The right brain/left brain conundrum: Do you hold yourself back?

The following is an excerpt from an article in which Dian Curtis Regan, a prolific writer of children’s and YA material of all kinds, offers some advice to newbies.  The article is “Ask the Author:  Dian Curtis Reagan” by Jon Bard of Children’s Book Insider (check out his newsletter).



Library of illustrated children's books

Library of illustrated children’s books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question:

I recently decided that I wanted to write and illustrate a book for children. My main problem is wondering where to start. I feel that I have a solid idea, but I become paralyzed when I actually try to write. What would you suggest a first time author do to overcome those fears?”


The Answer (Bolding mine):

“Feeling “paralyzed” when you try to write means that your left brain is overriding your right brain. Your logical side is saying, “This is a ridiculous idea. I can’t write a book.” One way to get around this is to approach writing in a playful manner. Don’t think, “Oh my gosh, I’m writing a book.” Play with the story idea. Singsong the lines. Play a “what if” game with the main character: What if Jamie opened the door to her bedroom and found a forest instead of the hallway? Play pretend. What happened next? Become 9 year old Jamie in her fantasy world.

“Clustering” is a way of unlocking your right brain, the creative side. I’ve used it many times and have taught it to my students. The idea is simple. Take a word or phrase–perhaps the good idea you’ve come up with–and quickly jot down everything that pops into your mind. Scribble all over the page. Do NOT stop to think or analyze or read what you have written so far. That is your left brain trying to limit you again. Keep brainstorming for a minute or two. The subconscious brain makes all kinds of connections that will amaze you. Once I wrote “peanut butter” while clustering the word “lonely.” Where did THAT come from? When I’m home alone for dinner, I often eat a peanut butter sandwich. Bingo.

Story idea: A latchkey child who lives on peanut butter sandwiches. While using this technique with students to develop a main character for a story, we went from a very stilted, ordinary girl to a girl whose socks never match, who can’t go into a shop without secretly trying to steal something, and who is embarrassed because her nose is always runny. The students were amazed by the vivid character they’d created–all by clustering. Try it. Children’s books are playful, therefore the writing of them should be, too.”


She has much more advice, but I loved that she brought up the right brain/left brain conundrum in her answer to starting to write.  This was an “aha” statement for me.  I have written a few children’s books for my own kids/grandkids, but when I sit down to write one for others, NADA!   The ideas for them abound, but getting them to come alive, or even take one breath, never happens.  I think I understand why now.  Why I didn’t think of this I don’t know – it is right down my alley after all – but it took seeing it from someone else to jar me.


Do you ever get stuck when you sit down to writer creatively?  What do you do to spur yourself?  Do you give up or keep at it?  Do you have any advice for others in this situation?  What else do you have to say/share? 




  1. Jenny Alexander

    Hi Angie – nice post! Have you read Dorothea Brande’s book, Becoming a Writer? She says a writer is like two people, a child and an adult, an artist and an artisan, and we have to develop each of these sides separately, and teach them to work together. Barbara Ueland has a nice book on this too – she says, ‘I learnt when writing, you have to feel, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a small child in kindergarten, happily stringing beads.’ Or words to that effect! I’ve blogged about Brande’s book here

    • Thank’s Jenny! I’ve not read those books, but I will definately look them up. I love that imagery! Angie 🙂

  2. When this happens to me, I usually just need a break. Other times, I eat chocolate 🙂

    • authormjlogan

      Chocolate definitely fits into the whole writing picture.

      If it is time to write and I don’t have anything creative going on, I start an outline that has the main thrust of each part, then start expanding and before I know it, the outline has changed and something is going on and then the challenge become not getting started but to STOP and let it end.

      • Mike – I have a lot of trouble ending things too. In almost ever area of my life, I over-plan, over-do, … I think God is trying to teach me to let some things go 🙂 Angie

    • Chocolate – the cure-all for all ills 😉

      • authormjlogan

        Almost everything –it won’t cure chocolate addiction 😉

  3. Zellie M. Quinn

    Thanks, I’d never pin-pointed that my left and right brain were at odds. That is an interesting way to see the writer’s block, or negativity. Now when I ‘stress’ over writing something, I’ll know that my left brain is shutting down the right brain 🙂 Very helpful article.

    • Thank you Zellie. I suppose not everyone has this issue, but I sure do. You should hear the arguments that go on in my head. 🙂 Angie

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