Travel Writing Writing Process
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?


A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students–I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?

0 thoughts on “Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

  1. Don Williams

    I’m definitely a right-brain person, but sometimes I feel more like a NO-BRAIN one!

  2. Zan Marie

    Yikes! i spew dialogue, but it’s all about character emotions and isn’t action at all. Can you be a bit of both? 😉

  3. Dyoung

    Definitely right brained! Usually I am about 80/20 right brained. But with my writing I would say based on your information described above I am 100% right brained. Dialog is one of my biggest weaknesses and structure is tough! The feeling is definitely there! You know my character based on how I describe them from in my head. But action lacks! Interesting.
    I agree too- that knowing what you are and where your weakness lies helps to overcome the hurdles that inevitably lie ahead of every writer. Even successful ones.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Ha! I hear you on that!

  5. Charlotte Dixon

    Welcome to the club.  I would guess that there tend to be more right-brain writers, but I could be wrong.  I really have to push myself to figure out the action–it is so fun to stay in dreamy emotional character land! 

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Definitely!  I think its rare, but then, so are you!  (Delightfully so!)

  7. J.D.

    I write on the page and throw with my left hand. I bat and golf right-handed. I can bowl–equally bad–with either hand. Assuming these descriptions of neuro-writing are true, can we trust ourselves to ascertain which side of the brain we are coming from? Are we swayed toward the side we see as more sincere or more indicative of talent? You say it helps to know our dominant side. Does it? Even if we pick the cerebral hemisphere we’re swinging from, can we change? Are we stuck golfing from the right and throwing from the left? If I am a left-brainder, writing action and dialogue, will I lose my voice or end up without a voice when I pick apart the emotions of my hero?

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    Yeah, I thought of you, J.D., when I was writing about left-brained writers, assuming you are one.  (Sorry, one should never assume.)  But I do think it helps to know, because then we can figure out what our manuscripts might be lacking–and choose to add it in or not, according to our voice and style.  I think you do emotions for Moses in a wonderful subtle way that suits your style.  I certainly wouldn't want him gushing about things, it wouldn't fit.  Knowing that you have a tendency toward action and dialogue can help you remember to put emotion in once in awhile.

  9. Zan Marie

    Thanks…I think. 😉

  10. Charlotte Dixon

    I meant it as a compliment!

  11. J.D.


  12. Daria

    I’m a left-brained writer, I found this very interesting as I’m always bugging my son and my husband about their brains developing on the “wrong” side. Its a running joke in our family as I’m the only left-hander out of the both of them. I “spew dialogue like crazy sometimes and abandon my stories because there isn’t enough imagery and action in them.

  13. Charlotte Dixon

    That is so funny that you're the only one in the family! I do think it helps to be able to recognize ourselves, and thus what we need to add in.

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