Sometimes, when I’m on a deadline, my head hurts. And I think I know why. There’s a war going on in there, a war between my left brain and my right brain.
When I’m reporting a story, it’s all very logical. My left brain is in full control of the situation. I conduct research. I talk to people. I ask questions. I gather answers. If something doesn’t make sense, I ask for an explanation. Most of the time, my emotions don’t play much of a part in this process. I’m cool and efficient.
I’m nothing if not thorough in reporting. I usually gather too much information for any given story. That means when I finally sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed. Where to start? How to make sense of all this?
My left brain is nearly always the one to dig in first. The left brain is logical, analytical, objective. It looks at each snippet of information and tries to build a linear sequence. That becomes my rough outline. Often this works. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the parts just don’t fit together logically.
That’s when my right brain steps in. And that’s when the trouble begins.
The right brain is intuitive, random, subjective. It likes to synthesize parts into a big picture. My left brain bats it back, saying, “Hey, I’m in control. If I just try harder with this outline, I’ll get everything to hang together and it’ll be a great story.” My left brain insists on handling each tidbit of information like a piece of colored glass. It reviews my notes and my outline, sorts the pieces into piles, by shape, by color, over and over.
My right brain usually stands back and lets my left brain bang itself against the wall for awhile. Then, after ol’ Lefty is battered, bruised and hopelessly confused, Ms. Right will step in and sigh. “Take it easy,” she says. “Go for a walk. Take a nap.”
Researchers who study the brain are finding that daydreaming is actually an important thought process. New brain-scanning studies suggest that our brain may be most actively engaged when we just let go and let our mind wander. “Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically,” one researcher told The Wall Street Journal. “There really are different brain mechanisms involved.”
When I come back from my walk or wake up refreshed from my nap, I often find that my right brain has taken those bits of colored glass and created a beautiful mosaic. I sit down and start writing, and everything flows together into a nicely packaged story, sometimes with an insight or conclusion that I never knew was there.
Chalk one up for the right brain. At least until the next story, when the battle begins anew.