Writing from the Spleen

First, I have to vent my spleen at the snow we received the other day. Grrrr.


That same day, my good friend Nancy emailed the following quote from a blog written by middle grade author Tricia Springstubb.

In singing, there are things called “head voice” and “chest voice,” and from what I gather, the ideal is to blend them together. On days when the writing doesn’t go well, it’s usually because I’m only using what I think of as my head voice. The words vibrate up there, serviceable and doing what they’re supposed to do—move this scene and plot along—but even as I write them, I know I’m going to have to revise them. My chest voice—the voice that draws from my heart—isn’t weighing in, and without it, the words are just words.

Illu_spleenAfter reading that quote, I analyzed where I fit on the voice scale and came up empty. So I have to ask if there is another choice. For example, is there a “spleen voice”? I don’t mean a voice in which you express your anger or bitterness. I mean a voice that defies categorization—an “I don’t know what I’m doing” voice.

“I don’t know what it does” also fits my knowledge about the spleen’s function. When in doubt, I usually turn to Wikipedia:

The spleen . . . is an organ found in virtually all vertebrate animals. Similar in structure to a large lymph node, it acts primarily as a blood filter.

As I learned while writing textbooks, never rely on just one source. So, I checked further. According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s website, the spleen

Recognizes and removes old, malformed, or damaged red blood cells. When blood flows into your spleen, your spleen performs “quality control”; your red blood cells must pass through a maze of narrow passages. Healthy blood cells simply pass through the spleen and continue to circulate throughout your bloodstream. Blood cells that can’t pass the test will be broken down in your spleen by macrophages. Macrophages are large white blood cells that specialize in destroying these unhealthy red blood cells.

Haven’t you experienced those days when words simply pass through you like blood passes through the spleen? If you’re like me, in between checking your email or other time consumers, maybe you squeak out 187 words, rather than the 500 to 2000 you told yourself you would produce. You then go back and add maybe a comma before you take a sip of coffee and go back to playing a videogame—your reward for being so “productive.” On those days maybe also like me you aren’t sure if the words are serviceable or just plain rubbish. But you slap them down on the page like a house painter slaps a paintbrush against a wall and hope the result will be pleasing at some point.


It’s great that the spleen knows which blood cells are healthy and which aren’t. I don’t always know that about my writing—hence the need for revision (quality control). As we revise, we identify the chapters or character arcs that don’t pass muster and either revise them or eliminate them from our stories. Think of this process as the editorial lymphatic system at work. Beta readers and reading a piece of writing out loud also aid in the filtering process.

Do you pay attention to whether you’re writing from your head or your heart? Why do you think a combination of both is ideal?

Spleen illustration from Wikipedia. Paint roller from freevectors.com.

26 thoughts on “Writing from the Spleen

  1. I wanted to comment on your great post, but I just can’t get past the snow part. We’ve had nothing, nothing, not a single flake all winter. It is almost Easter-are you sure you haven’t got ours?

    • We have your snow. Please come and get it at your leisure, Andy. I was appalled that it arrived when it did. But since Easter is late this year, the snow decided to be late as well.

      I have three daffodils that someone clipped from her garden. I wonder if the others survived.

  2. A comb might be best because you need to draw out emotions (heart) and create a consistent story (head). Logic and emotions are both required. Though it sounds like the spleen is where editing comes from. Any use for the liver here?

  3. Snow!?! Noooo! I always thought of writing from the spleen as writing when you’re really angry about something. I love that kind of passion in writing and don’t see it very often because we try too hard to be polite and fit into the market.

    • Very true, Lyn. We try to be polite.
      Yes. Snow. I didn’t believe it when a guy over the weekend predicted it would come. After all, we had temperatures in the 60s and 70s Friday and Saturday! I went out for ice cream on Saturday! But the temperature had dropped to 50 by then. And on Sunday, it was around 39.

  4. Snow! Oh, say it isn’t so, Linda! You’ve had enough already. Yesterday we had a cold front blow through and our temperature dropped 23 degrees in an hour. We had a freeze warning this morning. 😦
    Great post! I try to write using both my head and my heart, probably a little more with my heart, as I have a tendency to avoid outlines.
    I hope you get some warmer weather for Easter!

    • Thank you, Jill. Yes, we’re still in the frozen north here, though a lot of the snow melted. And the daffodils had started to bloom too. Sad! I’m sorry the cold has blown your way. Just in time for Easter!
      Hope you have a good one!

    • And that’s a tough one too, Phillip. It’s hard for me to switch gears from curriculum writing, which is usually to a word count, to novel writing. I find myself trying to write so precisely as if fitting a mold. 🙂

  5. Haha! Love the idea.

    I suppose the head keeps everything ordered and making sense. And the heart…maybe leads the story where it should go? It’s the direction.

    • True. I wish I wrote from the heart more. Most days I’m at the spleen level–either spewing out bile or just confused.

  6. I prefer not to analyze where it comes from in case the flow dries up with too much scrutiny. Like a child in a school play I might just forget the words, standing up there mute when it comes to my turn! 🙂
    All I know is the source of my writing, heart or head, on a bad day maybe bladder, rarely offers up 500-2000 words a day. I tend to go over and over yesterday’s words and then squirt out some new words at the end and go to bed happy!

  7. I love your writing so much!! You are always right on with the analogies and help your reader tie in their experiences in a very useful way!

    I was part of a singing group a couple of years ago (I need to do it again), and that is exactly what we learned. We could identify when we were using our chest voice and when it was just our head voice.

    I don’t have a spleen thus no spleen voice, but I am told that my liver has taken over its cousin’s function to filter. So, I better take good care of my liver! 🙂

  8. I think highly emotional writing (which I’d call spleen writing) is too raw to be read. Heart writing is different. It has a measured hand behind it, or a measured head, or whatever. I think we need all these kinds of writing to end up with something worthwhile.

    (Hearing my characters talk in my head is very much heart/spleen writing; how I edit that is head writing. Except when I refuse to budge on my vision, because in my heart, I know my vision is right.)

  9. First of all, where does Andy live that he hasn’t had a single snowflake all winter? Secondly, I like your comparison of spleens and voices and where writing comes from. All I know is that when I get going, I don’t like to be interrupted!

    • Thanks, Naomi. Andy lives in Manchester, England. Perhaps we received the snow they should have received. 🙂
      I’m glad you’re at the flow state of writing!

  10. I don’t tend to tie my writing to corporeal identities. It doesn’t feel right for me. Instead, writing (especially being in the flow of writing) feels more ethereal than anything. In certain aspects, it’s reminiscent of how Qi is explained to me.

    By the way, you once asked whether I had a Twitter account and I did not at the time. I’m trying one out, but it’s as fast paced as I thought. I’m going to make a good faith effort for it to be updated when I create a new post, but I’m certainly not in the swing of its speed as of right now. It’s @Corvid_Fields.

  11. Great post, as usual. 🙂 And I’m right there with you on the snow–and the cold. I found myself saying, “This is just MEAN” to Mother Nature. Head and heart, yes. I know my writing is better when it comes from my heart, and I always feel good about those scenes. It’s the head scenes that I fight with, rewrite, cut, rework. I try to get the emotion and connection in there–because those are both important to me as a reader–but sometimes (maybe when I’m trying to hard to manipulate things instead of just letting them unfold) the emotion falls short.

    • I hear you, Stephanie. I haven’t been writing much from the heart, because I’ve been too concerned with word count. If I could get the need to avoid exceeding a certain amount of words out of my head, perhaps I can get there.

Comments are closed.