Inside The Mind of a Writer

I’ve been both blessed and cursed with an interest and the drive to write.

As a child, I read voraciously, often with a flashlight under the covers, well into the wee hours of the morning. One more page always turned into one more chapter. I’d seldom stop before I’d finished the book. I read about things that interested me: horses, mysteries, ghosts, pirates, Antebellum South, dogs and space travel. I had a constant narrative running through my head. I would be talking with my friends and mentally add dialog tags to every word. I’d watch events as they unfolded, then mentally re-run them with a slightly different outcome. I suppose that’s why I immediately grasped the concept of parallel worlds existing alongside ours, each slightly different as a universe of infinite possibilities unfolds concurrently.

My children also love to read and spin stories. My son, Liam is the whimsical one. He’s the one with the constant narrative in his head, complete with soundtrack and special effects. What I wouldn’t give for one tiny peek into his mind.

As a writer, that’s what we give others, really – a tiny peek into our minds. We spend our lives looking at a hidden world that exists alongside the concrete world that everyone experiences. We learn to keep seeing that world and to use words to make that world come alive so that others can see it, too. It’s really a very simple concept, but it takes a lifetime to master.

The ability to reveal that world doesn’t automatically make a writer a success, either. There are so many nuances of story craft and the nuts and bolts of spinning marketable prose. Any published writer will tell you that every market is different and each publisher has different subtle wants and needs. It’s frustrating to a writer. The market has changed drastically over the last ten years. The current economy isn’t helping, either.

Writing is a lonely business, and writers are a different breed. We spend so much time in our own minds it’s very easy to become disconnected from our families and friends. I think this is why so many writers slip into depression. Once, when I was having problems with depression, I went unwillingly to see a psychologist. When he learned I was a writer, he researched writers and depression. In the process of helping me, he shared many of his findings with me, and for me, my therapy boiled down to just a few key changes in my life. I needed to make a point to stay connected to the people in my life. I needed to be proactive and not reactive to life’s little roadblocks. Most of all, I needed to give myself permission to write and permission to live.

Writing takes an inordinate amount of time and focus. To non-writers, much of the hardest work of writing looks like slacking and daydreaming. Unless you actually suffer through the process, you don’t realize how exhausting staring off into space can be. I say this with all seriousness. Your mind is racing, exploring every possible avenue of plot thread, chasing down stray subplots and characters that just won’t conform and behave in such a manner as to facilitate your storytelling.

Being married to a writer must be frustrating, the offspring of one even more so, I would imagine. The reasonable assumption when you see someone staring off into space with a furrowed brow, or lying on the couch, eyes closed, is that they aren’t doing anything of great import and not only can, but should be interrupted to save them from their own boredom.

This is a bad plan when you’re thinking of interrupting a writer. You see, this is what work looks like. In your writer’s mind, he or she is finally unraveling the tangled threads of troublesome dialog that have bogged him or her down for weeks or months, and you come along and interrupt just when it’s starting to make sense and further the plot. The writer’s reaction is annoyance, frustration, or outright anger.

Your reaction? Hurt feelings. All you did was ask a question or try to share something funny in an effort to assuage their boredom.

Let’s look at it this way. Let’s say you’re a teacher. Your loved one comes in while you’re on a roll. Your students are all listening in rapt attention as you’re finally getting through to them about the alchemy of algebraic equations, or the Franco-Prussian war, or some other such nonsense. The students are getting it! Your loved one comes in and completely interrupts your lecture, takes your students attention away from you. You lose your momentum, your train of thought derails. And then they leave. When you look out at your class once more, they are all turned around in their seats talking with one another, playing on their cell phones and you can’t remember what you were telling them.

Or let’s say you’re a carpenter. You’re framing a house. You’ve been behind due to inclement weather and the other contractors are relying on you to get this one last wall framed so they can do the electrical and get the inspections out of the way. You are almost finished and can see the house taking shape. Your loved one comes in for one quick question. You stop what you’re doing to talk with them and when you return to your framing, everything has collapsed and you have to start all over with all of this pre-cut lumber that you know should fit together, but you can’t quite remember exactly how.

Now all of this happens in the mind of the writer. There is no lumber, no students milling around that anyone else can see until whatever the writer was working on is on the page and fit to read. Normal human beings have trouble understanding this, which is why writers seek out other writers for commiseration and support.

For a writer, there isn’t really an option. This isn’t just what we do – it’s who we are. Our minds are different. Writing is a compulsion. We’re programmed from an early age to silently follow the spoken word with “she said tersely,” or some other dialog tag. We watch a sunset and our minds are filled with words, describing that exact shade of melon fading seamlessly into turquoise and navy blue as the glowing star sinks below the horizon to offer warmth and light to the other side of the planet for a few hours.

That colorful individual that all other sane people avoid engaging in conversation is completely fascinating to a writer. His weathered face and toothless smile that flash as he tells outrageous stories of impossible events make him exactly the right character to provide the heroine with the tiny bit of unlikely truth that solves the mystery and sends the murderer to prison for life. I once sat on a bus in New Orleans for three extra stops because I was talking with just such an individual – well, I was listening. He was talking.

I don’t worry about how many words I write or don’t write each day, or how many days I go without putting words on the page. I have the mind of a writer. Even when I took ten years off from it, it was always there in my head. I still followed spoken words with dialog tags. I still studied the faces and actions of my husband and children and mentally selected words to describe what I saw. I don’t know if everyone does this. I’ve asked and received blank looks for my efforts. I no longer care how the mind of a normal person works. Mine is so very interesting, and I have the skills that allow me to share a glimpse of what goes on behind my eyes when I’m staring into space.

Yep. You can keep normal. I’m quite content having the mind of a writer.

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