Work Patterns for the Way You Think

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I always assumed I was a process thinker through and through. But I’m learning that isn’t always the case. Sometimes my mind goes off on a creative tangent. Maybe it’s a matter of adapting, unknowingly, to the challenge before me. If that’s the case, then we need to adjust our work patterns, too, if we want to be productive.

It makes sense that among novelists, creative thinking is dominant. New stories flow from your mind in your sleep. There’s no turning off the spigot. Creative thinkers imagine new possibilities. You’re intuitive, subjective, and at times emotional.Left Brain Right Brain

But process thinkers face the work before them and see what needs to happen to accomplish the desired result. Then they implement systems to help them get there. Dominant characteristics for these thinkers are: objective, focused, logical, sequential, and rational.

In a former life novelists needed only to exercise their creative minds. But in today’s reality your challenge is to adapt to process thinking when managing the business side of your writing career. Process thinkers, on the other hand, have to adapt to creative thinking to brainstorm fresh new ideas and book concepts in the highly competitive market. I see this struggle most often in submissions from nonfiction writers. Coming up with a creative approach to their already-written-about topic challenges their creative thinking.

Have you identified your primary thinker type? Now, let’s talk about work patterns that will help you when you have to utilize non-dominant thinking.

Creative thinkers tend to get distracted easily. So when you need to rein in their minds and focus on strategizing your marketing plan, you might need to close your door to have total quiet. Maybe even close your window shade if the view outside is sending you off-track. But have enough light in the room. Soft lighting is too cozy. Don’t forget to take your caffeine drink of choice and a light healthy snack with you, because you won’t be leaving your seat until you’ve completed the task at hand.

As you might suspect, process thinkers need opposite types of work patterns when they need to think creatively. We love working with our Excel spreadsheets and record-keeping systems. But when you process-thinking writers concept your next book, you have to think creatively to find a new way to approach the topic. Surround yourself with creative stimuli. After you make a list of published books similar to your topic, noting the way each one approached it, go for a walk and take in the creation around you. If you don’t have time for that, at least step away from your computer at regular intervals. The exercise stimulates your brain. Review what you’ve written with fresh eyes when you get back to your computer. If it helps, play classical music softly or turn on a radio to hear voices in the background. White noise stimulates your brain and may keep you from slipping back into process mode.

God knew we would need to switch back and forth between right-brain/creative and left-brain/process thinking when he created our amazingly adaptive brains. Yours is equipped to handle both. You can maximize your productivity when you match your work patterns with the thinking you need to do.

Are you naturally a creative thinker or a process thinker? How will you adapt your work patterns when you have to do non-dominant thinking?


Writers need to be both creative thinkers and process thinkers in their career today. Click to Tweet.

26 Responses

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  1. Great post, Mary!
    * I’m very definitely a logical and disciplined process-thin…ooh, look, a SQUIRREL!

  2. I am both . . . but not at the same time. I actually feel a shaft when I change from creative to process thinking. It’s like the old stick shift in the car. Most of the time the change flows noticeably but smoothly. And sometimes it chug-chug-chugs awkwardly, almost killing the train of thought.
    *Some writers go with the creative flow, circling back later in process mode to edit. Not me. I write, creative side humming along, and suddenly downshift to fix my verbs (those mismatched tenses bound into my path like deer). I’ve tried ignoring them, but that’s like ignoring the scent of the skunk dead in the road–it just travels with me and distracts me all the more.
    *And when I’m in the stop and go traffic of editing, I’ll get a flash of open-road creativity. I shift into high gear to add a paragraph, full speed ahead. Till some possum of punctuation waddles into my words.

  3. For writing, I’m a creative thinker. And I need total silence to write. When I’m pulling a story out of thin air, I need quiet in order to hear the story.
    For any refinishing project, it’s all about the exact process. I can’t go from point A to point D. It would ruin the piece and create ridiculous amounts of extra work. Yes, refinishing is creative, but in a “deconstruct in order to reconstruct ” manner.
    Much like editing, I guess.
    Hmmm, now that I ponder this with any other kind of creative project, I am a process thinker. I need to know exactly what to do, and when.
    But with housework, I’m a dismissive thinker. 😉
    “I’ll do it later.”

    • Jennifer, a ‘refinishing’ question. Do you try to determine and recreate the original finish and hardware? Or do you go for the ‘old look with modern methods’?

      • It depends on the piece. Back in the day, a painted or heavily stained piece meant it was more expensive. Paint and stain cost more than a wax or shellac finish. The most recent piece I did, a sapele Empire table and six chairs, (150-200 years old) had a deep wine stain, but it was worn down through the veneer and very dirty. Some very old pieces that have been waxed, yet have normal wear and dirt on them, are considered valuable. But anything that is damaged, has chipping paint, or has candle blistering, isn’t worth much until it’s refinished.
        Many tables and dressers were never finished at all, which always tells me that they were made of the cheapest wood available at the time. Those are quaint, but are more conversation and sentimental acquisitions than for investment. Unless Sir John A. MacDonald signed a law on the table, then it has value.
        Once I strip a piece, I like to bring it back as close to the original as possible, unless it’d been whitewashed or painted, then I give it 5-10 coats of a flat water-based varnish, sometimes more, if it’s sapele or mahogany, because those are sponges for varnish. (I’ve never done a wax seal, because my market isn’t that high-end.) More if it’s going to be in a high traffic area.
        I will. not. paint. an antique piece, especially if the wood is rare and would cost 10,000$ in today’s market.
        I always go to Lee Valley Tools for my hardware, their selection of vintage hardware is exceptional.

      • Wow, Jennifer, that’s fascinating. Thanks so much for that explanation.

    • Housework? What’s that?

  4. Fascinating, I”m not sure which I am. When I’m getting story ideas and writing them down in the middle of the night on sticky notes, or trying to remember them by chanting them over and over if I’m on a 2 mile walk with my dog, obviously I’m all creative. But I love outlining stories and making little charts and filling them in, it makes me happy to see the story set down in a tidy way. Then the agony of taking that tidy outline and trying to write it out and seeing that it is not very good and just going ahead with it knowing that I’ll have to revise. Hmmm … lots of jumping back and forth here.

  5. I think I’m a mixture of both. But some aspects are easy for me and some are difficult. Allow me time for the easy aspects, and I feel like a bird soaring and singing. Whee …! When I allow time for the difficult aspects, I feel like I’m in a cage, “peep, chirp” … but it never ends up being as bad as I thought. 🙂 And getting a job done is so satisfying. And now … just like that … my mind is on the best line ever: “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” (The Notebook). 🙂

  6. I, too, would say I’m both with a bent towards process thinking simply because I like routine and knowing what to expect – and exactly what’s expected of me. Lately, however, I’d say I’m a “tired thinker.” My brain is mush. LOL

  7. OK, squirrel’s gone. He sends his love.
    * I really don’t know what kind of thinker I am, and I have a feeling I’ve got God pretty perplexed as well.
    * When I was ‘alive’, I did a lot of work upon aeroplanes, fabricating parts to fit machines that had been built decades ago. It’s very much a ‘process’ kind of work…but on the other hand I sometimes found myself having to use hilariously insufficient tools to try to duplicate what had been done in a factory with hundred-ton presses and expensive fixtures. I’ve heard the method called ‘getting your brain into your fingers’, and I guess that’s the best way to describe it, but I sure don’t know if it’s creative or process.
    * My work pattern is nothing short of chaotic. The computer’s perched on a kitchen counter (the only place to get Internet) and I often write a blog post sentence-by sentence whist attending to canine needs. But I’m used to it; I once worked in a field in which important decisions had to be made under appallingly distracting conditions, and once you get used to that, it becomes habit.
    * In terms of book structure, I don’t map out plot but do map out characters, mainly so they don’t all wind up as some version of yours truly. One ‘me’ is enough. I also know what the ending should look like at the 50% point, and therefore I write it then. The rest is the construction of a logical path to go from the halfway point to the desired conclusion. It seems to work; readers tend to like the way I wrap things up, and it does leave scope for building in a few red herrings so the ending’s unexpected.
    * I’m pretty organized and focused when it comes to social media; my blog posts are regular, and I make every effort to answer comments in a timely manner. I also use Twitter and FB to ‘advertise’ the posts, and of course participate in blog communities.
    * Marketing’s another issue. I know that I’m the best thing out there since Hemingway started channeling Nick Sparks, but being so blindingly awesome it’s easy to overwhelm readers. A low-key approach that harnesses my stunning brilliance to the common touch, in which all may revel and partake, remains elusive.
    * Finally, I have recently discovered the almost achingly simple secret to success with self-publishing, and I feel compelled to share it. What you have to do is…ah, sorry, gotta go, squirrel’s back!

  8. This is great, Mary! I’d love to feature part of it in an upcoming article – sound okay to you?

  9. Such a great post, Mary. My dominant mode is process-thinker. I can get creative. But when I need to work/re-think a concept for a book, I always call in friends to help. Brainstorming with others helps me think more creatively. I need to take more walks as breaks between working on real-life tasks and writing tasks. This is always a good way to open up my thoughts to new perspectives.

  10. Carol Ashby says:

    Mary, I agree that a person can easily operate in both modes. We can even do it at the same time. Research scientists are objective, focused, logical, sequential, and rational, like you describe process thinking. They also must be highly creative because they are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is known. The same is true of engineers who are in the business of creating new designs for novel products. Having worked in research and with advanced design engineers, I think many people don’t have to consciously flip the switch and change a work pattern to move from one mode to the other. For me, it’s natural to slip into whichever mode a specific task requires without thinking about it.
    *With my fiction writing, I think the most creative time is while a new plot is forming in my mind. Even then, I’m not aware that I’m doing anything different than when I’m working on the websites or marketing. I don’t do anything deliberately different to get the thoughts flowing from my mind through my fingers to the screen.
    *Am I odd , or do other folks here find creative/process thinking a seamless whole?

    • Yeah, you’re odd, Caol, but we love you anyway.
      * I don’t really make a distinction; there are elements of both creative and process thinking in what I do, and they’re pretty well blended. I never have a ‘feeling’ of transitioning from one to the other while writing or doing ‘writing support’.
      * There is a non-writing exception, and it was made manifest when I could still travel. Going to conferences alone, I just went with the flow, and never really mapped out what I was doing except to know where I had to be at certain times. But when Barb came with me, I planned an itinerary very precisely. I wanted her to have the best experience possible during our free time. I enjoyed both ‘operative modes’; they were different kinds of fun.

  11. Elissa says:

    I’m right-brain dominant the whole way (left-handed as well as being an artist for my “day job”). I’ve learned to adapt to a dexter-aligned world, and I can make myself focus on left-brained tasks when necessary.
    But I’ll never be comfortable doing so.

  12. Carol Ashby says:

    Off topic, but Andrew has a bad infection that isn’t clearing. Prayers would be appreciated!