Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

Mind of Your Story
Mind of Your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

The Art of Fiction:  Writer’s Block, or Inspiration at Work?

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
September 2008


The going’s not slow – the getting going is. Once I begin working on my novel on any given day, ten pages flow out with no effort. But beginning – so much seems to stand in my way.

And yet: Over the past week, between those ten-page spurts of writing, I’ve come across a number of articles discussing some of the latest brain/mind research. What these articles share is confirmation of my intuitive (read: right brain) understanding of my own creative process, especially as it pertains to what we call writer’s block or procrastination. Perhaps some of this will resonate for you as well.

"The answer is there. It just hasn’t been sent up yet. "

Who’s in Charge Here?

What researchers now believe is that when the brain is presented with a problem, the prefrontal cortex (let’s call it the big boss) sends out a call for submissions to all areas of the brain. Initially, no matter what kind of problem it is, left brain areas will deliver what seem to it the most obvious solutions – even if they don’t really address this particular issue. But the more wrong answers left brain sends, the more we focus on the problem (I think it starts with an S. Smith? Sanders? Sutherland?).

Meanwhile, though, right brain’s working on the problem as well. But because left brain is clogging access to the big boss with all that wrong information, right brain can’t get an idea in, edgewise or otherwise. Unlike left brain, however, right brain doesn’t concern itself with time. The answer is there. It just hasn’t been sent up yet.

But finally, we’ll give up. (I’ll probably remember in the middle of the night.) We’ll move on to something else. Then, because left brain is no longer hyper-focusing on the problem, right brain takes the opportunity (the opening) to shoot its simple, perfect, intuitively arrived-at solution to the prefrontal cortex, and we have an “Aha!” moment.

"It’s only when we walk
away. . .that right brain
can send what it’s brewed up
to the big boss."


Just Walk Away…

It seems to me that this same process is likely what’s involved in the writing/not writing conundrum. When we’re not writing, left brain is making every suggestion it can for our work. Unfortunately, much of this will be of the Who do you think you are? or Why do you think this is worth pursuing? variety.

It’s only when we walk away, whether literally, by taking a walk, or taking a shower, working in the garden, even doing the dishes, or figuratively, by reading, paying the bills, or playing a hand or two of Free Cell, that right brain can send what it’s brewed up to the big boss.


So the next time you’re feeling guilty for not writing, or doing something else instead of writing, remind yourself that it’s part of the process, and go ahead and do something else instead. Just make sure you keep paper and pen (or laptop) handy so you can start taking down everything right brain’s been waiting to tell you.

Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook

Lisa Lenard-Cook is a regular columnist for Authorlink. She is an award-winning published author and writing instructor. This is another in the series, The Art of Fiction. Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink. Read more about Lisa.

Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, (April 2008) can be purchased at amazon.com.