Left Brain vs Right Brain – A Little Philosophy

Being creative is hard work. There is an awful lot of resistance.

One of the most useful techniques I have learned and built on is to recognise the two modes we humans work in.

You will no doubt be familiar with left-brain and right-brain theory. In summary, our left and right brains handle different aspects of our interactions with the world

Left BrainRight Brain
– Logical
– Analytical
– Verbal
– Factual
– Protective
– Intuitive
– Imaginative
– Non-verbal
– Creative
– Inquisitive

Now there is a whole lot of bunkum out there about determining which side of your brain is dominant and using that to your advantage. I’m not going to go into that. You are at your best when you are using both sides of your brain. Yes even when writing. Here’s how you use both sides of your brain writing

Left BrainRight Brain
– Identifying problems
– Choosing words
– Analysis
– Separating good from bad
– Critical design (eg hitting page count)
– Imagining locations
– Conjuring images
– The flow of writing
– Finding connections
– Creating characters

So you will always engage both parts of your brain.

Here comes the ‘but’…

But. Your left brain is naturally analytical and your left brain is naturally critical. Your left brain is concerned, from a primal point of view, with your survival. Its job is to stop you from dying. This is a good thing. Its job is also to stop you putting yourself in danger. It is constantly sending you messages regarding your current safety. To us safety also includes avoiding embarrassment and external criticism.

This voice is sometimes called your inner critic. Being the verbal part of your brain it communicates with you in words. It is vital to listen to it – but only at the right time.

My advice here is this: don’t listen to it while you are being creative. It will burble away, but don’t listen to it. When you silence your verbal left brain, your non-verbal right brain gets a chance to communicate with you. It’s non-verbal. It presents you with pictures, emotions, colours, shapes. This is what you need to listen to. Occasionally it will present a single word or two – usually the most evocative one. But be open to the other stuff. Listen to the quiet voice.

Secondly, the left brain likes to bring order. It will tell you that if only you filed your papers better, had better notes, organised your time better, disciplined yourself you would be better. In creating security, it delivers misery and self defeat. Don’t let it. You’re fine. You’re absolutely fine.

In the west we’re very left-brain oriented. We equate left brain activities as serious and meaningful. We treat right brain activities as frivolous and silly. We condemn play among adults. Do not let this happen to you. Fuel your right brain. Play. Your right brain likes colours, your right brain responds to pictures. All the coloured pens, the tactility of working on cards, real paper, cut things up, lay them out, be away from machines whenever you can. These are the secrets to unlocking that inner play.

For years I taught improvisation. There are two rules

  • Say the first thing that comes into your head (in other words don’t self-censor)
  • Whatever is said, goes (in other words the answer is yes)

This is all you need to just come up with the most amazing things. But first you have to find a way to silence the inner critic (until it’s their turn) and let your non-verbal inner creative force come out.

Useful Resources

The Artist’s Way is an excellent place to start to unlock your creativity. Most of us have been creative at some point in our lives – usually as children – but at some point have packed away our toys and hid our creative, fun, playful side. To be properly creative we need a bit of help to bring that creative side fully back out into the open. Julia Cameron takes us on a gentle, albeit highly spiritual journey to rediscover that playfulness.

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