Editing: Are you Right Brain or Left Brain?

Recently I attended a Mid-Michigan RWA Chapter meeting where the program was on editing. The speaker, Dr. Diana Stout, MFA PhD, is one of MMRWA’s members and besides being a writer has taught college English for several years. During the meeting, she covered punctuation from comma rules to words to avoid.

Lately, I’ve noticed an increase in blogs on the subject of editing. In several of these blogs, the blogger has suggested writers not worry about editing until the rough draft has been written. Diana said the same thing. The reason for this advice is that writing is a creative endeavor (which is a right brain function), while editing is analytical/problem solving (a left brain function).

The theory is if a writer is worried about where a comma should go, or if a sentence needs a semicolon or a colon, the writer won’t be as creative. Therefore, the writer should be creative first and then become analytical. I agree with this, and whenever I’ve talked to writers struggling to finish a book, I’ve told them to write without stopping until they reach the end and then go back and edit.

Good advice, I think.

Except, for me this assumes I can find large blocks of time to write without interruption. That rarely happens. In fact, not many writers, nowadays, have that sort of writing time. Jobs, family obligations, and life in general interrupts our writing time. I feel lucky if I can get a page or two written before my husband steps into the room and says, “I’m not interrupting, am I?”

When that happens, whether it’s just a question he needs answered or a reminder that we need to do something, the creative flow stops. When I return to what I was writing, I need to get back into that flow, so I either re-read what I wrote prior to the interruption or I go back even farther. That’s when my left brain clicks in, and I see those sentences that could be reworded, the commas that are missing, etc. So my writing is a forward and back and forward again progression.

But maybe that’s just me. Every left brain/right brain test I’ve taken, I’ve registered near the middle. I’m slightly more right brain than left, which may be why I majored in art and minored in math while in college.

I know I should simply move forward with my story, not even worry about misspelled words or punctuation, but I can’t stop myself. I keep trying to write straight through, but I always fail. Yet, somehow I’ve managed to get 30 books written and published. So, if you’re like me, and you’ve been told to simply write the book and then go back and edit, but you can’t do that, just remember: THERE ARE NO RULES. Do what works for you.

Some argue that the right brain/left brain theory has no scientific evidence to back it, but it certainly fits me. Ever wondered how you might fit on the right brain/left brain scale? Here are a few sites with quizzes.





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24 Responses to Editing: Are you Right Brain or Left Brain?

  1. I’m pretty much both too, Maris. When going for my Assoc. Degree the Tech Writing teacher expressed her fear that I would have a problem because I’m a creative writer….I aced the class LOL! But I realized I’m blessed to be able to use both sides of my brain for business and writing.

    Great post.
    Good luck and God’s blessings

    • Maris Soule says:

      Most of the time I feel as you do, Pamela…that it’s a blessing to be able to use both sides. Other times, when I wish I could just ignore those little errors that need to be corrected, could just write the story down and THEN go back, I don’t feel as blessed.

  2. Tari Lynn Jewett says:

    First I agree with you entirely that there are no rules, do what works for you. I’m also near the middle leaning to the right, but I finally learned not to go back and edit, not because it interrupts my flow, but because I could go back and edit forever, have shiny polished beginning chapters and never finish the end. So for me, I have to write straight through or I’ll never finish the darn book!!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Tari Lynn, you definitely pinpointed the major problem with always being in the editing mode. For some writers it can completely stop the flow. I find I don’t have to have the first draft perfect, but I can’t do as some writers can, and that’s put a sticky note or comment where they want to add something and go on. I must add whatever I feel it needs before I can go on.

  3. Lucy Kubash says:

    I suspect I am somewhere in the middle, too. I try to just keep writing but can’t ignore the typos and misspellings. And if Word underlines something I want to know why. But I am learning not to revise too much in the first draft. Well, I try not to anyway.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Oh, Lucy, you sound like me. I try not to do much revising, but whenever I realize I need to add something, I just have to go back and do it. I can’t put it off until I’m finished.

  4. Connie Bretes says:

    Hi Maris, I come from a background of being very analytical – my job required it (before I retired) so it was really hard for me to switch from analytical to creative. I tend to write and push through to get the story down, and then go in and edit. But when it comes to grammar issues, I try to do it right as much as possible, to save time in the editing process later. Right now I’m at 94,000 words for the NaNo thing, and I already know I have major revisions facing me…..(sigh) Connie

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hey, Connie, you’re a lot further along than I am. Good for you! And I, too, try to get the grammar and punctuation right the first time through, but that’s mostly subconscious now. It’s content that will force me to keep going back until I feel everything is as it should be.

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    Like you, I need the time to get the writing in so I’m often going back to re-read and edit what I’ve written. One thing that has helped me is writing out longhand the story. I can’t edit (or see the red lines) when I write. 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      When I started writing, it was always longhand. The only time I could write was when my children and husband were asleep and the typewriter (when I first started) and later the computer keyboard made too much noise, so it was paper and pen. I then did the revising when I transposed what I’d written onto the typed/printed page.

  6. I carry the curse of the “Former English Teacher,” so while I try to simply let the muse lead me and let the words flow, that pesky voice says, “I think you need a comma there, dear.” Although when I am compelled to write a scene that haunts me, I think I do abandon the Warriner’s Handbook and just have at it.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Elizabeth, I think you’ve pointed out one of the problems I’m facing. When I know what I’m going to write, can almost see the scene in my head, the writing goes fast. I don’t care if I forget a comma or misspell a word. But once that burst of writing ends, I find myself going back and adding (or deleting) commas, words, or other punctuation.

  7. I read other responses with great interest. Theoretically, I too would like to write my first draft straight through. But as another former English teacher, I find myself looking back at what I wrote and making corrections and changes before I continue. This means taking more time to write the initial draft but the quality is better.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, I do think my first draft is better because I’ve been revising along the way, but I still find I go over the ms time after time, and each time I find something to change.

  8. Diana Stout says:

    Thanks for the tag, Maris! Great post and great advice on doing what best works for the writer.

  9. Maris Soule says:

    That was an excellent talk on editing , so thank you, Diana.

  10. Maris, I definitely agree with “there are no rules.” No matter how I set out to work on a project, I end up doing something very different.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Patricia, that’s what makes writing fun for me–trying new ways to tell a story. Some of the books I’ve enjoyed the most were ones that did break the rules.

  11. Cara Bristol says:

    A few thoughts:
    I think the worst thing an author could do is try to make each chapter perfect before moving on. That definitely halts the creative flow.

    But if I notice obvious errors, I fix them when I see them, because there’s no guarantee that I’ll see them when I’m editing!

    Also, you’ll either put the time in on the front end or the back end. Your choice. I’ve written books where I’ve just “powered thru” and didn’t fix anything. I had a mess at the end and the revision/editing took a long time.

  12. Maris Soule says:

    Cara, you’re right about having to put the time in one way or the other. Since I can rarely find large blocks of time to write, powering through doesn’t work for me.

  13. Paula says:

    Yay! There are no rules!
    For a mostly right-brainer, I like to work with things that are ‘no-brainers’ because I’d really rather not have to deal with pesky details.
    Ah, but in any endeavor, if we’re pursuing excellence, those pesky details end up being friends. But don’t tell anyone I said that.
    Thanks for another fun post. I took one of the tests just for fun.

    • Maris Soule says:

      And thank you, Paula, for taking the time to read my blogs. I took three of the R/L brain tests I found. With one I wanted them to give me a third choice. My answers would have been “Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

  14. Diane Burton says:

    I’m really late responding. Every right/left brain test I’ve taken has me in the middle. Like you, Maris, if I’m interrupted I have to go back and read so I can “catch up” to where I was when I left…and I can’t help myself from editing as I read. I’m in favor of a writer writing the way it works best for her/him. Write through then edit. Edit as you go. Makes no difference if it works.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, I’ve been on the road for three days, so as far as I’m concerned, you’re not late responding. I keep telling myself I’d get more accomplished if I could write straight through, but what is is.