Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Writing is thinking and thinking is hard, even though we do it all the time. Of course, I’m talking about the  organized thinking required for writing, not the self-absorbed mush that occupies our brain most of the time.  

Writerly thinking requires order and discipline or, at the very least, chocolate. My brain can’t be forced into thinking magical thoughts, conjuring up sparkling dialogue or even making sense of the world. It has to be coaxed and cajoled, bribed even: Come on, brain we’re going to, play a little Candy Crushgaze out the window for a bit, read a few Tweets with some soothing golf commentary in the background, maybe splash a little paint around, then, when you’re feeling relaxed and limber and all warmed up, boom, you can start thinking big thoughts, okay?

Some people, like aerospace engineers, mathematicians and physicists, have called my brain-limbering and getting unstuck exercises “non-linear”, “un-productive” and “procrastination.” Non-linear? Yes! Un-productive and procrastination? Well, no and yes. Engineers and scientists' brains may be able to dive right into deep thoughts and get them smoothly on to paper without any wrangling, but not mine. My brain will let my fingers fly over the keyboard only after I’ve stared, frittered and chocolated.

You may say, my word, you do have a skittish, unruly brain and you’d be right. My brain is such a high-maintenance diva, you have no idea. She requires constant attention, sunshine, good food, French wine, jokes, tea and vast amounts of chocolate. She sits up there, arbitrating, du haut de sa grandeur, which thoughts should be written and which should be allowed to slide back down the medulla oblongata into oblivion.

Of the above brain-bribing tactics, staring into space is by far, the most useful and frequently used, even for a few seconds. You see people doing this all the time, actually. They look away, disengaging from a conversation, to think. staring into space seems to be a way of disengaging from the writing, so we can think about what to write next. A sort of refresh button. Sometimes when I stare into space, I don’t even think about writing, I just let my thoughts wander and, quite often, they make connections I would never have made while at the keyboard. Sometimes free thoughts stray down dark alleys and make me angry or sad or both. Unpleasant, but good writing emotions.

Not that I can’t wrangle my brain into the traces and force it to work when I have to. It will perform quite adequately when saddled up and bridled. It will do the paragraphs, punctuation and grammar but not much more. The words don’t flow out, they march out stiffly in jackboots. So, this is where those stashed-away spaced-out thoughts come in. Those captured passions and emotions, unexpected associations, mad ideas can now soften the stiffness, fill voids, brighten dull spots, make connections, add atmosphere, create plot points and give the story and the characters color, depth and dimensions.
Cogito ergo scribo.

SomeBeans said...
Scientists I know are all for getting in the right frame of mind for thinking, and spend plenty of time in mental doodling! Someone in my lab even suggested that we should consider washing up the coffee mugs as we did it - but that didn't work.
APRIL 4, 2010 10:44 AM

Nora Lumiere said...
"Mental doodling", lovely.  
Washing dishes doesn't work for me either.  So what exactly do scientists do while mentally doodling?  Blow something up, examine something under a microscope or dash off a formula?
APRIL 4, 2010 11:13 AM


Claire King said...

I know exactly what you mean! I don't need chocolate but I do need a view, and ideally movement and fresh air too. Or else a big whiteboard and a purple pen.

Nora Lumiere said...

Glad to know you have a diva brain too. Who needs chocolate when you live in France?
I thinks it's also about reassurance and comfort before we tackle something as grueling as writing.