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The Science of Writing

You have probably heard math whizzes brag about the prowess of their highly developed left brains, while the imaginative types, claim to be right brained, touting their creativity as irrefutable evidence. And yes, the left brain, the digital brain, controls reading and analyzing, calculation, and logical thinking, while the right brain, the analog brain, controls three-dimensional sense, creativity, and artistic expression. The way I see it, there is no greater activity that forces both sides of the brain to work harmoniously, communicating with each other in a simultaneous dance of firing synapses, than writing. That makes it pretty awesome… and difficult.

We often refer to writing as a creative process, an inventive endeavor, heavily imbedded in the imaginings of the author, a land filled with unicorns and rainbows. But it is so much more than that. It is a science as well. Why? Because, like science, writing is an act of discovery…. of ourselves, our characters, and our world. Penning a story is much like going on an archeological expedition, as we excavate the layers in search of something meaningful and important. And with each swing of the metaphorical pick and ax, every dig of the shovel, we learn something new, something exciting. There is a wonderment that accompanies that discovery.

So the writer pens a draft, conceives a story. And like biology, the ultimate science, where a cell multiplies and becomes a living thing, there is a gestational period, where the idea is nurtured. In fact, the greatest scientific discoveries are born of a stubborn persistence, an idea that may seem impossible if not improbable. And then, you care for it, suffer for it, worry about it, all the while hoping that the vision will come a reality. As you burn the midnight oil, it grows and develops, until it is ready to be ushered into the world, hopefully to make a difference. Sounds like an ideal way to describe a book, too, doesn’t it?

When we think of scientific thought, we picture complicated experiments, with Bunsen burners blasting at full speed, beakers filled with a bubbling brew. It is goal-directed, outcome based. But so is writing (minus the fancy equipment.) Scientists observe, look for clues. So do writers. And then, the experiment begins, as both the writer and the scientist set out to determine if the evidence points to a truth, if reasoning leads to a conclusion based on that observation.

And sometimes the experiment fails. The story falls flat. The idea you have nursed to a logical conclusion is hopelessly flawed, and you are left with no choice but to pick yourself up and try again, employ a different approach. Yes, science is logical, precise. One drop of a reactive compound can be disaster in an unstable environment. But a good story can also be doomed it is doesn’t flow smoothly. And obsessing over the syntax, the exact word choice or proper placement of a comma is, well, downright scientific.

Ultimately, in both science and writing there is an overwhelming desire to understand our world – to explore, to fail, to hope, and ultimately, to dream. It’s an idea that is quite exciting, isn’t it?

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