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The Head vs. Heart Debate

The head learns new things, but the heart forever practices new experiences.

– Henry Ward Beecher


An author friend of mine told me last week that when her kids were in their early teens, they were in horrible competition with each other and they argued all the time. She said she had to figure out how to make them work it out. So she made them roommates for six months.

And it worked.

Suddenly, inspiration struck me—this is just like being a writer.

My own struggle to write is like an internal competition between my head and my heart. Both think they have the best solution, but both need to get beyond the fighting to see the value of their own disabilities. What I’ve needed is to figure out how to embrace both sides of my personality as loved and needed.

If head and heart are naturally at odds with each other, it stands to reason that learning to write well would absolutely require figuring out how to become a patient parent to both sides of your demanding self.

In that moment of inspiration, I imagined my brain as an older brother named Wisdom, who’s constantly telling his little sister Grace, the heart, what to do. He’s smarter, maybe wiser too, and he keeps Grace safe. She’s impulsive and needs Wisdom’s help, but he often needs to back off and give her some space. Grace may not know exactly where she’s going but Wisdom’s going to have to learn to let her lead at times so she can learn how to get them where they’re really going.

My problem has been that Wisdom doesn’t know where the story needs to go, but Grace doesn’t want to listen. Sometimes Wisdom imagines leaving her behind and writing the book himself, and sometimes Grace fantasizes about overpowering him and making him eat dirt. Both their frustrations are valid, but without both of them, they won’t get anywhere.

Grace is ignorant. And the first problem is the squabbling. Those who’ve made their war past-tense somehow figured this out—and felt it out—the way to becoming a patient parent.

And in that flash of inspiration I knew if I want to finish this novel, I need both Wisdom and Grace to sign a treaty. Both of them will have to send their best selves up to the head office and get down to the heart of the matter.

I thought of Pixar’s genius film, Inside Out, those emotional characters at the controls. They needed to learn to be rational. And I’ve got to be reasonable and empathetic, logical and loving.

Basically, Grace and Wisdom will have to marry.

(Wisdom is suggesting I abandon the brother/sister metaphor at this point. Grace is feeling a little uncomfortable too.)

I need them to fight together as they go up against the dragons. They need each other. Their love must go beyond reason, beyond feelings. They’ve got to battle it out and find a connection that goes beyond romantic affection or mutual appreciation. They’ve got to find an unbreakable fusion.

Maybe that’s what amazes us about a well-put-together person or a well-put-together book. They represent a fully embodied humanity—they fit together, their head and heart complement each other. They’re balanced.

They’ve worked through the self-doubt and self-consciousness to become self-aware, and finally, self-possessed. Their internal role-wrangling has been ironed out, and their head and heart play nice.

Maybe at some point, they realized they had a passion and particular gifts, but the heart needed some coaxing by big brother brain to put her faith into action. Maybe she also needed some discipline to stay on the tracks and not get distracted.

But now they can co-lead. And both can feel in charge. And both can believe God is with them and they’ve got this. 

(Thanks to my fabulous memoirist friend, Lyneta Smith, for the inspiration.)

For the higher purpose,


4 Responses to “The Head vs. Heart Debate”

  1. Hey, Mick, great post. I wonder if the constant debate between plotters and “pantsers” (those who do no outlining, but write by the seat of their pants) is something of the same thing. I find that plotters get stuck, and have to do some freewriting (a pantser technique) to get them back on track. And pantsers get stuck and have to outline, or even finish a book and then have to outline at the revision stage. So these two types of writers are arguing about two writing functions that seem like polar opposites, but both are necessary, to some extent.

    • Mick says:

      Totally agree, Dave. In fact, whichever is your proclivity, you’ll have struggles to balance the other needed skill. Thanks for that clarifying thought!

  2. Hey there, Mick! Gosh darn, I love you! You make me smile. I miss interacting with you, as well. This is Jan-theory. As you know, I’m a romance writer, so probably nothing pertains to me. lol. But, here goes, anyway. I write with my heart. Just let it go, fly across the pages with words going in all directions. The second draft is the brain’s turn, kicked into gear and critical as all get out of, not what the heart wrote, but how well the heart wrote. The brain has to fix, and fix, and fix again until it gets the ms right. Some books land on paper quickly when the heart and brain have their act together. Depending on what’s going on in my life, they work well together. Sometimes when I’ve had a bad year of circumstances, the heart is beat-up, therefore doesn’t get it down very well in the first place. That makes it tough for the brain. Ah, but the brain has empathy, so ultimately will help get the job done. LOVE your analogy. Works for me! Oh, and if you can’t already tell, I’m a definite pantser. But, I’m learning I have to do more planning. My next book will have a better outline. The author you advised my to look into, Susan May Warren, has a great help book: The Story Equation. The plotters probably do this already, but it sure helped me, the pantser, at least have the ‘dark moment’ to anchor the storyline. Anyway, I’m rambling now, so God Bless! Keep those fun blogs coming….

  3. suzee B says:

    mick! my first thought was that this blog could be a whole book between the brain and heart characters. they’d have other names, too, maybe just middle names behind Wisdom and Grace. that part was so funny about Wisdom becoming uncomfortable about the bro/sis metaphor…
    the truth of this battle is very real, which made it very HELPFUL!
    thank you, love your humorous side.
    suzee B

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