Saturday, May 22, 2010

Right Vs. Left

I was reading an article by Deb Schwartz in the June '10 issue of Real Simple magazine entitled Organizing for Your Personality which opens with this brief review of personality types:

"Right-brain types are visually oriented. They tend to think in images rather than words, focus on the big picture rather than the details, and go through life in a somewhat seat-of-the-pants (a.k.a. scattered) way. Left-brainers are those who think in words (attention, list makers!), do a lot of advance planning, and approach challenges in a rational, linear way."

Now when you consider the habits of writing's right-brainers (pantsers) and left-brainers (plotters) it makes a lot of sense why it's often so difficult for pantsers to plot and plotters to go organic. It's not laziness or paranoia, it's probably the way our brains are wired.

As a writer and a quilter I'm a classic lefty: disorganization makes me uncomfortable and unhappy; I work out and plan everything way in advance before I write a single word of story or make a single stitch, and I write/quilt from start to finish without deviation.

Now here's the interesting blip: as a photographer, a poet and a painter, I think I'm a righty. When I'm snapping pictures, writing verse or fooling around with watercolors I tend to be very spontaneous, play with compositions and colors, dwell more on an idea than the actual execution, and try not to plan too much in case I want to change things.

I think I know why I've got both sides of the brain engaged, too: I write and quilt for other people, but I take photos, write poetry and paint for myself. Also, outside influences like editors and quilt guild friends are usually somehow involved in the process with my writing and quilting, which I also sell. My other arts are strictly solitary, personal projects that I don't sell and other people rarely even see (and this is not to say why you guys might be righties or lefties, it's just why I think I evolved into an ambidextrous brained person.)

Btw, Deb's article has some helpful hints on how to organize your life based on the type of personality you have. I think most right-brainers already know they can't be happy compartmentalizing and labeling everything like the lefties, nor can the left-brained start making spontaneous collages and stack heaps of stuff in artful disorder like the righties. Still, I think there is always room for a little experimentation to see if you can get some fresh inspiration from the other side of your brain. I'm going to set up a cork board in the office so I can create a visual memento collage like one in the magazine. I think putting up some stirring images might give my creative batteries an extra charge before I sit down to work.

So what sort of writer or personality type are you? Righty, lefty, ambidextrous or somewhere in between?


  1. Is there such thing as a middle-brain? I'm a creative, emotional person, but not visual at all. Hmm...I just took a quiz and scored 16/16. Does that make me a mutant? (haha) Thanks for the great article! Your newest fan/follower...August

  2. I'm somewhere in between. It depends on what I'm doing. Even in the writing process, I can be a righty or a lefty when I'm writing, I'm usually a lefty when I'm planning, and I'm a righty when I get the story idea.

    My Muse (my right brain) gives me ideas in pictures, which I prefer, so I'm definitely a righty like that. Sometimes I have trouble when I'm writing because I'm left-braining too much.

    I think writers have to learn to manage both sides of their brain to be successful. Your left brain can't give you ideas, just like it can't do all the character work while writing. Your right brain is great for coming up with twists and great conflict, but it has a hard time during revision.

  3. For the most part, I'm a righty. I don't want to be, and I can plot down to the fine details. I can even make myself work on a project from beginning to end without deviating.

    But I don't like it. It makes me feel stifled, and every word/stitch/brush stroke feels like a chore, rather than sanity-saving.

    So yeah. I think I'm a righty.

  4. Big Lefty here - I swear I have a list for everything and at least four back up plans for just about everything I do - kinda over kill for a free spirited Pieces but I couldn't function without a plan. The best part - I'm generally prepared for anything and everything :-)

  5. Keita Haruka4:16 PM

    I'm pretty ambidexterous when it comes to writing. I do plan to a certain extent. I build my worlds meticulously and do the same with my characters. I line up events...but when the time comes to write, I never, ever stick to the plan. The characters evolve as I write, and bits and pieces of the world that I hadn't even known was there starts to crop up and plays a part in the story. Once I start writing, organisation goes out the window completely. I can only plan up to a point, only for the basic elements, and from there I wing it, completely prepared to discard huge parts of the plan if something better comes along. Best of both worlds, I guess.

  6. Chiefly right-brained, I think, with a touch of the ambidextrous. Definitely visually oriented, totally disorganized (the current state of my living room would testify to that).
    But the left side kicks in at interesting times. I do detailed plotting, but the right runs along a parallel track it will jump at any moment to take over. I may have an idea for a painting, but once it's started the details have to be exact (one reason I can't do watercolor).
    I call it confused, lol.

  7. I always come out in the middle on those left brain/right brain tests. I checked out the article, and once again I came out in the middle.

    For writing or anything else I'm once again in the middle--I like to be organized, but not too organized. I don't like clutter, but yet having everything put away all the time would drive me nuts. I plan writing or drawings or paintings, but only in broad terms. After getting the general idea of what to do in my head I like to just jump in and do it--until I get stuck, and then I do a little more planning and then jump back in again. Repeat until finished.

    I'm definitely ambidextrous-brained.

  8. Righty who has learned to be ambidextrous. I think both aspects have their strengths and the trick is to use the correct approach for the task at hand. Also, isn't Real Simple a great magazine? It's one of the few I buy.

  9. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Oh, I'm sorry I missed seeing this yesterday. I agree with all the previous posters. I tend to flip back and forth between the two sides. I've thought about this recently because I've taught a college study strategies course and our book talks about this and learning styles. I believe one truth is that people can develop another method with practice.
    I was very right-brained growing up, which is why I believe I preferred geometry to algrebra. I could always "see" what the reason for the problem was, and therefore understand the need for the answer and how to achieve it. Later, I had to adapt and develop my left-brained skills working in journalism and rushing to meet a deadline. When I switched to fiction writing, I tried to focus and re-charge my right brain and pants. Now I feel like I need a happy medium between the pantsing and the plotting. But when I work with glass, I enjoy fusing. I almost exclusively use scrap glass, and never know what I will find. I just have to arrange it and create from what's on the table. I can lose hours if I don't watch it. :)

  10. As a left-handed person, I am naturally strongly right-brained (scattered and ditzy), but, throughout my life, I've lived with left-brained people (esp my hyper-organized husband) and have had to make adaptations. So now I'm a mixture of both, depending on the task at hand. The creative part of me is very disorganized but precise. For example, I tend to make very scrappy quilts (some with dozens or hundreds of fabrics often in a multitude of unexpected hues) but my piecing and value placement are just about perfect. I grasp color theory, character, dialog, and construction concepts instinctively, but I get frustrated following 'rules'. I cannot stomach the idea of writing to market, following tropes, or making a quilt where every single block is exactly the same, but I'm super picky about tense and voice and structure and getting my points to match. It's just a weird mishmash, but as long as I'm not feeling fenced in or forced to follow someone else's plan, I mostly manage all right.

    Fwiw, the biggest struggle for me is just remaining happy with the work. The joy of it is nearly impossible for me to experience anymore, which makes simply working feel forced and awful. Is that a lefty-righty issue? Being right-brained but knowing that, in the end, this is a left-brained job? Or am I just neurotic? ;)

  11. I like to call myself "whole-brained" (not sure that my husband would always agree with me on that one...). I'm also a blonde, so take that as you will (and, as a bred-and-born natural blonde, I reserve the right to make as many blonde jokes as I like).

    I think it confuses people when I say I'm a pantser at writing (can't outline beyond about half a page before I start writing), and also a software engineer (talk about needing to think linearly, logically, etc). I think the two sides to my thinking balance each other well. I run to writing to escape the linearity (I don't think that's a word) of the day job. But at work it very relaxing to just fill in a pattern step by step and to be pre-planned to the nth degree. I need both.