Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Right Brain vs Left Brain Writing

A well-written story is an amazing thing. It is fresh and full of tidbits which stick in the head long after the cover is closed. And yet, it is still organized in a logically flowing fashion. It is the final product balanced between the sequential logic of the left brain and the artistic, simultaneously processing right brain.

How to balance the two sides of my brain, the yin and yang, continues to fascinate me.

For me, writing uses both the organized as well as the organic aspects of creativity. My story ideas usually start in one of two ways: 1. Combining IDEA A + IDEA B; or 2. Flash of insight. Obviously I have a lot more control over the first way to create stories, which is organized and gives opportunities for more intuitive creation. The second way to get ideas is a lot like sitting around waiting for lightning to strike. You’ll waste a lot of time and probably end up muddy and cold. The only way to increase my odds of lightning strikes is to do something that occupies my hands and keeps my mind open to wander.


I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, by American standards. According to 2012 Nielsen statistics, the average American watches 34 hours of TV per week. I feel like it occupies my brain in ways that are counterproductive to creativity. I will watch specific shows for entertainment, but I don’t turn on the TV to just see what is available.

Going back to the topic of right brain vs. left brain writing, I think you have to use both, but there are times when each is appropriate.

  • Genesis of the story – either organized or organic process
  • Outline – organized process
  • Rough draft – organic process
  • Editing – organized process
  • Rewrites – organic process
  • Final draft (copy editing) – organized process

In my mind, I alternate between the two sides on both the macro and micro levels.  For a scene, I’ll decide what I want to happen (organized), then write it, letting whatever happens end up on the page (organic).  After evaluating the work, the scene can be rebalanced and edited (organized) or head in a new direction (organic).  Dialogue, for me, is an organic process.  Apparently I find it easy to have arguments with myself.  Description and summary sections are more calculated and organized.  What do I need to tell the reader so they have context for the following scene? Why is arguing with myself so much fun? Ah, questions.

And here’s a fun game to try to play. I’m not very good at it. Apparently my brain is reading the word long before I can register what color the font is.

16 comments on “Right Brain vs Left Brain Writing

  1. Jae
    February 27, 2013

    Fun game and fascinating post. I find as a writer I don’t watch TV as much anymore either. That’s why I love Hulu, Netflix, etc. I can watch when I feel like it, but not be constrained by anyone’s schedule. I do think watching shows is conducive to creativity, but certainly not mindless watching. I’d rather be writing. Besides, sometimes I feel like I need to tell the writers why their story isn’t working. Does that ever happen to you? :) Thanks for the food for thought. :D

    • tracycembor
      February 27, 2013

      Gosh yes, there are often times I am asked to be quiet or leave the room. You know it is bad when the dog, who loves nothing better than to cuddle with me, is also shooting me dirty looks. I can’t help it though. Sometimes it’s so obvious how episodes could be better.

      Why Network TV? Why have you failed us again?

      I agree that watching good shows can be conducive to creativity. Bad shows can teach you stuff too (as in don’t do these things). But I have better stuff to do with my brain than just watch TV because it is there.

      • Jae
        February 27, 2013

        Yep, agree completely. :)

  2. Anthony Turi
    February 27, 2013

    Another great blog entry! Have been really enjoying reading your articles. Lots of great stuff in here again, and interesting things to think about. Thank you for posting.

    • tracycembor
      March 1, 2013

      Thanks! I’m relieved to hear you’ve been enjoying my posts. I try to share ideas that are as interesting as the great posts I read.

      I enjoy reading your descriptions of city life. You have such a wonderful way of setting a scene. I wish I was half as insightful in my writing. Also, living in London and Rome sounds like a grand adventure to me.

  3. Arlene
    February 27, 2013

    Great post! Nice reminder to find that balance. Love the activity!!

    • tracycembor
      February 28, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed the game. I am terrible at it. Hope you are better at it than me.

  4. Christi
    February 27, 2013

    I’ve never thought much before about specifically which parts of writing were left brain vs. right brain; thanks for shedding some light on this! It’s fascinating how the 2 sides of your brain operate so differently. Great post!

    • tracycembor
      February 28, 2013

      I had an innovation and entrepreneurship class last semester that introduced me to these ideas. Once I began to focus on this novel, I figured out what I was doing and became more aware of my creative process. It is only half as creative as I thought. ;)

  5. ericjbaker
    February 28, 2013

    I’m a blank-page writer, which is certainly a right-brained approach. Since I typically end up with a lot of chaos, my left brain kicks in so make logical connections and put it all together in a coherent sequence. My left brain sticks around for all the edits and tightening.

    I believe I’m a left-brained thinker most of the time, but if I let that side control the entire writing process, I’ll end up with a predictable, lifeless final product.

    Great post. It got me thinking about my process, which appeals to old Mr. Lefty.

    • tracycembor
      February 28, 2013

      Your process sounds like the complete opposite of mine. Except for when lightning strikes, I have to make a list to get started. The creative bits fill out the structure. I wish i could draw structure out of chaos, but I get distracted like a magpie. Happy to get you thinking.

  6. Przemek Kucia
    February 28, 2013

    I really like how you focused on process of thinking that differs hemispheres :) Most people I encounter believe that left and right “brains” are truly distinct.

    I think arguing with yourself is one of the most useful intellectual exercises, and I believe smart is a new sexy :D It’s like make-up for women and… erm… new shoes for men (how can I appear better?).

    My brain just stops while processing this game, I could even stammer a word ;) Mostly on where is written “yellow”.

    • tracycembor
      February 28, 2013

      My goal is to write what I love to read, which are stories with the perfect balance of originality and structure. I’m hoping that by applying both processes to my work, the end result will be what I want to achieve.

      Arguing with myself often leads to really long rants from my characters and not being able to decide if I should wear the blue or green heels when I should be wearing boots because *spoiler alert* it is winter outside.

      • Przemek Kucia
        March 1, 2013

        I just saw a typo in my comment – I meant “I couldn’t even stammer a word” :)

        Nevertheless, to state that “left brain” doesn’t do creative is false – creative process is result of both hemispheres working, same in structuring, outlining, free writing, everything. I personally think you’re doing a great job both design wise (structure of your posts are transparent, easy to digest) and style wise (it is just pleasure to read). I may not be the best one to judge those things, but in dept. of how your posts (and those little excerpts of your novel) feel and in dept. of my little knowledge I’m jealous of your skill and trying to learn.

        Strength of opinions and confidence in ones outlook are often going in pair with ignorance ;) So the next time if you have one of those arguments over shoes take a second to relax, sit with a glass of wine and say out loud as Socrates did “I know that I know nothing” :D

  7. gabrielablandy
    March 1, 2013

    Damn – I wish I’d read this before I put my post up this week, it would have been great to put a link. I’m really looking at the idea of two side to the writer. This is full of great info.

    • tracycembor
      March 1, 2013

      I laughed when I read your post. Apparently we were on the same wavelength. While we all talk about it, the creative process is such a squirrely thing.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on February 27, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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