrictions are outwardly imposed. Because we have our power safely ensconced in our braniums and if life leaves us with nothing but a big toe, I’ll bet I will be designing something and scribbling with my big toe while you type with yours! That is what makes us so much fun to be around, ha!

    As far as the physical limitations put upon me by lupus, I have problems with swelling in muscles and tightening of tendons. If I overuse my hands/muscles, they swell up and aren’t cooperative for awhile. There are ways around that most of the time. I used to be a full out person, “I’m gonna get this done even if it takes all night no matter what”. Lupus brought all of that to a full stop and forced me to slow down enough to remember to breathe and smell the roses damn it! That was kinda worth it in a way. I have two drawings I did both before and after lupus that really illustrates the change in me. The first is a drawing of a bobcat that I just had to make PERFECT in every detail. I drove myself nuts trying to do perfect stuff. The second is a sketch I made of my little animal family at the time that shows each animal’s personality perfectly! Once I gave myself permission to be imperfect, the freedom to be expressive poured out and it has been wonderful. I couldn’t get the sketch out of it’s frame or I would have scanned it and posted it in my gallery collection just for laughs. I tried to take a picture and that came out ok but just a little blurry. It would be fun to compare my sketch to some of the pictures that I have posted of the animules in my gallery.

    Fankees for listening and keep posting!
    Penny

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    • Thanks Penny for bringing up handicaps. As you know I am disabled, disc problems, and are on fairly strong narcotics (morphine) which definitely turned me into a zombie for a while … a normally active and wondering mind trapped in a body that would not do ANYTHING that it should 😦

      Strange thing – I am a “professional” painter – I have had showings and sold a few pieces. I have done still-lifes, and details (a section of a much larger painting) in styles of the masters (Monet, Manet, etc) … that was 1989-1990. I got “hooked up” with someone who took me for a ride and destroyed my art – psychologically and physically, trashing paintings that I held close to me – so I closed off, terrified to be hurt that way again. This week I have been haunted by something – a NEW painting that is screaming to get out. Before, stuff has been thought of, but within a day or two it was gone, so I didn’t hold out hope … there was NO WAY I could capture it before it disappeared …

      That was last week … I started slowly working on the piece yesterday. I CAN’T even think or work out logistics of works I did before … somehow I can’t draw real life, no matter what I do … my new realm is abstract … not just Picasso or fractal or anything – but something different, and it is actually coming from me …

      It has taken 23 years … but I am finally relearning to paint – but not how I did no past – just feels strange … and of course I am rambling again *lol

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  3. Hi Sonya! I am so happy to hear that you are giving it a go again. When I catch myself remembering what I did and can’t do anymore, I pinch myself (gently!) and remind myself that was the PAST. The past is long ago and far away and let it remain there. You are a creative and talented person so it is time to unblock all of the negatives of past trolls in your life and let your creativity flow!

    I remember an exercise in Eng. class that helped my writing abilities immensely. My professor said, “Ok everybody, start writing whatever is in your mind. No punctuation, no reasoning, just write!” That really unblocked me even though I was still caught up in the “My arts are not good enough, not good enough, not good enough….” It took lupus to come along and smack me upside the head (a southern US saying) with a completely new reality to make me accepted the fact that flowing with my creativity was what was important – whether (<sp?) anyone else liked the end result or not.

    That is where we both are right now. Throw out the trolls of the past (croquet anyone?) and let your creativity out! Hmm, yesterday I told Prysma that we would be creating even if we had only a big toe left to us. You want to loosen up in abstract painting? Paint with your toes! I might have to try that myself.

    Keep your chin up Sonya, you have many many friends and loved ones who think you are a terrific addition to the human race! And please keep in touch, ai lubs yur mine too.

    Penny

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  1. Pingback: Ideas: Where Do They Come From? | Prysmcat's Writing About Writing

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