Skip to content

Writing Tip #6: Don’t Think. Just Write.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Before you read the rest of this post, take this quick quiz:
Are You Right or Left Brained?

As expected, this was my result:

You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained

The long and short of it is: the left side of the brain is analytical, the right side of the brain is creative. Which side do you think you’re supposed to be using when you’re writing?

One of the reasons I’ve written some of my favorite scenes in those final weeks before a deadline is because when I have thirty thousand words to write in just a couple of weeks, panic and adrenaline allow the the right side of my brain to take over. And that leads into the next writing tip.

Writing Tip #6. Don’t think. Just write.

Try to shut off the left side of your brain when writing. When you’re writing you want to tap into your creativity—the right side of the brain.

The more we learn about craft, the harder it gets to write. That’s because learning about craft strengthens the left side of the brain. And that’s a good thing. Really, it is—except for when you’re trying to follow Writing Tip #1 and get your first draft finished.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Although the whole left-side, right-side thing has been under quite a bit of scrutiny and debate in the past few months, I’m still a firm believer in it. So I’m gonna run with it.

The left side of the brain is the self-analyst, the self-critic, the self-doubter, the little voice that says you’re not good enough, not talented enough, and that you’ll never be able to write the story the way you see it in your head. This is the side you want in charge after you finish the first draft when it’s time to edit and revise. This side isn’t very helpful when it comes to writing the first draft.

The right side is the creative side. The side that wants to make believe and play and laugh and spin around the room until we’re dizzy. This is the side of the brain we need to tap into when writing that first draft. We don’t need to analyze. We just need to tell a story. In writing.

In the creative act we can experience the same freedom we know in dreams. This happens as I write a story. I am bound by neither time nor space. I know those distant galaxies to which Meg Murray went with Charles Wallace and Calvin. But this freedom comes only when, as in a dream, I do not feel that I have to dictate and control what happens. I dream, sometimes, that I am in a beautiful white city I have never seen in real life, but I believe in it. When we are writing . . . we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.

–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

The brain is like a kitchen. Reason provides the raw ingredients, imagination is the recipe, understanding and knowledge the pot and stove; the product is a complete, well-rounded “meal” or worldview.

Imagination gives us the ability to distance ourselves from oppression or stress. Over the past twenty years, multiple studies have been conducted on the efficacy of creative writing as therapy (the emphasis being on creative). Results have shown that college students’ test scores increased an average of about one letter-grade; blood pressure and heart rate can decrease; it can improve immune function and reduce the rate of minor illnesses such as colds and flu; it can reduce psychological distress over a traumatic experience by reducing “intrusive” thoughts about the event; and so on.

I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up.’ Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea,’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?

–C.S. Lewis, qtd. in The Christian Imagination

Where does inspiration come from? Well, in Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote that inspiration “far more often comes during the work than before it.”

Have you ever used an old-fashioned water pump? If it hasn’t been used in quite a while, you’re going to have to work long and hard to get anything out of it. But if it’s used regularly—every day—when you go to it wanting a drink of water, the pump is already primed. The water is right there, waiting to pour out.

Inspiration comes when we prime the creative pump. It is not thinking about a final product that gives us inspiration. What gives us inspiration is what leads us to write in the first place: the joy we take in imagination and creativity. When we are in the creative process and inspiration hits, everything else falls away. We lose track of time; we’re deaf to anything going on around us; nothing fills us with more joy than creating a story from our imagination. Or, as Gordon Dickson put it, we “fall through the words into the story.” That’s using the right side of the brain.

When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.

But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work, getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily. . . .

We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it. . . .

Inspiration comes much more often during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

In this busy world, when, at any given time during the day, there are at least five things vying for our attention—between work, email, phone, blog, writing, bills, family, and so on—allowing time for the free-flow of the imagination doesn’t get priority. But the good thing about creativity is that it can happen anytime. So instead of listening to the radio in the shower or in the car, turn it off and turn on your imagination. Same goes for the TV. If you have a set amount of time to write every day, take fifteen minutes at the beginning of it to just let your mind wander: try to remember what you dreamed about last night, or take a snippet of a conversation you had earlier in the day and imagine it went in a totally different direction, or imagine you’d made a decision differently earlier in the day. Anything to tap into the right side of your brain.

Time for you to do some left-brain work:

Creative Analytical
Writing (try longhand) Trying to find the “right word”
Character casting Trying to figure out how to show what emotion the character is experiencing rather than tell it
“What If-ing” Trying to figure out how to do an action/introspection tag instead of using “said.”
“Listening to the voices” Trying to apply GMC to every single scene before writing it.

For Discussion: What are some other activities you can add to the “Creative” column that you should be doing? What are some other “Analytical” activities you are doing that are hindering you from being able to just write?

Works Cited:

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1994. Print.

Ryken, Leland (Ed.). The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2002. Print.

  1. Wednesday, September 10, 2014 8:00 am

    As both an editor and a writer, my right and left sides are constantly arm-wrestling for control, and neither one wants to give in. It makes me crazy!!


  2. miq permalink
    Monday, October 20, 2014 8:01 pm

    Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying these tips…and seeing how many of those tips I’m currently employing and what I need to work on. Thanks!


    • Monday, October 20, 2014 10:00 pm

      So happy you’re finding these posts helpful! Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of other topics you’d like to see covered here.

      Liked by 1 person


  1. Writing Tip #8: It’s Okay If What You Write Stinks |
  2. Writer-Talk Wednesday: Kaye’s Top Ten Writing Tips | #amwriting #top10 #2017WritingGoals |

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: