Frankie's Five Brain Theory

by Elizabeth Frankie Rollins

Elizabeth Frankie RollinsElizabeth Frankie Rollins' work has appeared in Conjunctions, Green Mountains Review, Trickhouse, The New England Review and The Cincinnati Review, among others.  An excerpt from her novel, Origin, is forthcoming in Drunken Boat. She is the author of The Sin Eater, Corvid Press, 2004.  She's received a NJ Prose Fellowship and a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology.  She teaches writing at Pima Community College and fiction classes at the Poetry Center.

Frankie will be reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center on Thursday, July 21, 2011 @ 7:00 p.m. along with the Poetry Center's summer resident, Mary Jones.

One of the things I am always trying to teach my students is that the most important tools for being a writer are already inside of each writer.  That's why she writes and what she seeks to understand and the shape of her voice resides, already, always, within her.

One of the ways I emphasize this is through my writer's five-brain theory. Just as a cow has four stomachs, each to do a different kind of digesting, I propose that there are several levels that function in a writer's brain.  Which brain we tend to operate from defines our writing style and choices about textual content.  In the infinity of books on the shelves of the world, you will find styles driven by each of these brains, and combinations of these brains.  There is no best choice for all writers.  Each brain is valid.

For creative writing to be powerful, the writer has to care about it, has to have an intention for it.  Trusting the fifth brain is vital for this kind of success in writing.  The fifth brain translates the juices for us, churns the connections, isolates the truth of what we're saying.  Some writers are accomplished at blocking the work of this brain.  Over-intellectualization; imagined critiques; allowing real or imagined editors to speak during the writing process; dismissal of idea as not-being-worthy; these are all ways to block the work of the fifth brain.  This always results in frustration for the writer.  The fifth brain is already, always inside the writer.  There's no work to reach it, a writer must simply allow it.  It is our biggest, best stomach.

The Five Brains of a Writer

First Brain: Interior Space/physical (How do I feel right now, inside.) I am cold and hungry.

Second Brain: External space/physical (Where am I?) I am in a chair in a window-filled room on a second floor.

Third Brain: Relationships/Conversation (Who/how am I in relation to other humans around me?)  I do not like this narcissistic person.

Fourth Brain: The Collector (What do I remember? Detail, sensory or concrete, this is the file bank of memory)  This violet water smells like my grandmother's house.

Fifth Brain: Synthesizer/Muse/Mythical ability (Magic. Makes the connections. Takes the connections between all of the above, develops and pulls from your philosophies, plucks from all previous reading and thought, writes the sentences you don't remember writing.) Also could be called intuition or trust.

Frankie's website is:

Her novel, Origin, posted in installments and inviting collaboration, is available here:

Created on: 
Friday, July 15, 2011
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