Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Creative Brain

Recently, a discussion took place on the Writers Digest message boards. The question that was posed: Can Anyone Write A Novel? To be more specific, could anyone write a publishable novel? Oddly enough, some believed the answer was yes. I suppose this is because most of the posters are unpublished writers who don't want to believe the facts, that of everyone who submits a manuscript, 1% or less will be accepted. They want to have hope. For this, I can't blame them--but as a published author, I find it just a little insulting.

It's as unrealistic as me deciding I'm going to be a supermodel. It ain't gonna happen.

A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a book for Christmas: THE CREATING BRAIN: THE NEUROSCIENCE OF GENIUS by Nancy C. Andreasen, MD, PhD. It's one of the few scientific explorations into what makes one creative, and gives someone like myself, a writer, valuable insights.

Dr. Andreasen gets a few things that even those closest to me don't: like how creative people have trouble with the order and rules that give a "comfortable structure" to everyday life. I guess that explains why I can't balance a checkbook and have trouble with anything involving numbers. I even get messed up when it comes to time. I always failed at diets because I'd rebel against having to continually write down every bite I took.Then I'd go eat a whole box of donuts!

Diets have always backfired, so now I don't do them.

Dr. Andreasen writes about the creative process as one that isn't rational or logical, in which one slips into a state of intense focus and concentration.  She describes it as moving into another reality, in which the person appears to be conscious but lost in thought. (That's also a partial complex seizure; sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.)

She says creative people are often so flooded with ideas, they find it hard to focus. Yep. Been there, done that. It can be a real pain.

I saw a segment on the evening news recently about an artist who had opted to not have surgery to remove a dangerous growth in her brain because her artistic talent had become heightened after its appearance. It was suggested by experts that when that rational, logical part of the brain became damaged, and therefore disabled, the creative side became stronger, much in the same way that one's remaining senses compensate when one of them is lost.

I can believe this. I've had a brain injury--more than one, actually--that have impaired certain logical functions. But the creative side seems to be alive and well and working overtime. I get frustrated when I see people I've known most of my life and can't recall their names, or forget where I left my birth certificate, making it impossible for me to get a new ID with the correct address. Sometimes I forget my own phone number, but I remember all of my characters' names. I'm awful with appointments. I forget to thaw the chicken for dinner, but I can still write.

I've been assured it's not my memory, it's an inability to concentrate. Or maybe I'm just getting old.... 


  1. Kudos, Norma! Very well put.

    Now, I wonder how many of those who were involved in that particular discussion would take this to heart...?

  2. Probably none of them. Kevin would give one of his long-winded blowhard monologues designed to make people think he knows what he's talking about, and a few others will take their toys and leave the sandbox!

  3. I hope that's good news for me. It would be nice if the erosion of logic in my brain is opening up the creative side. We can only hope.

  4. Karla, your creativity is quite obvious!

  5. Norma
    Thank you for posting this! I was blown away by the intensity of the discussion that prompted this post and glad to hear someone put forth an impassioned, yet, logical argument. It seems to be something that really hit a nerve.
    You gave an interesting point of view, and some of it hits home. I have often tried to explain that my brain works differently than others, that I struggle to not pull my hair out in a structure that others seem to flurish under. I wonder if this means I am one of those that fit your description.
    But of course, it is entirely possibly I don't and that as a hereto unpublished, unproven author, I really can't tell. Perhaps I am jousting at windmills, perhaps I am looking for excuses, but, lucky me, I have ample amounts of unrestrained optimism, so I will just continue to throw it out there.
    I do applaud you taking this dialog outside the forum. I think that the conversation was being dominated by certian voices that did not lend itself to going beyond a tit for tat. Thanks!

  6. Your post intrigued me. I related with many of the descriptions but especially with "...moving into another reality, in which the person appears to be conscious but lost in thought." I'm scattered organizationally but consumed with projects that appeal to me. I've heard comments galore such as "You're an airhead," or "ADHD." Although I've never pursued an official diagnosis, I don't doubt the possibility. Although I'm not a fiction writer, I still thank you for shedding light on the creative mind.

  7. Very well put. I think a lot of people have very unrealistic expectations also. More people would be able to be published if they understood what they were getting into in the first place.

  8. Great blog, Norma.

    I am one of those people who is, of course, unpublished, and would love it if an agent would pick me up as a client. I also have to have the hope and faith that maybe one day it will happen for me.

    Maybe not this time, maybe not next time, but I have to believe that whatever crap I'm spewing out on the computer will catch the eye of said agent.

    However, I work in a mental facility, so maybe it's rubbing off on me...

  9. Norma,
    Resonated with your discussion, really hit home about moving into another reality, also gave me hope that No, I am not crazy! :) I haven't been that active on the forum lately, so I did miss that heated discussion but I am glad I stumbled upon this group here.

    I'm not looking to be the next magnificent novel writer, just finding my niche in the self empowerment/ inspirational advice genre. Finding creative ways to talk about dealing with life. Learning much!

    Your post really hit home, because I am writing a book with my business partner and those around us seem to not get it when we get in our "mode" of explaining a new insight.

  10. Norma,
    Great post! My husband is borderline OCD and I drive him crazy with my lack of order/organizational skills. I'm so glad he's not like me! Needless to say, he's very glad I'm not like him, either!

    I have no head for numbers. My youngest son at 9 is a talented artist, but struggles with math, just like his mom.

    Thanks for all the fascinating insight!

  11. Thanks for a great post. I once read an editor's blog that said of all the queries she received, she only requested fulls for 0.2 percent. I know it's unlikely that I'll ever be published...but maybe I'll be the next big surprise.

    Either way, I just turned 30 and I forgot to but the pork in the crock pot, but managed to crank out three chapters this afternoon. Some things we can't blame on age.


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