Looking at Writers as Left-Brain or Right-Brain Thinkers

By Jack Limpert

During 50 years of editing, I found that the simplest way to look at writers was left brain-right brain. The theory is that left brain types are better at logic and analysis, the right brain types better at imagination and creativity.

Writers come in many different packages—good talker-good listener, book smart-street smart, lots of drive-kind of lazy, I’m only doing it for the money-it’s my passion in life, etc.—but the left brain-right brain approach seemed most useful. Some magazine stories needed more logical thinking, some needed more emotional life.

One challenge for an editor was keeping writers focused on the kind of stories they’re best at. I had a great reporter who came in one day and said he was tired of doing so much reporting and he wanted to switch to mostly writing think pieces. It didn’t happen.

I had a writer who was good at big synthesis pieces. He’d start by doing a month of mostly research and outlining. We’d talk about whether his outline made sense and he’d then figure out who he had to interview to get more insights and  good quotes. By the time he did most of his interviewing, the story was pretty well nailed down. Left brain all the way.

Another writer was good at feature pieces—she’d start out with a bit of an idea and then talk with lots of people before coming in to talk about what kind of story she could write. The story could have gone in lots of different directions and she was mostly interested in having fun with the subject and creating talk. Not much left brain.

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