May 24

Book Review: Write. by Karen E. Peterson

Write. by Karen Peterson is a book that, unlike the last book I read, focuses almost exclusively on the actual writing process. More precisely, it’s a book about overcoming writer’s block. To the extent it covers aspects like finding an agent and publishing, it does so only in the context of writer’s block, IE “Are you not writing because you really don’t have any ideas, or because you’re afraid of later steps in the process…or could you even be afraid of potential success?”

The book’s approach to writer’s block is a bit of an unusual one. The book, which has a copyright of 2006 in the Kindle edition I read, approaches writer’s block as a function of the left brain versus the right brain, and goes off of the now discredited theory that hand dominance is related to brain dominance, IE that left-handed people are right-brain dominant, and vice-versa. It does turn out that brain activity is asymmetrical–generally speaking, the right brain is the emotional center of the brain, and the left brain is more dedicated to languages, both spoken and visual (Such as sign language). The book’s science is rather suspect in that regard, asking you to perform a bunch of exercises with each hand, one right after the other, and see how the answers differ as a result. Peterson shares the results of her exercises, which do differ between hands, and the appendix of the book includes extra copies of the exercises if you want to repeat them.

Though the underlying science is less-than-rock-solid, which calls the starting thesis into question as well, the interesting bit is that the conclusion and Peterson’s suggestions for overcoming writer’s block are rather sound. The book argues that the right side of the brain, besides being the emotional center of the brain, is like a toddler–it wants what it wants, it wants it now, and it will throw tantrums if it doesn’t get what it wants. In terms of writing, Peterson argues that the right brain wants to write the Great American Novel, all at once, in one big chunk of time–and since big chunks of time are difficult-to-impossible to come by, the right brain decides it’s better to just not write at all. The solution, then, is to take whatever time you can steal away to write, even if it’s an hour a week–waking up ten minutes early here, writing during your lunch break there, and so on–and, in doing so, to undergo the process of writing. And the process of writing can be just about anything–writing your book, yes, but also writing supporting documentation (Character bios, outlines, etc.) for the book, or as a last resort, revising parts of the book you’ve already written.

It’s a fascinating book. I’ve discovered two things as I’ve branched out and begun reading books that would broadly be described as “self-help”. The first is that there’s nothing new under the sun, so to speak. I’ve picked up on common themes and concepts in several of these books, even though the books are by different authors. The fact that these, for lack of a better word, motivators tend to mentor one another and, thus, pass their philosophies down through the generations no doubt helps this. But the second thing is that several of the more recent books I’ve read have gone to unexpected places only tangentially related to their core theses. Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology discusses how racism persists in different ways in modern society, and how it’s regarded as acceptable to do so, for instance (And no, it’s probably not what you think). In Write, it’s the right-brain/left-brain theory in general, and how most people aren’t brought up with what she regards as the proper balance of each, in part because parents aren’t perfect.

And despite the shaky starting ground, I do like Peterson’s conclusion and some of her suggestions for getting yourself to write, such as giving yourself 20 minutes of reward time for every 20 (Or 10, or 30, or whatever number you pick) minutes of productive writing time. She also suggests some smaller, healthier habits that can help you get through writer’s block, and put you in a better mood besides. These are things like drinking green tea instead of caffeinated sodas, or going for a brisk 5 minute walk now and again. And I appreciate the “be productive in whatever blocks of time and discipline you can muster” encouragement–I’m writing this review in small bursts between browsing the internet, my old nemesis, for instance.

While I don’t think I’d recommend this book on its own, I’m not sorry I read it as one book in a Humble Bundle that contained about 25 books in it. To be fair, not all of those books will directly relate to me, but nonetheless, I find the exhortation to write to be one I need to hear on occasion.

-EE

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