Left-Brain Standards, Write-Brain Stories

All the “versus” debates floating around recently have made me think about debates in the first place. Binary thinking.

Conceptual versus linear thinking. Which, of course, one could argue is just as binary.

Not long ago, a colleague gave me a book called A Whole New Mind, which is about the divide between left-brained and right-brained mentalities, or purports to be, anyway. Historically, I think evidence suggests that things like linear reasoning and language development occur in the left side of the brain. They’re more about linear processing. A + B = C sort of thing.

People with deficits in left-brain function aren’t usually terrific at math.

I suck at math. I vividly remember one evening during a general chemistry course when I spent, literally, six hours trying to balance a molar, ionic equation. Hurts my brain just thinking about it.

I love theoretical physics. Absolutely. Einstein, and relativity, and conceptualizing the universe and how time works. It’s fascinating.

I can’t solve a physics equation to save my grade. I once got a 12 (out of a possible 100) on a physics exam. I couldn’t figure out cosine and angles of velocity.

For several years, I worked as an editor for a medical publishing company. I’m not a very good editor. Rules of grammar and consistency elude me much of the time.

I think, in other words, I tend to favor use of my right brain. The right brain handles more conceptual tasks. The left brain analyzes noses and eyes ears, but the right brain is what handles facial recognition. The left brain hears speech and organizes it into conversation and discussion, but the right brain is the part that understands context.

I think this plays a part in how I’ve approached writing, storytelling, and publishing.

Plotting seems a pretty left-brain sort of function. It’s linear narrative: this happens, and then this, and then this. Set-up, climax, resolution.

Storytelling, though, is about connecting dots and charging words and events with emotions.

Lots of writers are good at plotting but not at storytelling. JK Rowling excels at both.

Me, I couldn’t plot either of my novels until I’d already written drafts of them. I couldn’t figure out structure until most of the story had been told, because then I knew the story better.

I’m currently staring down my next big project(s), and I’m struggling to write the outline and plot first. I know it’ll be better, and I know it will be easier to write, and edit, and probably faster, overall, and everything, but all I can think about is characters and story events and the story that wants to be told.

From what I understand, it’s a pantser versus plotter thing.

As I studied business, I got the sense that a lot of it involved left brained thinking. Lots of numbers. Operations costs. Budgeting and data crunching.

When working in teams, when those tasks came up, I was happy to defer to people who liked working with numbers. There were usually a lot of them. It was a business program.

On the other hand, I liked the more nebulous stuff. Writing presentations and papers. Summarizing and discussing findings (rather than analyzing them in the first place). Marketing? I like branding and taglines and advertising moreso than market research and demographics.

The other day, Chuck Wendig commented:

If you’re going to suggest that authors are better off self-publishing, then my hope would be you’d help them do so. You’ve got information to share as a self-pubber. Pluses, minuses — how are your sales? What difficulties are you running into? What tricks have worked, what ones haven’t? What marketing efforts can an author do?

Besides the fact that I don’t, and never have, and never will identify as a “self-pubber,” I think that seems very left brained to me. Also, I don’t think I’ve really said authors are better off doing anything.

How would I know? I’m not authors. I’m just one.

Sales? What does “How are sales” mean? Does that mean “Are sales high?” What’s high? Since March of 2007, not a single month has passed during which someone hasn’t downloaded one of my books, and almost all of those downloads were sales except for when my collection was free at Lulu.

Do as many copies of my books sell as copies of other authors’ books? I’ve no idea. I’m just one author. I don’t have access to other authors’ sales figures. I’m not selling millions of copies like James Patterson or Stieg Larsson. I don’t know that I can say for sure I’m selling more copies than other authors, but I know this: more people are reading more copies of my books than they would be if my books weren’t available for sale.

Is that all that counts? Is that how we’re measuring success now? Successful books must either sell a go-jillion copies or be recognized by an awards committee? Do we now no longer know what’s good except if other people validate it–sharing it and liking it and RTing it–for us?

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Corporate publishers operate a business. They have to worry about overhead and revenue, employees’ checks and insurance. They have to sift through intellectual property to try to decide some objective standard of quality. Or they used to. Now literary agents do it; they sort through their submissions, with their knowledge of current trends and as well as of which editors buy what, and they choose manuscripts to propose to those editors as business propositions worthy of investment. And publishers take those propositions, and they consider things like previous market performance and future market projections (hopefully. Sometimes it seems like they skip this bit), and they try to predict how well the manuscript, as a book, might fare in the marketplace. How it will sell.

Not how good the book is. In a perfect world, good books would sell, and not-so-good books would perform poorly. I’ll note I wish I lived in a perfect world rather than derail this into further discussion of “good enough.”

Maybe: “Quality” is a right brained concept in a left brained context.

Sometimes it seems like discussions center around tricks and shortcuts. As if people want to know more about “hows” of things because they think that if they just follow all the right steps, in the right order, at the right time, some ultimate result will occur.

I wonder if binary thinking–that is, thinking that a single issue has only two sides, only one of which is “correct” for some definition of “correct”–is a left brained thought. If the left brain is the side that makes distinctions, and analyzes categorizations, it might be.

It’d be nice if everything were simple, but I just don’t believe that’s the case. Just like I don’t believe that knowing how many books I’ve sold is going to convince you either to read one or that they’re any good.


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