Friday, March 5, 2010

A Different Kind of Conflict

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This week we've been exploring the role of conflict in story, and today I'd like to address the conflict involved in writing story. I've been working through a book by Dr. Karen Peterson titled Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block. Period. It's one of the many 'how to' books that I've purchased with great intentions over the years, but languish unread on my bookshelf. I discovered that this book is chock full of graphs, lists and fill-in-the-blanks designed to help writers find what works best for them to keep the ideas flowing. According to the good psychologist, the conflict springs from the fact that our brains have two halves - left and right. Now, at the risk of doing an injustice to her ideas, I will attempt to reduce the conflict down to a nutshell.

'Just do it' vs. 'Just say no'
Basically, people can be divided into either left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant. The left brain's motto is 'just do it' and the right brain's is 'just say 'no." Regardless of which one is dominant for us, we still have to get the two halves to agree about when, where and how we will write before we can accomplish anything. "This means that, even though the logical left brain may exhort us to write, the right brain remembers every hypercritical voice we've ever heard, and is more than happy to replay them, en masse, every time we try to write." (page 13)

'Fight' or 'Flight'
In addition, the right-brain is responsible for the 'fight or flight' and 'freeze' responses, which can be triggered by a desk piled high with stacks of unfinished projects or a blank page with a mind-numbing blinking cursor. The left-brain is admonishing us to just accomplish something in whatever time is available, but the right-brain wants a huge block of time and the certainty of a finished product at the end of it. Now, since I also have a full-time job, this particular conflict waged every time I sat down to write - so I sharpened my Ticonderoga #2 pencil and went at it.

The charts and graphs are to be completed once with your dominant hand and once with your non-dominant. It was hard to believe that changing hands could produce different results. Surprisingly, I did end up with some different answers which led to the discovery that a slight adjustment in the time of day that I have available to write can make a big difference. Nothing earth-shattering, but if it helps me be more productive, why not! There are more conflicts in writing than I knew about, such as whether I needed a clean or cluttered space, a quiet or loud environment, food, drink and what kind, to make lists & subtasks or to ignore them. Some weren't just a matter of preference - there was left/right-brain trash-talking going on without my knowledge.

I'm only half-way through the book and the exercises, so I look forward to making some significant changes and fine-tuning soon. Are there any how-to books that have surprised you with the results? Are you confident that you already have a handle on what works for you, or are you open to trying something new? We'd love to hear!


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'm open to trying something new--like one of those cute little netbooks so I can write somewhere other than the playroom. ;)

I think somewhere along the way my right brain and left brain collided and melded into an enigma.

~ Wendy

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wendy, that's a great idea about the netbook. Mixing up my writing locations really refreshes me and turns up the creativity.
I sometimes suffer from melded-brain syndrome, also.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Really interesting. I always like discussions of brain-side dominance. Switching hands made a difference in some of your answers? That's really fascinating.

Are you familiar with Cynthia Tobias's learning styles books? She delves into the work atmosphere that different learning styles need (and learning is influenced, of course, by brain-side dominance).

Anyway, I never really thought about the conflict raging. I think I'm in the middle of one of those right now.

Thanks for this article, Debbie.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Debbie. I'll have to check into that book and try the exercises.

Unknown said...

Fascinating, Debbie. Thank you so much for showing us this stimulating information.

I'm wondering what the relationship is between writer's block and depression. Maybe that's a subject for another post.... and maybe I should write it with my left hand....

Cynthia Schuerr said...

This is so very interesting. I know that simple changes can break through the barrier of writer block and sometimes even depression.

Thanks for posting.

Kathleen Popa said...

I wonder if I'd even be able to read what my left hand had to say.

But the book sounds interesting.

As to writing and depression, I own a book titled The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression, by Eric Maisel. Which I've yet to read...