Ending the Brain Wars

Dali's "Profile of Time" from Wikimedia Commons
Dali’s “Profile of Time” from Wikimedia Commons






The clock was my master for years. I’d get up at 5 AM to do charts, make lunches at 6, wake the kids at 6:30. By 7:30 I had to be at the hospital for rounds so the office could start on time at 9. 

Then appointments were set at luxurious fifteen-minute intervals. (Five minutes more than most family doctors get because we were a teaching clinic.) And God help you if you were late to the lunch seminars and business meetings, because if you weren’t prompt, you’d arrive to find yourself “volunteered” for extra work. Need I explain that the afternoons and evenings were more of the same? 


Because the rhythm of the second hand had become the music of my life, it got so I had no real need for a wristwatch. I could close my eyes, estimate the time and be off by no more than two minutes. 

And the lists—oh, the lists! I’d wake with nightmares that I’d misplaced one of them or forgotten to record a vital entry in my PDA.  

Then I left that world behind, and let me tell you, things changed. I kicked all left-brained organizational tools to the curb with my income. Know what? I didn’t even recycle. And that’s where I’ve been these last few years: locked in a rebellion without a cause. 

See, to a certain degree, a non-linear life works for me. Essential tasks always get done. Much to their dismay, the kids have yet to be late for school. (Except for valid weather-ly reasons or last-minute mechanical problems.) The supper gets made, the menagerie fed, the finances finessed. But in my desire to leave the maniacal list-making and clock-watching behind, I’m beginning to believe I’ve swung too far into right brain-mode. 

I’ve come to this conclusion over the past week as—in the spirit of true, scientific vigour—I’ve observed both my word count and my day’s structure to see if they correlate. Much as I’d love to deny it, I write better in an orderly house. 

When I sit down to the computer, even if I can’t see an untidy room, its presence nags at me. Because I don’t have a specific day that I work on the books or do the groceries, every day is a day I must consider these tasks, if only to dismiss them.

As for my writing hours…well if you don’t have a concrete time when you begin to write, it’s hard to know when you’ve put in a good day’s effort and can feel justifiably proud. In other words, while I’m not constrained by a rigid schedule, nor do I feel free without one. 

So I’ve decided to make peace with my left brain—it’s time. Instead of flowers, I will woo her with a week’s schedule written up on a Sunday night. M’s work schedule, groceries, my fitness regime—they’ll all be planned out. 

Make no mistake; nothing will be written in Sharpie. With kids and a husband, Life will see to that. But I have to say I’m looking forward to a definitive schedule. Even more, I’m anticipating the feeling of success as my writing productivity improves. Which it will, right? Right? 

Now I’m curious about you guys. Are you right- or left-brained? (If you’re not certain, watch the video below for a minute or so to find out.) 

Do you have a writing schedule? Do you wing it? Even if you can’t always follow the best routine for yourself, do you know what that is? Enquiring minds want to know.

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19 thoughts on “Ending the Brain Wars

  1. Oh my, I am so type – A. Right now I am working from home and realize that the order of a crammed day gets more out of me. I tend to stick to my writing goals when I have a day that jammed packed with other things to do. Why? I guess I live by schedules. I time myself on all I do so that I can get it done. While I am home I can’t seem to stay organized without considerable effort. It’s nice to see that it’s alright to be either or for a time.

  2. About a year ago, my husband offered me a dream – stay at home and write. He encouraged me to treat it like a “job” and forget about the cooking and cleaning – we’d do it “together” when he got home from his physical job, he assured me.

    This lasted two weeks when I had the unfortunate revelation that I needed an organized house to work. Not just an organized work space, but an actual “clean” house. This was followed by the revelation that if I did not plan meals – including his dinner – I defaulted to Plan B. Poptarts, Coke Zero and Kraft Dinner. And then, I made the startling discovery that without exercise, my brain took a bit of time to gear up in the morning.

    In six months, I adapted several bad habits. Waking up mid afternoon, snacking all day long, trading water for Coke Zero and relying on the weekends for cleaning and organizing.

    I’m back at work now, not because my husband suggested it, but because I couldn’t handle it. I need schedules. I need deadlines. I need accountability. And – sigh – I need a clean house.

    Writing happens best for me when my emotional and physical house are in order. So I guess that makes me…left brained?

  3. PS – Congrats on making peace with your left brain AND for the impeccable craft displayed in this blog. Your blog makes my mornings. xoxo

  4. LM Preston and Dawn, it sounds like you’ve discovered similar requirements to my own: the need for some external pressure to produce. Sounds like you’ve struck the right balance.

    LM, I’ve tried the timer, but that seems to freeze me up. In Washington, though, Susan Elizabeth Phillips said she forces herself to work for 2 to 3 1-hour sessions each day.

    Dawn, I think that makes you so right-brained you had to pull back somewhat to achieve balance. That’s my case. And thank you for the kind words on craft! If I’m getting better, it’s primarily due to you, Donna and Suzanne.

  5. The dancer went clock-wise….Not sure what that means. But strangely, I’m on the same page with schedules. I’m a slave. I make schedules at work, I have a to-do list that almost always gets done by the end of the week, and now I have a critique group that I was originally terrified of. We have deadlines that scare and motivate me, so what can I say?

  6. Donna, if you see her rotate clockwise, that means the right side of your brain is dominant. (Left-brained people see her rotate the other way.) But obviously you’ve learned the left-brained skills that will maximize your productivity. Good for you. And then, if you have a relapse, I know a certain someone who can crack a whip…

  7. I’m so right brained it scares me sometimes. I have, for example, been known to set my alarm for an hour earlier instead of changing the time on the clock when we have to fall back. Six of one half-dozen of another…

  8. Okay…so I checked to see the definition of a right-handed person VS a left-handed person and discovered: right handed people are *visual*…Left handed people are *verbal*.
    Rights, favor the whole picture while lefties analyze or ‘size up’.
    Rights, however are intuitive….duh… a good thought…what does intuitive mean?…a spontaneous, internal deduction, based on instinct.
    Well…I *saw* the dancer going clockwise (right brained)…but I am terribly analytical.
    Alas, I am incredibly *visual* rather than verbal
    So…., Hope. Unfortunately I am an unfortunate double-brained virgo who is a list-maker. toe the liner and creative person to boot!!

  9. WordWire, if there were right-brained Olympics, methinks you’d have the gold medal. 🙂

    Carol, to be bi-brained is not a bad thing! Sounds like you have the best of both worlds.

  10. Nah, Hope. The bi-brains war constantly… being creative is as vital as breathing but ‘old leftie’ seems destined to forever create interference bumps!!

  11. I’m like Carol – I see the dancer going clockwise, but I’m analytical. I’m left-handed, but visual, not verbal. (I’m an artist before I started writing). I’m creative, but I write with a pencil so that I can correct as I go – can’t stand to look at ink cross outs!

  12. Laura, I didn’t know you had been a visual artist. Do you have any pictures of your work on-line?

    For years I wrote on paper that had extra-narrow lines, with loops of text inserted here and there and crossouts. About eight years ago I attended a writing conference where we had to compose on the keyboard. Slowly, slowly, that’s become my preference. But once in a while, I retreat to paper territory. Especially for journals. There’s something about hand-writing a journal that works for me.

  13. Actually, I designed jewelry. I got disgusted with the economy about a year ago and took everything off-line and started writing. Best thing I ever did. 🙂
    I write everything on a yellow pad first. When I transfer to the computer is when I make my first edit. I prefer to write longhand, sitting outside for the first draft.

  14. Late to this party. That dancer went *way* clockwise for me – figures. 🙂

    I get uptight if I have everything scheduled – and freeze. I’ve learned that I can work in patterns, cycles and rhythms. Anything more formalized and I lock up.

    Deadlines are great, though. They give me a target. Not that I always hit such a thing, but they help.

    Now, in a previous life, I used to write software – very logical, deductive (although the code needed to have the right “shape” before I was happy with it. 🙂 )

    1. KjM, that’s me exactly!It seems my whole life has been about learning my rhythms and respecting them, then setting up a formalized structure that does the same. Neat.

      That must have been an interesting time for you – trying to work in something so linear while your natural tendency is to be holistic.

  15. Does anyone really see the dancer going counter-clockwise? I just can’t make it happen.

    I’m deadline-driven, always trying to change, succeeding in some areas.

    I know the basics of my day: must make bed, must exercise, must eat breakfast and lunch pretty much at breakfast and lunch time (“clock tummy”).

    Hope, love the idea of viewing a schedule as accommodating my rhythms, rather than imposing an artificial structure.

  16. MJ, yes, my husband and daughter can make her go both ways. I succeeded in counterclockwise revolution for about 10 seconds, but that is all.

    And regarding the rhythms, the person that really made me stop fighting mine was Ronna Jevne. She also introduced me to the concept of transition time—that in-between time where everything’s uncomfortable and is meant to be. Before she’d said that, I always fought the discomfort instead of embracing it.

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