Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks
A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students--I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #42

Like clockwork, like magic, like butter on bread, here it is, my weekly round-up of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog.  I'm in Seattle this weekend, but you should be writing. Kidding! Or not. Anyway, Enjoy!  Or don't enjoy, but use them to write like crazy.

#288 What was your main character’s relationship with her mother like?  Happy and loving? Polite but distant? Very, very contentious? Write about it for 15 minutes–or more.

#289  Everyone else was sad when the rain started falling after a long string of gorgeous days.  But not her.  She was delighted.  Because rain meant …..

#290 Who does your main character love? Who loves her?  Do they match up?

#291  Write about a time you, or your main character, was so engrossed in an activity that time flew without him realizing it.

#292  But you know, you could also do it this way.

#293  I know you don't agree with me, but tough, because ....

#294  It's Saturday.  What's your character's drink of choice this evening?  Wine (red or white), beer, tea, coffee, water, a cocktail, Diet Coke?  How much of it will he drink?

Go forth and write!  And add the results to the comments if you so desire....


Life's An Adventure! Or Wait, is it All Just Routine?

Once upon a time, I lived and worked in Sun Valley, Idaho, taking a semester off from college.  I lived in a dorm that had a fire pole from the second floor with a bunch of other ski bums.  Sometime near the end of my tenure there, three young women appeared to live in the dorms.  In retrospect, I realize they weren't like the rest of us--college students working playing for a semester.  They had moved from a nearby town for the work.  (Most of us were on the housekeeping staff.  Fun job, said nobody ever.)

I don't remember their names or even their faces.  I'm embarrassed to admit that in my memory they all sort of look alike.  But what I do remember is the motto of one of them, repeated over and over:

Life's an adventure! SunValley-01

This admonition has rung in my head ever since.  I've had times when I believe it, and times when I don't.  When I believe it, good things happen:

--My writing flows.  And in my world, when the writing flows, all else follows.

--Fun abounds.  

--Nothing fazes me.  (Case in point: I once missed a connection in Denver.  Instead of fussing and fighting, I said to myself, life's an adventure, and trundled down the concourse to my favorite restaurant there to run into a fellow passenger and have a delightful time drinking wine together.)

--Mysterious, synchronistic things occur.

--Life really feels like an adventure.

And in the times when I don't believe it, everything is vaguely fuzzy and dull, like things aren't quite in focus.  It is very, very easy to forget that life's an adventure.  So how to stay focused in this mindset?  Sometimes, its enough to repeat the mantra.  Uh-huh. Right.  The problem with that is remembering the damn mantra in the first place.

Funnily enough, one way to live life as a grand adventure is to stay rooted in routine.  Take writing, for example (as you knew I would).  When you are writing routinely every day, you fall in love with the world.  Or at least I do.  But I suspect you do, too.  Maybe you don't describe it in quite the same words, but I'm sure we share the same feeling of things just being right.

And when things are just right, they fall into place as they should.

And when things fall into place as they should it feels as if there's a benevolent king arranging things just for our benefit.

And then life truly does feel like an adventure.

All because you committed to a routine of writing daily.

At the workshop I taught in Nashville a couple weeks ago, THE MOST POPULAR THING WE TALKED ABOUT was the idea of writing 15 minutes a day.  (#15minsday on Facebook and Twitter.) Because when people realized they could create a satisfying writing practice in 15 minutes a day, it gave them hope.

So commit to your writing habit--and watch the life of adventure blossom around you.

How do you cultivate a life of adventure? Please discuss.


Books I Read in April (And Part of May)

WhatremainsHerewith, my semi-regular list of books I've been reading.  Why? Because I love and adore reading posts what others have been reading (so write more of them, y'all).  And I figure you might get a few ideas from my list.  

Here goes:

Fiction

Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther. (See bonus author video at the end of this post.) I enjoyed this novel about three women of different classes crossing from Europe to New York on an ocean liner.  Parts of it were a bit contrived, but it kept me turning pages.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson.  This is the story of a single woman who owns a bookstore in Denver.  Nothing so rare about that, right?  Well, this was set in the sixties, so it was unusual.  But every night she goes to bed and dreams that she has a whole other life, complete with adorable husband and children.  I thought this one was really well done.

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay.  She's a wonderful women's fiction writer, and I think I've now read all her books.  This one is about Sean, a male nurse who comes home after spending much of the last 20 years working in war-torn countries.   Right in my wheelhouse. Loved it.

Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore.  Whoops.  Didn't finish this one.  Slow in starting and I lost interest.

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  I started this one in April, and finished it in May.  Ha.  I actually read it on the plane to and fro Nashville.  As I've been telling people this one is brilliant.  It is dense and gritty and claustrophobic and sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters (buy a hardcopy because you'll continually flip back to the cast of characters in the front), but brilliant.  It is the first of four in the series called the Neapolitan Novels.  They are set in the city of Naples and follow the intense friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood on.  Oh, and I love this--the author's name is a pseudonym and nobody knows who she really is.  I've got the second one in the series and have to sit on my hands not to rip through it.

Besides the novels, I read (more like perused) a couple of beautiful books on embroidery. (But have I yet picked up needle and thread? Um, no.) I also leafed through a title on homesteading, hoping to glean inspiration for you own little back forty and read part of a book on how to plot your novel. (I'm still working on that one so don't feel I can list it yet).

I've already finished a couple of really great titles in May, but they will have to wait until next month's post.  And, up next....ta dum....

My friend Helene Dunbar's book, What Remains.  When I was in Nashville last week, I was so honored to receive one of her first two copies of the book.  Years ago, at a now-defunct writing retreat called Room to Write, Helene and I brainstormed ways to end her novel.  Mostly what I did was sit and listen to her talk, but she credits that conversation with saving the book.  I am SO excited to read it!

 Here's that video I promised:

What, pray tell, have you been reading?


Je Reviens: The Power of Scent

JeReviens1Many, many, many, many, many, many (okay, I'll stop now), years ago in college, my favorite perfume was Je Reviens.  This was a perfume that stopped men in their tracks, causing them to ask me why I smelled so good.  I clearly recall one instance of this when I sat studying in the EMU Fishbowl.*  A frat boy sitting two booths away yelled over to ask the name of the perfume that was distracting him. There was just something about this scent--and maybe the way it reacted to my skin--that enticed people, including me.  

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my sister Alice, who was an airline stewardess for TWA back in the days when they were still called stewardesses and TWA still existed, must have brought me bottles of Je Reviens from Paris. I quit wearing perfume for a long time and forgot about Je Reviens. But flash forward a gazillion years, to last summer, when the hub and I were in Paris on our way home from Pezenas.  I decided to try to find a bottle of Je Reviens to take home.  The glitzy--and intimidating--perfume store on the Champs Elysees, which sells every perfume known to man, didn't have it.  And the bored ladies who worked there hadn't heard of it.  I asked everywhere I found a place they sold perfume--at a cute little store at the base of the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral in Montmarte, at a shop in Montparnasse, where we stayed.  But nobody seemed to have heard of it.  (I'm certain my terrible French pronunciation had nothing to do with it.)

Upon my return home, it finally occurred to me to ask my friend Angela about the perfume.  She is a perfume writer, you see (as well as being a wonderful mystery writer).  She immediately told me she had some vintage Je Reviens she'd found in an antique shop and she would decant some for me. (See photo.)  She also explained that the perfume had gone through several incarnations recently and was still available, albeit in a watered-down, drugstore version.  I carried my sample home with reverence and stuck it in my bathroom cabinet to use for special occasions.

I am wearing it today.  I'm not going anywhere special--I'm not going anywhere at all.  I sprayed it on to cheer myself up after the WORST allergy attack that anybody has endured, ever, happened to me yesterday.  And it has done the job.   It brought back all kinds of pleasant memories, as noted above, and it has also made me ponder the power of scent in writing.

Firstly, smells transport us to other times and places.  A whiff of a hawthorne bush, and I'm a little kid again, at my Aunt Betty's house in Hillsborough, California.  The smell of corndogs and I'm at the Rose Festival Fun Center carnival that assembles itself every year along the waterfront here in town.  (They call it CityFair now to try to jazz it up.) The aroma of sage transports me to New Mexico. Inhaling Je Reviens brought back all the memories I wrote about above.  And these are rich veins, people, rich veins.  You could do worse than to line up some smells to use as prompts.  Take a whiff and start writing.

And second, smells can be just as evocative in our writing.  Adding aroma to your descriptions helps to bring it alive--and yet it is probably the least taken-advantage-of sense.  In my just-submitted novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, my agent challenged me to do a better job of evoking the smell of the protagonist's macaron shop.  Erp.  Here's what I came up with: 

And there was no other word for the smell of it but heavenly—that faint whiff of sugar, like cotton candy at the fair, or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, the aroma that called to mind the best day of your childhood, or maybe your whole life.

Not holding myself up as the paragon of descriptive writing here, but rather illustrating how I equated smell with emotion rather than try to evoke it exactly. Because, how do you describe smells, other than to use the noun of what they come from--rose, for instance, or grass?  I think that's why writers shy away from using smell in their descriptions.  But I urge you to try.

So, yeah, 700-some words later and I've written a blog post, all inspired by my perfume.  The power of scent, indeed.

*The EMU at the University of Oregon was the scene of the famous food fight in the movie Animal House, and also one of my favorite scenes of all time, when John Belushi says, "I'm a zit."  Just to balance the sweetness of this post, here's the clip:

 

How do you use smell in your writing?