I write in my head…

I write in my head.

Yes, I really mean that. All my planning and the bulk of my writing is done inside my mind. Commiting the results to the keyboard is a kind of after-effect though I do fill in some details at that stage. The writing is a purely mental thing, so much so that occasionally I write a blog post in my head and forget I’ve never posted it.

At school, I was frequently scolded for not producing essay/story plans (in all subjects, not just ‘English’). I never really understood the need for them. Why would I spend time writing things down when they were already written in my mind and I could refer to them there? The only possible reason for writing them physically would be to share them with others. Why would they want to share my plans? Surely the outcomes – the physically written essays/stories would be proof that some planning had taken place?

At uni nobody seemed very bothered about planning; the outcome was everything, and I relaxed.

When I was training to teach, as a post-grad, I finally realised that not everyone thought/wrote the way I did. Some people would always need a physical written plan to work to and much of their work would only form as they wrote/typed it. I was surprised, almost shocked, to learn about different ways of thinking and learning, but I was also fascinated.

I needed to accept that children should be encouraged to formulate plans, and that I could help them with that if they shared those plans with me. That was fine, although I have to say that just as people have different learning styles, they have different planning styles; once someone’s finished work shows evidence of good planning they should not, I think, be forced to share those plans at any age, and someone who feels as I do could be encouraged to prove their planning ability at the outset. It can be very counter-productive and time-consuming all round to have to deal with pages and pages of  unnecessary notes.

I complete summaries and plans in my head, arrange and rearrange their components, rough out a few pivotal scenes, play with dialogue and descriptions, interview my characters and even ‘write’ extra scenes that will never reach the keyboard but which help me to develop the main plot.

I do, of course, commit some things to physical files and folders, either in notebooks or on my laptop. I thought long and hard about why I might find it essential to do this and realised that it all concerned dates, timelines, chapter sequences, indexes, etc. Then I understood. They’re all to do with numbers, to some extent. I have almost no memory for numbers. I can handle them and my maths ability is at least average and probably slightly above that, but I am capable of forgetting my car numberplate, and have never managed to learn my own mobile phone number. So anything that involves numbers needs to be recorded in such a way that there is an external reminder, something I can refer to!

The other thing I record on the laptop is research/website information I have come across. I defy anyone to memorise quantities of URLs and assign them correctly. In that respect, bookmarks (I use Firefox but whatever you use is almost certainly just as good) are brilliant. Before the age of the internet I had card indexes with that sort of thing on them but those are harder to keep up to date.

So by the time I reach the keyboard, whatever I am going to write is in a sense already written. This means I can type a story or an account at what must seem like astronomical speed.  I am mostly ‘copy-typing’. Yes, I tweak and add as I go but what gets recorded is definitely a second draft.

Writer’s block has never made sense to me. If I approach the keyboard I already know what I am going to write, in detail. Thinker’s block? Well, no, not as a rule; I just have to suppress some of the wilder ideas that make their way into my consciousness and sort out the gold from the dross. If I didn’t have the story ready to roll I wouldn’t sit at the keyboard in the first place. I have plenty of other things to do.

Note that I talk more about my laptop than about pencil and paper. I dislike writing by hand for any length of time; I literally get writer’s cramp. So as I don’t need to plan in note form, I am unlikely to write a story, poem or essay on paper. I keep paper for shopping lists, appointments, addresses, that kind of thing. I plan menus in my head but the number thing kicks in again and I have to write a plan of timings to enable me to produce a dinner party meal.

I started to hate teaching when we were made to commit our lesson plans to paper for the head’s approval. It took so much time and was such a sterile exercise. It felt like hard work, in a physical sense, when I had been used to planning my lessons in my head while I was ironing or walking the dog.

A lot of people have said they have ideas while e.g. ironing or walking the dog but forget them unless they write them down. So far as I know that has never happened to me. Of course, I suppose I could have written a best-seller in my head on a long car journey and then suffered amnesia and I wouldn’t know but it seems unlikely.

I wrote this post a few days ago, while tidying the house. In my head. And decided it deserved a wider audience. How about you? How do you write?

10 thoughts on “I write in my head…

  1. Being able to write complete stories in your head is a gift! It must be wonderful to be able to keep in all in your mind and then just transpose it to ‘paper’. Having the ability to write that way must help to make you the prolific writer you are.

    • Prolific, yes. Sometimes it seems like a gift, and I enjoy the constant stories in my head, but it does have side effects; it pushes things like checking whether we need bread and milk right out of my head and leads to accusations from people in ‘real life’ that I live in a world of my own. They’re quite right – I do!

  2. I mostly write like that too. I suppose that about 90% of what I “write” in my head never makes it to a permanent record (day dreaming?) and often when I do sit down to write, it changes from the original thoughts – I guess a first edit as it’s committed to keyboard. I rarely have a problem remembering it. I don’t need the pad and paper on the bedside table. However, try to get me to remember to do other things …. without a list, I’m hopeless. When I’m working on my fantasy world, it takes me about three weeks of doing nothing else to get me properly immersed, so I guess I’m not quite so much living in a world of my own as you are . How are you at writing to order, without that pre-writing in your head?

    • Not so good! I can just about cope with ‘instant’ challenges, though I tend to take thinking time and panic slightly. If there’s a time limit I have difficulties. If I have a little time I can do the thinking while I’m doing something else – shopping, driving, whatever. And yes, when the writing reaches the keyboard it’s a first edit. I can get immersed very quickly – hours rather than weeks. I frequently compose text in my head as I’m going to sleep and never need to write it down.

      Other things? Well, I make lists!!

  3. “have never managed to learn my own mobile phone number”
    I keep it in my phone memory, described as ‘own number’… *g* When someone’s surprised, I use to say ‘What, why should I remember that, I don’t call myself, do I?’ But actually I think it’s quite common, I noticed that many (most!) people asked for their number says ‘Wait a minute’ and produces out their phones to read it.

    “I defy anyone to memorise quantities of URLs and assign them correctly.”
    You’re kidding, so there are people claiming that? That is, if they use anything more than Facebook, at least. My current browser holds +700 URLs in +150 directories, and it’s no more than three years of gathering. My first question about any new OH SO AMAZING! browser is usually ‘OK, what URLs management system it has?’ Not to mention there’s a lot of sources which I keep in other lists, often posted online, not in my browser.

    “I had card indexes”
    Yay, I still keep a shelf of ring-binders with my private index for the content of my paper movie and sf magazines, and one oddity which was intended as a bunch of notes from a book about heraldry… but was finished as an artwork of sort. *g* And I had been filling plenty of notebooks with linguistic, historical… any sort of details. These were fine times… *sigh* However, with Internet they’re even more fine. ;-D

    “I dislike writing by hand for any length of time”
    Yet a few years ago, thinking and writing was more comfortable to me with paper. Now I switched to keyboard completely. But there’s also something deeply sensuous in pencil & paper for me, and sometimes I just need to feel this touch. Probably many people who use to draw feels similar.

    Actually, I think I write too little to can say about my way of writing, but probably I’m somewhere in the middle between ‘Everything In Mind’ and ‘1. Synopsis, 2. The drawn mind map, 3. Ticking points off, 4. Adding details… and so on’. In any school, I always was annoyed by a teacher’s demand to show some plan long before the completed work. It’s so limiting, restricting! For me, creative work is something emerging, growing, like a plant. It’s pretty normal for me, that I start with something tiny and a month later I’m up to ears in some enormous task, cause it just, eh, swelled somehow. *g* My ideas love to behave such way… In writing it works similar, many MANY! things just appears in work, but on the other hand, it’s also very often that I ‘write’ in my head, on long walk, in bus, in bath… Fortunately, I keep easily single phrases, my own or found ones, so I’m able to save it to write down later.

    • Lovely to see you here! Welcome!

      I think some people remember numbers a lot better than I do…

      I have never enjoyed writing by hand. Short things, yes, but not novels!! Also, I tend to write fast and make mistakes (what is the handwriting equivalent of a typo?) and then have to cross out or erase and then everything gets in a mess. I do like my delete button!!

      I like using pencils, pencil crayons etc. But that’s not for writing! I like lovely papers, too. I make cards by hand. And I like nice notebooks, especially the sort that are hand bound with special covers. But I would not use them for fiction writing – the first few drafts are better hidden away in a folder on my computer! I use notebooks for things like recipes, lists of music or other information that I want to have accessible. Also for diaries and information when I’m travelling.

      Yes, remembering the things that come into your mind on a walk or in the bath etc. is wonderful. I gather not everyone can do it!

      • True, I’ve never tried to write by hand nothing longer than a few dozen of pages, and not everything at once, of course. As for crossing – I like it! *g* Actually I think the miserably crossed draft looks interesting, it’s a creative process made visible! I must confess that my personal quirk is love and obsession for any WIPs, scraps, musings about creating and so on. But yes, handwriting is also uncomfortable. Computers are blissful things for writing. And as for buttons, personally I think the greatest invention of the mankind in matter of art is ‘Undo’ button in any graphic software. Or at least my favourite invention. *g*

        “Yes, remembering the things that come into your mind on a walk or in the bath etc. is wonderful. I gather not everyone can do it!”
        Does it happen to you, that sometimes it’s a single detail, phrase, out of context and unfitting at the moment anywhere? Unnecessary but nevertheless good… I keep such things, in weeks, months, waiting for their moment and place.

      • I keep my old/early drafts with the changes suggested by beta readers. So I always have a ‘history’ of my work. But in files on my computer rather than in notebooks! They are visible but neatly stored!!*g*

        Perhaps I should say that in our house we are drowning in paper, files, notebooks. To be able to be creative without adding to the storage problems is bliss.

        Yes, sometimes I get random words, phrases, etc. in my mind. Left to themselves they will become full ideas and plans. They’re baby ‘plot bunnies’, I think!

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