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?