Logical Brain is a Follower, But Lizard Brain is a Jerk

Before my first novel was published, I lived in a happy fantasy world where publication represented the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Once an author was published, I thought, the black dog of uncertainty departed for gloomier pastures and the world became a place of joy and light.

My logical brain understands that publication is a process, and that although there’s no such thing as a magic bullet, publication does represent success in a writer’s world. 

Unfortunately, my logical brain is a follower … and my lizard brain is a jerk.

For those unfamiliar with the concept:

The logical brain is the higher, thinking portion of that mass between your ears. It’s the part that knows $4.99 is probably too much for a cup of coffee, that we shouldn’t write checks without money in the bank account to cover them, and that when the little light comes on we need to put gas in the car or plan on walking the rest of the way to the dentist’s office. (Note: logical brain is also the one who makes us GO to the dentist in the first place.)

The “lizard brain” is the ancient, reflexive part of the mind–the one that still believes you need to jump into bed at night so the monster living under it cannot grab you. Lizard brain believes that the world is just one lightning-strike away from disaster, and that no matter how well things are going right now, you’d better not look up ’cause the sky is falling.

Lizard brain’s original job was to keep us alive in a world where everything wanted to kill us. Unfortunately, in the modern world, we don’t have quite as many tigers stalking the darkening streets, leaving lizard brain with far too much time on its hands. And for those of us with overactive imaginations, and a job description that includes “making up  intriguing-but-untrue things for others to read about,” lizard brain can become a serious jerk.

Most writers I know live dual lives:

The outward, successful life is ruled by logical brain. In this world, things are going well, the books are selling, and life is good. The writer is “living the dream.”

The inner life, however, is the Lizard Brain’s domain. Here, deadlines are looming, the next review might crater your career, and you stay up nights concerned that MAYBE I WILL NEVER WRITE ANOTHER PUBLISHABLE BOOK (even though the three, or five, or twenty-five before were not a problem).

No matter how well the real world is going, Lizard Brain is convinced that it’s all about to come crashing down. (As I mentioned, Lizard Brain is a bit of a jerk.)

One might think–and writers on their way to publication often do–that measurable successes will let the Logical Brain persuade Lizard Brain to be reasonable. I believed this, once, myself.

For the record? I was wrong.

No matter how successful you become, how great your career, or how many fans may love your books, the Lizard Brain will continue to try and scare you. The Logical Brain won’t be a great deal of help in fighting it, either. Sadly, Logical Brain is a bit of a follower.

How do you fight the Lizard Brain? By talking–with writer friends, and with those who love you and know how to make you understand that the sky isn’t falling, your calling is not dependent upon any single success or failure, and that just because you fail to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, this little ship you’re piloting is worth the effort after all.

Which, of course, is why I’m taking the time to mention that nobody–at any level–is ever immune from fear. The secret to defeating yourself is listening to Lizard Brain. The secret to success is learning to put your fear aside and do what scares you. Persevere. Keep moving forward. Success is closer, and far more real, than Lizard Brain believes.