Write-Brained: My Background and the Mandatory Disclaimer
Preface: My Background and the Mandatory Disclaimer
Since I’m about to be diving into your brain, let me introduce myself—and, more importantly, give you a sense of my background and experience.
I’m not a psychiatrist or a brain surgeon. They don’t certify people in giving brain tours. What I am is simply a writer—and in that regard can transmit a clump of specialized data that, hopefully, you’ll find to be as beneficial as I’ve found it to be.
Learning How to Hate Writing
My story really starts in 1995. I was nine years old and, after reading The Phantom of the Opera, I decided the book needed a sequel. As I “authored” that book, I came to love writing as a process. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, and I haven’t turned back since.
The closest I came to quitting was in early 2010. In January of that year, I decided I would make freelance writing my full-time career. I’d been picking up gigs here and there since 2008, but I was sick of my high-stress, low-satisfaction, middle-management job—and I knew that writing was what I loved. I worked tirelessly to build my portfolio, acquire my first clients, and create an at-home office that made me feel like a true professional.
To those of you considering a similar career shift, let me caution you: There is no faster way to break a writer’s passion than to make writing their full-time job. Much of the strain came from things I didn’t anticipate: The isolation, the amount of non-writing time required to maintain clients, etc. But the biggest problem was found in the writing itself.
Writing was what I loved. So why, after getting the work that would allow me to be a “career writer,” was I staring at my screen with a complete inability to form words?
I pushed through the anxiety. I relied on binge-eating and high doses of caffeine. I started smoking a lot more. For a while, this “worked.” At the end of my 20 months in Salt Lake City, I’d earned roughly $50,000—along with 65 pounds in extra body mass and two heaping scoops of self-loathing. Perhaps the worst consequence was that my creative projects—the sort of writing I’d fallen in love with—had fallen by the wayside.
And Then I Read Some Stuff
Along with all the other things I was learning, I was learning how to hate writing. And I wasn’t okay with that.
In 2010, as I struggled to hold onto my unsustainable freelancing lifestyle, I went into research mode. I read every book on productivity I could find (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, Getting Things Done FAST, The Now Habit, The Now Habit for Work, Don’t Go to Work Unless It’s Fun, Zen to Done).
As I tried to find a more balanced, healthy life, my study transitioned more directly into productivity psychology and positive psychology (The Happiness Advantage, What We Can Change and What We Can’t, Stumbling on Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, The Happiness Project).
For the last year and a half, I’ve been studying the creative process (Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, The War of Art, Blink), rhetorical theory (Stanley Fish, Richard M. Weaver, Mikhael Bakhtin, Kenneth Burke, etc.), composition education (Lee-Ann M Kastman Breuch, Thomas Kent, etc.), and the role the human brain plays in all of the above (primarily in facts cited in above-mentioned work, though I’ve also read more than a handful of scholarly papers).
This is not a comprehensive list of what I used while trying to understand how to wrangle my own brain. In the end, though, it was Neuroscience that bound these topics together: what we write, why we write, how we think, and how we produce.
What Is the Write-Brained Series About?
My hope is to boil down the core elements of what I’ve learned over the last several years. In addition to the facts, studies, and concepts I picked up during my reading, I had the opportunity to use myself as a guinea pig. In trying to apply everything I’ve learned to the task of becoming a more effective writer, I’ve developed my own repertoire of “tricks.”
While I’m by no means the “perfect” writer, I am productive. I produced roughly 50 pages in the last week, which doesn’t include the heavy amount of editing work I did. That’s a fairly normal output for me. And I’m pretty happy, too.
What I’ve learned, through both study and experimentation, has been fascinating and deeply useful for me. In this series, my aim is to transmit a filtered version of what I’ve learned, focusing specifically on the cross-section of neuroscience and the writing process. While some of my approaches and ideas may work for you right away, my broader goal is to give you a thorough enough understanding of the psychological and chemical processes of writing that you can “choose your own adventure” as you work with the wonderfully bizarre machine we call the human mind.