Blue Balls in the Bookstore

One of my good friends – I’ll call him Roger, since that’s his name — is a visual artist and musician. We met when we worked in the same bookstore, back in the day when I was in the process of getting my B.A. in theater.

So a musician/artist and an actor-in-training in a store full of books. What do we talk about?

Blue balls.

No, not that kind. Let me explain.

blue_ball We were having a discussion**cough**argument**cough** one day about how we visualized things. Roger contended that if he said something like “blue ball” that I would form a mental image of a round blue object – a blue ball.

I said no. I got the image of the words “blue ball.”blue_ball_words

He insisted that I must visualize the ball itself.

I countered that I did not.

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes you do”

“NO. I DON’T.”

Did I mention he was a close friend?

Years later, I took at class on learning styles for writers, and lo and behold, I discovered that we were both right.

The class was based around the work of Dr. Dawna Markova, particularly her books How Your Child is Smart and Open Mind.

states-of-consciousnessIn her theories of learning and intelligence patterns, she references the three primary symbolic languages of the brain (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), which trigger one of three different “thinking states” – conscious, subconscious/subliminal, and unconscious. Each of us is comfortable with one particular pattern of visual (V), auditory (A), and kinesthetic (K) as they naturally align in our three states of consciousness.

For instance, if you’ve got a K in your “conscious” channel – your “input” channel — you learn most easily by doing; if A, by listening; if V, by reading or watching. Your “unconscious” channel is how ideas are generated: for a K, by movement; for A, by sound; for V, by visions. Your “subconscious” channel is the bridge between the two: for K, movement bridges the outer world and the inner; for A, words are the bridge, and for V, it’s vision.

learning_stylesFor Roger and me, the way our brains related external input (“blue ball”) to our inner world (what was triggered in our minds by the input) was completely different. I suspect my subconscious channel is A – words are my bridge. For Roger, obviously it’s V.

(Odd that we never actually killed each other, despite the prevalence of box knives in the back room of the bookstore.)

As writers, knowing our learning style can be useful because it can give us insight on why certain writing processes work for us and others don’t. For instance, many writers listen to music while they write, even develop playlists for their current WIP. For me, this way lies madness. I can’t listen to anything other than crickets while I’m writing because it disrupts my train of thought – it burns my subconscious “A” bridge, if you will. This doesn’t mean that playlists aren’t a perfectly reasonable and necessary method for some writers, but it doesn’t mean that my desire for quiet is invalid either.

It’s not only how we write that’s affected by our learning style, but likely what we write – or at least what we write most easily — as well. Here, Patricia C. Wrede (author of two of my favorite fantasy books, The Raven Ring and Sorcery and Cecilia) talks about how one writer might prefer crafting a sentence that sounds perfect in her head, another might get lost in evoking feelings or sensations, while a third might be all about directing a “mental movie” on the page. She takes the paradigm a step further and urges us to consider our readers’ learning styles as well, and be certain we’re delivering something that appeals to all three styles.

So come on. Blue ball. What springs to your mind?


Posted on August 25, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Not fair, EJ! Guess what kind of “blue balls” came front and center in my brain. 🙂 And what a lovely way to start the day, too! Heh.


  2. Poor men and their needy blue balls. I refuse to read manuals. Seriously. REFUSE. If I can’t fiddle with it and make it work or strong-arm someone into demoing it for me, I don’t use it. So I’m going to presume that I’m a mix of visual and kinetic. Great post!


    • Yup. Probably a VKA or KVA. According to Markova, we’ve all got all three symbolic languages and all three “thinking styles”, but the way they align with each other affects our optimal learning pattern. Jeez, I’m a geek…


  3. “this way lies madness. I can’t listen to anything other than crickets while I’m writing because it disrupts my train of thought”

    This is me as well! I can’t study and I can’t write with any kind of background noise or music.

    I learn information much better by hearing and writing it down than I do reading a book about it. This is why I love workshops but have many unread craft books on my shelf.


    • I remember years ago, in high school, when AM radio was the only audio game in town, and “Top 40” meant you were inflicted with the same few dozen songs constantly. I loathed the song, “Spill the Wine” so much that whenever I heard it, I was unable to do or think or hear anything else. Augh!

      The notion of learning styles aligning with “thinking states” leads us to another uncomfortable truth: multi-tasking is really a myth. What we do is “serial tasking” — although some of us are better at lightning-quick transitions than others!


  4. I’m soooo glad I stopped by today, EJ! I read this information years ago, but lost the source and could never find it again. Knowing that movement or touch helps me integrate concious and unconcious information has been really valuable to my writing. I’m so glad you’ve given me a refresher on Dr. Markova’s theories! I need to read her books.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your post has been a gift!


    • Hi, Sarah.
      Glad to oblige! I found this fascinating when I took the class a few years ago — it stopped me from feeling guilty when I couldn’t adopt **all** of the writing techniques I heard about.that were miraculous for other writers, but sent me screaming from the room.


  5. Oh c’mon, you KNOW we can’t think of anything EXCEPT “those” blue balls 🙂 I know I learn best by seeing and doing. I can’t stand webinars and podcasts because they move much too slowly. I want to consume the info quickly and then try it myself. If I screw up, THEN I go back and read the directions more thoroughly 😉


  1. Pingback: Blue Balls in the Bookstore | E.J. Russell

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