Writer Brain – What is it? Should I be afraid?
When I took an Introduction to Fiction Writing class when I was in college, the first day of class the teaching assistant (we had a grad student and not a professor) told us that our days of enjoying reading and watching movies were numbered. He confessed that after becoming a writer he has never been able to enjoy a good book or movie the same way since. At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought to myself, “there’s no way that I’m going to ever not enjoy reading or watching movies.”
To be honest it took many years for me to understand what he meant. And what he meant was that he didn’t know how to turn off his writer’s brain now that he had developed it. What is the writer brain you ask? It’s the part of the brain of a writer that breaks down a story into understandable pieces to understand why the story is being told the way it is. It’s the part of you that recognizes whether or not your attention has been caught by the first paragraph of a book and then you wonder why. It’s the part of you that asks why was I satisfied or not satisfied with the conclusion of this story. It’s the part that recognizes that there was an awkward shift in perspective on page 123. Or your watching a movie and find that the main character is a little two dimensional and wonder whether or not that was intentional. How can anyone possibly watch a movie or read a book with these kinds of questions running through their head all the time?
It’s often difficult for writers to turn off their writer brains in order to read a piece as a normal reader might or watch a movie as the average movie goer. I struggle from the affliction myself sometimes. But when the story is woven beautifully enough, I can still enjoy reading or watching a movie for the simple art that it is. Of course I may have to watch or read for a second time in order to analyze how the stories worked to make me forget that I am a storyteller myself, but I think it’s awesome when I find a story that makes me feel that way. Some people though can’t even turn their brains off then either, which is too bad. It’s like the mathematician that thinks about number all the time and sees numbers everywhere.
Sometimes I find my writer brain to actually enhance my pleasure in some movies, if I can’t sit and enjoy a story for the story’s sake I analyze it. What’s working, what doesn’t work, how would I do this differently, those are the kinds of questions I ask myself if a story is just too painful to get through. Damn, I paid good money to see this movie I’m going to enjoy it some how (for a great example – see my blog post on Jupiter Ascending). In the case of books I simply put it down until I’m forced to pick it up again (i.e. I’m forced to for class or I have an overwhelming need to understand why a book is so popular – Twilight was quite painful for me, but a good audiobook got me through with as little pain as possible).
Lucky for me I don’t think I’ll ever run out of good material to read, listen to, or watch. I’ll certainly find a slew of mediocre stories half of what Hollywood is producing right now is 2nd rate and unfortunately a lot of what’s being published right now isn’t much better. But I’m always thrilled when I find the gems and I’m always ready to read something new from old authors I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.
So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you find your writer brain on overdrive, it’s part of learning the writing craft. The more you use it, the more your writing and storytelling abilities will improve. But I do have a tip for turning it off if you really need to. Learn to enjoy the simple things in life. I think that will help. If you can find that place inside yourself that can enjoy simple things, you’re writer brain may take a break for a little while.