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Creative Brain Versus Editing Brain

Jen here:

One of the biggest causes of writer’s block is getting the editing brain involved when the creative brain should be working. That happens when the editorial and creative departments of your brain mingle. If you don’t shut off your editing brain while you’re writing, it will strangle you.

The Deep Work Habit

Like any good habit, it takes time to develop the ability to stay in creative brain. In other arenas, this can be called deep work. It’s where we immerse ourselves in the storyworld we have created. Our characters come alive, the scenes spool out in front of us, and we feel like we are merely transcriptionists to what is playing out before our very eyes.

We live in a society that values reachability and instant response. And this is a great way to kill creativity. Turn off notifications on your computer. Silence your phone. Set a time rfor 25 or 55 minutes and don’t look at email, texts, social media or anything else until your time is up. Soon your brain will get used to this and fall into the rhythm when you go into deep mode. But it takes awhile to develop the habit.


Prewriting is one of the best ways to beat writer’s block and to ensure that your scene has all of the great components it needs before you even start writing it. It’s also a way to write more quickly, because when you know what a scene is going to be about, it’s easier to see it play out in your head.

Here’s how it works. Based on your plot and what’s gone on before, decide what kind of scene you are writing. Do you need a goal/conflict/disaster? Or a reaction/dilmma/decision? Jot down some notes of what those components could be. Your previous scene should feed you your starting point for this.

Who’s going to be in the scene? Who’s the POV character? What does she want? Where is the scene set? These don’t have to be perfect or set in stone. You’re just looking for a starting point. The brain freezes up when it has unlimited options. Narrow some of those down and let the creativity flow.

Pre-writing lets the editorial department of your brain do its planning. But then it needs to leave. Write the scene without analyzing it. Just create. And when you’re done, go back and analyze it to see if it meets the flow and structure that it needs to. But don’t think about that while you are actually writing. Pre-writing should give you enough structure to free up the Creative department to write and to tell the Editorial department to shut up.

Write Now, Edit Later

Writing and editing are two different parts of the brain. You want to stay in Creative brain to keep the ideas flowing. Resist the urge to critique or change any actual writing. Jot things down now. Fix things later. Do research later.

I use Scrivener to write, and I love the Document Notes pane. I can pop notes in there about what I need to check out, what I’m uncertain about. It reassures my brain that the idea has been recorded and I won’t forget about it. And it allows me to stay in Creative mode.

When you are done Creating, put it aside and come back to it later. Now you can come back with the Editor brain and start applying structure and analyze and fix things. Don’t mix the two up or you will get yourself stuck with writer’s block. If you can write and edit on separate days, do it.

Your Goal

Your main goal is to write, turn off the internal editor, and know that the first draft will be crummy, and that’s okay. If the rules and structure are getting you down, toss them. Write your story and then go back and use the structure to figure out what’s missing and how to fix it. The more you write this way, the greater of a habit it will become and writer’s block will be simply a bad memory.

Now go write your story!

Jennifer and the other Pencildancers have released Worthy to Write: Blank Page Tying Your Stomach in Knots? 30 Prayers to Tackle That Fear. Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Editing and Creative Writing Giving you a Headache?

Diana here:
First, let’s get the science stuff by a non-science person out of the way.

Our brains have 2 sides, left and right. One of them is all about math, organization, and logistics—yawn, the other is for fantastic fun, colorful times, engaging dialogue, art, music and all that is good in life.

I’m guessing you know which part of my brain gets used the most.

But to perform the best as a writer we need both sides but must separate the two halves. The creative side needs to feel unconstrained by rules and the wise owl on our shoulder telling us to put in that comma, take out that word and find a stronger one. It’s also pushy and wants to have an intricate part of our creative process. But we must train that pesky owl to wait for his turn.

What can we do to separate those two brains?
Popular advice:

1.     Write in the morning. Edit in the afternoon. OR the reverse if you are more creative in the afternoons.

2.     Edit your last chapter before writing your next because it gets you back into your story.

3.     Edit every other day, write the other days.

4.     Print your work and only edit the hard copy.

5.     Use one computer for writing and a different one for editing. (In what world do writers have two computers? Most of us are happy to have a dedicated writing space.)

6.     Put a hat on your head when editing. Take it off when writing.

7.     Don’t change a word during the writing process. Free write and edit when you are done.

Here’s my advice.

Be prepared with your synopsis before you begin. If you don’t know what you want to write, you’ll waste time with your editor brain attempting to make something out of nothing.

With the scene you want to write in your mind, hit the keyboard. If you seem to stumble because you can’t remember if a word is capitalized or needs a hyphen, highlight that word and keep going.

Can’t think of the right word at all? Type  XXX or YYY –you pick it’s your work and keep writing until you can’t go anymore.

Then take a break. Eat something, go outside, or at least stretch your arms over your head. Then go back and look for the highlighted spots and edit them. Then do a find search for those capital letters and fill in those places.

When you finish the first draft, put on your editor hat, (make it fun, bejewel it with the word editor or get a white hat and a permanent marker if that’s more your thing) print out the manuscript.

Yes, print it out. Your eyes will not catch things on the computer screen. You do not want a reader asking why you wrote sale when you meant sail. Which is why listening to your book to catch errors doesn’t always work.

Next pull out a red pen. Yes, a red pen. It shows up the best when you go back to put your changes into your manuscript. You may think you’ll catch that comma you added with a blue or black pen, but odds are you won’t because it blends in with the black ink from the printer.

Don’t let the combined process break your brain. It’s good to have two sides, it’s what’s kept us safe when we come up with ideas like: Wouldn’t it be exciting to jump from one rooftop to another because one of our characters did it an t worked out great.

What’s your advice for separating the creative brain from the editing brain? 

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Limiting Narrative in Your Novel

 Liz here.

Years ago, it was perfectly acceptable to write long chunks of narration in novels. This telling, often descriptive in nature, might go on for pages and pages. There would be long stretches of narration between bits of dialogue. But that era is long gone. In this fast-paced world, readers want fast-paced stories. That means limiting the amount of narration you use.

Make every word count
With a limit on how much you can say outside of dialogue, you need to make every word count. In my editing, I often see new writers using long passages of flowery descriptions. We all had to write such descriptive papers in English class when we were in school. Now the challenge is to describe the setting and what is going on in the story and the characters feelings without using large chunks of narration.

The answer is to cut out every unnecessary word. Use only what you need to create the effect that you want. Think of this as a form of Impressionist painting. What the Impressionists were trying to do in their artwork was not to fill in every detail for their audience, but to create a general mood and feeling.

Find a large chunk of narration in your story. Challenge yourself to cut it down to a third of its present size. Get rid of the waste. Get rid of every word that doesn't need to be there. Use stronger adjectives and verbs. Trim and trim and trim some more. You'll discover that you don't miss what you've deleted.

Make every bit of information relevant
Related to this is making sure that the narrative you do use is relevant. Stick only to what is necessary to telling the story well. Unless a peanut butter and jelly sandwich plays an important part of your story, there is no reason for paragraphs showing the hero trying to decide whether to have peanut butter and jelly or bologna for lunch.

Since I'm a novelist, I do tend to embellish my conversations with a lot of details. Sometimes, that can be wearying to my family. My husband will tell me, "Get to the point." And that is what your readers will say to you also. Long rabbit trails, large chunks the back story, unnecessary details only slow down the pace of your story. Your readers want to find out what happens. Keep the story moving forward in order to keep your audience engaged.

Invoke all of the senses
When you do use narrative, make it rich. You can do this by including all of the senses, not just sight. Taste, smell, deal, and sound can all evoke strong responses in your readers. When you include as many of these as possible, you draw your readers into the book and play on their emotions. Not every sense needs to be in every scene, but be aware of using senses other than sight and changing up those senses as you progress through the story.

Show, don't
If you've been around fiction for any length of time, you will have heard this expression. Again, years ago, it was acceptable to do a lot of telling. Stories written in the third person omniscient point of view have a narrator. But think about the movies you've seen. There isn't an actor coming on screen to tell you what is happening. Instead, the cinematographer shows what is going on. The characters don't come out and say that they're feeling happy or sad or afraid. You see that in the expressions on their faces and in their body language. As you write, imagine yourself writing through the lens of the camera. How would you, as the director, direct the actors to move and to express themselves.

Narrative is not a bad thing in and of itself. In fact, it's absolutely necessary to story. There is no such thing as the all-dialogue book. If there were, it likely wouldn't be a well told story. But knowing when and how to use narrative can set you apart as a writer and make your story shine.