Saturday, 1 March 2008


I wonder if anyone has ever done a survey to find out how much time an author spends on a novel is actually ‘mind-writing’? By that I mean time they spend daydreaming scenes and conversations they might one day use in a story. Plenty will tell us how much work goes into that first written draft and its subsequent revisions, but I’m surely not the only one who plays and replays entire chapters in my head, long before my fingers touch the keyboard?

I came late to writing, not because I didn’t want to be a writer, but because I couldn’t be bothered writing. The thought of all those hours laboriously writing down the ideas in my head just didn’t appeal. Drawing was much quicker. But I never stopped mind-writing. I had entire books in my head. They changed, evolved and grew daily until at last, I think, my brain proved too small to hold them all. I had to start pouring them out onto the computer or I would have gone mad. (Some would probably say I was too late.)

Having started to physically write though, I find myself mind-writing even more. There are enough ideas churning around in the quagmire that is my brain, to keep me going until I’m at least ninety years old. The characters in my works-in-progress stroll around in there too, arguing with each other as to how a scene should go, or acting out chapters in detail. They sit in the car with me on long journeys and discuss possible plot lines. Of course, I don’t talk to them out loud. Then people really would think I was ready for the funny farm. But it does help me to get characterisation and sequencing when characters ‘talk’ to me. Sometimes they even persuade me that they are more important than I thought they were. So characters to whom I’ve given walk-on walk-off parts, end up sticking around for the whole book and totally changing the plot.

I don’t think I’m mad. If I am, I enjoy mind-writing too much to stop now, so I guess I’ll stay mad. I just wish I could type faster!


Luc2 said...

Oh, you're definitely not alone. I never have characters arguing about a scene, but they do act them out in 3 or 4 different ways. the most frustrating part is when you have a perfect scene in your head, and when you write it out it falls flat. Or work one out right before you fall asleep, then wake up to have forgotten the crucial parts of it.

Susan Sandmore said...

I have to stew things in my head before, during, and after I write. If I find myself doing that, it's a good sign. If I'm not--that's when I'm blocked, too stressed, not enthusiastic enough about the project, etc. Mind-writing is a good, good thing!

Kate said...

Luc, I've written at least three best sellers - in my head before I go to sleep. Just can't remember what they were about!

Susan, I agree. If I haven't been thinking about writing, there's not much point sitting down to it. I have to have played around with at least the start of an idea in my head, before I can do anything productive on paper.

Angela said...

Becca just posted about this--how funny is that? For me, the mind writing is the best part in some ways--there's not description problems, no logic snafus, no rice paper characters. In my head, it's a perfect story, but when I write it, well...things get lost in the translation.

I've never experienced characters speaking to me, rallying for bigger parts or yammering at me how something should go. This is something I just can't picture, because I'm a plot driven writer, not a character driven one. Instead, I see twists and turns and how sub plots can tie in and the whole thing can become thing incredibly brilliant tapestry. Then I wake up the next day and it's all about trying to cobble enough of what I'd thought of to still make a great story.