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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Brain Anatomy and the Difficulty of Writing

I had an Aha moment the other day when I was thinking about why it is so many people consider writing difficult (often frighteningly so).

Want to see how hard it
is to overcome left-brain
language dominance? Name
the words' colors out loud
without reading the words.
This is the so-called
Stroop Effect.
The key insight: Brain anatomy is not well optimized to make good writing easy. 

We know that most of the language centers are on the left side of the brain. We also know that the left brain is where linear, logical, rule-based thinking occurs. The right brain understands less-linear things like metaphors, idioms, graphical relationships in space, and improvisation. In at least a colloquial sense, we think of the right brain as "creative."

Therefore, the difficulty of writing is partly anatomical. The brain's language centers are proximal to the rigidly logical "linear thinking" parts of the brain. If you're a computer programmer, that's a good thing. If you're trying to write poetry, it's not.

It's not impossible to trick the right brain into becoming more involved in left-brain tasks. My favorite tricks are:

Buy an Etch A Sketch.

Build a Lego puzzle.

Develop an intimate relationship with a yo-yo.

If what you're writing needs accompanying illutrations, work on the illustrations first.

Read some poetry before trying to write prose. Try some e.e. cummings.

Create a pro forma "outline" for your piece in the form of a quick doodle with lots of circles and boxes (a Venn diagram on crystal meth). I like a white-board for this, but the back of an envelope will do just as well.

Find an image that elicits a strong non-verbal reaction in you. Study it. Modify it in Photoshop.

Watch your favorite TED Talk video. Or watch a new one.

Listen to music that relies on improvisation, or at least lack of repetition. (Read up on the Mozart Effect.) My favorite musical works in this regard are the live solo performances of pianist Keith Jarrett. Most of his concert performances are pure improvisation. Some are quite abstract (think Jackson Pollock on piano). If you're not familiar with Jarrett, buy his signature Köln Concert album, and go from there.

Maybe you know of other tricks. Leave them in a Comment below. Thanks!


  1. Thomas
    I hope you have the time to read and respond

    Hey this is off topic but it from one you had in 2009 re Fractal technology i would like to hear your thoughts

    Are you interested in Fractal technology and do you understand what you could see if it works with a

    video that can be compressed in a TruDef file can then be played to screen size resolution independent and it could be in 2 k 4 k formats.

    And this has nothing to do with H264/H265 Wavelet MPEG 264 consortium

    Its a small company all to itself

    Look at a company TMMI

    They bought the video code rights from iterated Systems(Barnsly and Sloan) and sold the video codec to

    TMMI even as Alan Sloan advised against it.

    Dr Sloan is now on the board of directors.

    They have a working coded and you will see it very soon so if you are a techie type person all i can say is

    seeing is believing especially when what you see is viewed at different screen sizes but from the same

    smaller compressed file is able to produced 4K video.

    There eniter history can be read at trudef blog

    Enjoy the read and if you truly understand that with there working codec and today's computer processing

    speeds have made this a perfect storm for what is about to happen in 2013.

    I look forward to hear your thoughts Kas


  2. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Look at the architecture of buildings. Take a new way home and then mentally revisit the route you took. Listen to low pitched sounds or nature sounds in your left ear. Gently spin on a chair in a counter-clockwise direction - do this only once or twice slowly. Smell something unpleasant in your right nostril. Thai Fish Sauce should do the trick.


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