The Writing Brain

Vatican Museums Spiral Staircase 2012I am always thinking about writing. Whether I am in the garden, playing video games, or on the phone with a friend. Just about everything sparkles with the beginning of a story when I think about it. Whether a long tale, or a short one. Poems sprout up among the dirt and the weeds as I prepare the earth for planting. Butterflies pull trails of words behind them as they dip and hover through my yard. Stories dance and squeal as they grasp at the heels of my romping dogs. Beginnings float up into the air through the evaporation over my saucepan. Endings whisper in the sunsets and the melting snow.

Everything speaks to me, and it is both a welcome experience as well as a curse. It’s hard to just “be” when your brain is constantly running. When I dream, my dreams are often vivid, and I will wake with a new character or setting and nothing to do with it just yet. Meditation has always been a novelty to me. To sit and think of absolutely nothing would be impossible, although I admire those who can accomplish that level of inner-peace.

Always thinking about writing doesn’t mean that I can just start writing these thoughts down and creating millions of stories. If you have ever seen Sherlock, you will have heard of his “Mind Palace”. I’ve got one of those, but not quite like his. I do not have the ability to store information on multiple subjects in folders and boxes in my head. I can just keep notes and a few files in my mind for long periods of time and I pull them up when the file starts to get full enough to begin to shape a story. Those files can stay in there for years. For example, I have been internally building a book that I would like to write for about 2-3 years. I’ll write it eventually, but it’s not quite there yet. I still need to smooth some things out. I am a planner, I cannot start writing without having worked out certain problems.

This is my process. Think, ponder, decide, change, and eventually write. I have a decent memory, so it’s not hard for me to retrieve files stored in my head. When I come up with a new angle or change, I just make a note of it and it’s simple for me to pull it up later and review it. I know that a lot of you write constantly, but for me, the story starts becoming something long before there is any concrete evidence of its existence. That’s why I don’t set writing goals for myself. If I write before I am ready, it will be garbage and I will discard it without hesitation.

What about you? What is your process? Do you have a “Mind Palace”? What is your brain like?

PS: I highly recommend the Sherlock mini-series. It’s brilliantly written, the actors are highly skilled, and it will get your brain working.

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34 thoughts on “The Writing Brain

  1. Hmm… well I used to write without a plan (even when I made them I would never actually stick to them), but I’ve recently discovered outlining and character charts and I’m enjoying what I’m learning. 🙂 We’ll see how things pan out.

    Sometimes I think, mid-conversation, “Wow, that line of dialogue was great, maybe I could pinch it…” Or sometimes, I try and deconstruct my friends and marvel at what multi-faceted characters they are (I have been tempted more than once to put them in a story and change their names). But that’s just me… I think. 😛

    • I have tried with plans, and I suppose I use them in some capacity, but I use a lot of visual memorization, so writing things down before they are ready is like picking a fruit before it’s ripe and trying to eat it. It just isn’t the same.

      I have been trying to do the same as you with dialogue lately. Even to the point of trying to turn my own responses into something worth remembering. It’s a lot of work!

      I think I might just start analyzing my friends, thanks for the input!

  2. I love Sherlock! And I love your “mind palace” analogy. I’m kind of the same way, only my files don’t get gradually fuller. I have dozens upon dozens of scenes floating in my mind, and every so often, one will explode into a story, and I have to get it scribbled down before it bursts my brain. After that, it’s mostly a matter of organizing before I start on the writing. Thanks for sharing your process–it’s always interesting to hear how other writers work!

    • It has become one of my all time favourite shows!

      Stories are always beginning and ending in my head, but I need to find where the scenes fit, if they are worth writing, what story they would fit into, etc. That all just stays in my head until I can use it.

      And thanks to you for sharing as well!

  3. Hi – Yes, The mind Palace is similar to Tony Buzan’s methods for memorising. But why go to that bother when you can write in a notebook? I’m doing a free OU online course in creative writing and part of that is different ways of note-taking, editing, drafting.

    • I’m not really a notebook kind of person. I have tons of them with half-stories written down, but it’s much more simple for me to just access what I’ve got stored in my head than to look through pages and find what I am looking for. Calling up a piece of information is easier than physically looking for it.

      Your course sounds interesting, I might just check it out. Thanks!

  4. Mom calls it mind-writing. She does it all the time, but not in any kind of an organized manner, but stories start out in her head and she thinks on them and thinks on them for a long time before she finally sits down and starts writing. Personally, I think she should spend more time thinking about ME.

    Love and licks,
    Cupcake

    • It sounds like your mom has a similar writing process to mine. I have tried writing things down, but it just isn’t the same.

      I’m sure my boys wouldn’t be satisfied with the amount of time I spend thinking about them either, even though it takes up a good part of my brain!

  5. I can relate. I’ve had this “condition” since I was kid, lying awake late into the night, dreaming of stories and characters and adventures. I know I need to get into the habit of writing stuff down more, as my memory isn’t as good as yours, but it’s so damn difficult because the best ideas often come when I’m just about to fall asleep or in a rush to do something else and I don’t have a notebook with me.

    • I know the feeling. I usually do have a notebook with me, but I don’t often use it unless I really want to make sure that I remember something exactly how I thought of it right in that moment. I mostly just use it for doodles and as a means to pass the time.

  6. What a great introductory paragraph, Brittany! You are a true artisan with a masterful, miltonian tangibility to your style. I perceive my mind as a massive warehouse filled with filing cabinets, and I often feel the bookkeeper in my brain flying through the drawers and folders in search of a particular piece of information long sorted away.

    Great post (love Sherlock, too)!

    • That’s very kind of you to say. It’s a pleasure to know that you found it so!

      I think my storage capacity might be less than yours, I would consider mine to be more of a storage shred than a warehouse! What interesting things you must have in there!

      And isn’t Sherlock the best?!

  7. I still don’t really understand how it works for me. I certainly don’t remember and plan like you do, though I admire people who do because they create works much more substantial than I can.
    Usually some stimulus sparks inspiration in me and an idea comes to me almost fully formed. I think about it for a while, putting it into words. It may be something complex and I need a thousand words to express it or it may be elegant and I can make my point with thirty.
    Through the process of expression I come to a better understanding of the original idea. And if it started out as a question, sometimes I find an answer.

    • That’s very thought-provoking. I really liked the last line of your comment, it sums up your process quite nicely. Planning isn’t for everyone, and sometimes it can be a detriment. Thanks for your input, it’s interesting to see how others work.

  8. I’m more of a panster writer, but my head is never quiet. I don’t have a palace, but I do have a junk heap in my head, so if I think of something great, I usually need to write it down somewhere or there’s a real risk of forgetting. Names most especially. However, it’s hard to determine how much of my constant thought stream is from gaining inspiration from all things and how much of it’s just ADD – I could be a poster child for ADD.

    But I definitely do draw inspiration from everything, even if I don’t remember it later. Everything seems like a tool for building, if not a story of its own, a better story.

  9. I actually write in a very similar way. I’ll sit and stew on things, chew out all my ideas before I actually dive into the process. While I’m doing that though, I still have my daily goals for the stories I have already thought out.
    Very interesting post by the way. I need to start watching Sherlock.

    • I work on stories when I feel like it, I can’t force myself to write. Some stories will come out in a day or two, others take more time. I have been working on one short for two months now, and I haven’t finished it. Then there will be revisions and edits after that.

      I really recommend Sherlock. It’s a terrific show.

  10. Intriguing post Brittany. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s different styles and not sure about mine. I’m certainly not aware of having ideas and stories filed and waiting in my mind. Seems more like I need to write them down when them come or they get lost, forgotten? And I haven’t yet tried stories or longer pieces, only simple blogs, compilations and poems. It will be interesting to see if I ever tackle a longer story or book. I love to read, but don’t seem to have a burning desire to write like many others. Thanks for a stimulating post! Brad

    • I’ve heard of many writers that have a process similar to yours. That’s why I sometimes think that writing advice can depend on the writer. Listening to steps or tools isn’t always helpful for everyone. Just do what works for you and alter it when you need to.

      I only get that burning desire once in awhile. My writing habits are much less romantic than most.

      Thanks for your words!

      • Mine aren’t very romantic either. I follow a couple of poets who talk about simply letting it flow, and they’re done. I write, start, stop, edit, revisit: lots of work for a short ode! But I enjoy the end result and soulful expression of poetry.

      • If you have a look at Howapoemhappens there are published poets talking about how they wrote their poems. Fascinating stuff. See my blogroll.

  11. My Mind Palace would be more likely a musty, old library. Everything I know is in there, somewhere, admist piles of old books and papers. I can remember all kinds of old things from history and movies, yet often forget the age of people I know.

    When it comes to writing I find I can have ideas swirling around my head for years and it all comes flooding back as soon as I start writing it. I do write notes too, but sometimes I disagree with them when I read them later on so have to invent something new. I think I’m very much a ‘in the moment’ writer than one who prepares thoroughly beforehand.

    • I doubt that mine is as vast as yours! I’m sometimes an “in the moment” writer, but it all depends. Of course, when it has to do with work, I can’t ponder over it for months or years, so I suppose that comes more easily with practice.

      With my own creative writing, I am a planner. I even have a friend who helps me with maps so that I can picture where everything is beforehand. It helps with bigger things and it makes the editing process more easy, since I don’t need to look for as many inconsistencies.

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