How Writers Think

There are two broad types of writers: storytellers and spinners. Storytellers believe in their own stories and want you to share their conviction. Spinners care less about the story and more about the craft of shaping perception. At heart, storytellers are truth sayers and spinners are liars.

How Storytellers Think

Creative writers observe the world closely but rarely take part in it. Writing is a craft that demands hours of actual writing and even more hours of brooding, reading other writers, and seemingly useless fantasy. Some creative writers are dyed-in-the-wool storytellers who wind up on the best sellers list or clutching fat checks for movie rights. Most creative writers simply want to get their words out on paper to be read by someone, anyone, somewhere. If you want to know how a creative writer thinks, read his work. He will be there, self-dissected, if you read carefully.

Researchers at the University of Greifswald used fMRI scanners to track the brains of fiction writers as they worked. The brains of experienced writers worked differently from inexperienced writers.

In experienced writers, a section deep inside the brain, the caudate nucleus, became active, but it did not activate in inexperienced writers. This section of the brain is active for skilled activities that require practice – for example, chess playing, music composition, and even basketball. Experienced and inexperienced writers also used different strategies. Experienced writers seemed to narrate stories with an inner voice, while novices visualized them.

How Copywriters Think

Copywriters are not in the business of imagining narratives. They are creative problem solvers who use words. Storytelling is a more personal process and relies more on intuition. Copywriters are more objective and view words and ideas as objects to be manipulated.

Cognitive research has shown a strong link between creativity and problem solving. Problem solvers break apart problems in novel ways and have unique insights into the problem. They solve problems differently because they see problems differently to begin with.

While originality is difficult to define as a cognitive process, it has something to do with self-involvement. Copywriters feel satisfaction not only because a problem has been solved and the projection has been completed, but because something of himself is given to the project and recognized by others.

Copywriters are notoriously touchy about criticism because it is a direct attack on their own egos. Experienced copywriters are better able to distance themselves from their work once it has been completed, so that criticism is experienced less personally. But self-involvement is essential to the creative process, so complete detachment is impossible.

The Link Between Writing And Madness

Since Aristotle, creativity has been linked to madness. Shakespeare wrote, “The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact.” This view has held up under scientific scrutiny.

Psychiatric studies suggest there are three characteristics common to extreme creativity and madness. These are mood disturbances, certain types of thinking processes, and a high tolerance for irrationality.

  1. Mood disturbances due to bipolar disorder (manic-depression) are prevalent among writers and artists. The manic phase is associated with tremendous creative output, while depression may slow and order this output.
  2. Translogical thinking is common among both creative and psychotic individuals. Translogical thinking is the ability to combine paradoxical or antagonist objects into a single entity. It is, for example, the ability to look at a black wall and a white wall and see a gray wall.
  3. Creative people and psychiatric patients view irrational thinking as a valid means of dealing with problems. Whereas most people approach life based on facts and visible evidence, creative people give equal weight to ideas and fantasy. In other words, anything they imagine is real.

Are Copywriters Less Mad Than Storytellers?

Good question. As a copywriter myself, I don’t think so. However, there is reason to argue that craziness is a little less prominent among copywriters.

Fiction writers lack the external boundaries that might govern and channel their madness. The thinking of a storyteller has nothing to ground it or weight it down. A copywriter’s creativity, on the other hand, is tied to specific problems outside himself. Presumably, the greater objectivity of a copywriter’s work would keep him saner.

Along the same lines, I can think of numerous storytellers who deliberately committed suicide, but few copywriters. However, this argument breaks down when one considers marine engineers, physicians, dentists, and woodworkers have extremely high suicide rates. All work closely with the “objective” world. And while suicide may not be common in the advertising industry,  substance addiction is very high (12.4%) compared to “normal” people (8%).

Just assume your copywriter is mad as a hatter, and take it from there.