Think, Write, Think
By Scott Warner
Copyright © 2008 by Scott Warner, All Rights Reserved
Scriptum ergo cogito,
to coin an anachronism. I write, therefore I think. Understanding how
we think can make us better writers.
As American writer William
Zinsser puts it, "Writing is thinking on paper." And thinking is defined
by The American Heritage Dictionary as "to have or formulate in
Writing is thinking.
As writers we jot down what pops into our head, but it exists in our
minds first. And this mental process – concentration, recall,
visualization, reasoning, and judgment – makes a writer a recorder of
thought. What this suggests is that an uninhibited first draft – that
unruly, difficult beast – is our mind.
If writing is thinking, then
the maxim "all writers are different" is logical. We all think
differently. Our brains are said to be left- or right-hemisphere
dominant, an idea developed by American psychologist Robert Sperry in
the 1960s. "Left-brained" people prefer logic, order, math, and science.
"Right-brained" people use feeling and imagination to see the world.
You can Google fun tests
online to tell you which side of your brain dominates. (I'm
left-brained, for instance, which means I prefer the orderly and
logical. But, being left-brained, I had already inferred as much.)
Let's say Sperry's model is
true. A first draft might reveal how you think regardless of what you
perceive about your own mind. Consider this question:
Is writing a logical or
How you answer reflects how
well you understand your mind – assuming you are being honest. The
popular imagination, fueled by books such as Drawing on the Right
Side of the Brain, sees the right brain as the seat of
creativity. It can be difficult to imagine "logic" as creative.
My guess is the real answer
is "It depends." For one thing, although we tend to one side or
other, our brains aren't as polarized as Sperry's model suggests. We
perceive with a blend of preferences dependent on context. Different
subjects in different emotional settings affect how we think, and so,
how we write.
But if writing is thinking
and we accept that we tend to prefer one way of thinking over
another, then it seems reasonable to assume our writing process should
reflect our thinking process.
The next questions are
these: do your first drafts reflect the way you think? Are they
helping you to think?
doesn't mean making more efficient. As writers we are interested in
making connections that take on a life all their own. How we try
to make that happen can be important.
Consider the extremes.
If your first draft is
logical, orderly, and you have written it to an outline or schedule,
then this is how your mind works if you are left-brained. Perhaps, you
prefer composing in a word processor on a timetable.
If your first draft leaps
from one idea to the next interspersed with poetic imagery, then your
mind makes different connections and is right-brained. You may prefer to
write in longhand at all hours.
(I start at the beginning
and proceed to the end, usually at similar times of day. And I hate
writing by hand. But that's me. You might be different.)
Do these examples suggest
that left-brained people are suited to nonfiction and right- to fiction?
One can imagine either extreme unable to grasp emotion or logic,
relationships or technical exposition. While not great for your
self-esteem, it's a thought.
Left-brained people are more
analytical, relying on verbal and language clues to gather information
into a meaningful whole. Right-brained people process information
visually, often relying on intuition or underlying patterns. I suspect
either approach can create brilliant writing no matter the form or
subject. They are different, not unequal.
What is interesting about
Sperry's model is that it suggests that different approaches to writing
work for different types of minds. At least, for the first draft. We can
assume that all writers will use their analytical "left-brain" when
rewriting. But to tease the thoughts from the mind takes technique.
critically considering how you think can help you decide how to work.
Outline or doodle, an approach can connect ideas into something new and
unique, better for one writer than another. If our minds work
differently, then no one approach to writing works equally well for all
The real question is: does
the way you write keep you from thinking?
Think of each approach as a
key to unlocking your thoughts. There are many different keys, and you
should keep trying until you find the right one.