Humans spend the majority of their lives inside their own heads, to paraphrase John Milton.
One of the primary reasons — and it’s a perfectly legitimate reason — that people give for not finishing a book or a writing project is that they don’t have the time to write.
The good news is that at least half of the writing and plotting process takes place inside the mind, and you can do a great deal of important work when you’re driving, exercising, bathing, lying in bed, walking, gardening, et cetera. That process is called thinking.
Thinking must be approached systematically and with focus (e.g. “What are you going to do now?” “I’m going to think for a while.”)
In writing a story — particularly a long story — you’re presented with innumerable details and innumerable problems all of which you must sort out and solve. Many if not most of these are best done not when you’re sitting at your keyboard or over your manuscript with pen-and-paper, but when you’re alone with your own thoughts.
It may sound formulaic and overly systematic, and it may at first feel as if you’re bleeding the romance out of the writing process, but please hear me on this: writing a story is like working out a puzzle — a puzzle of your own devising — and the sooner you learn to approach it in this way, the sooner you’ll be able to finish your book.
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Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) believes there is a part of the brain only accessed by writing. I agree. So even if the bulk of writing may seem to be in the thinking process, noetic, the consciousness embedded in that special part of the brain will only emerge with the actual writing.
I do believe that writing (like music, painting, acting, sculpting and every other art) expands the human brain, and I also believe that the actual act of writing does complete the process of making abstract things concrete, but roughly half of the writing process takes place before pen ever touches paper.
It’s nice to see you here, Leslie Mc. Thank you for dropping by.
This makes so much sense! No wonder some of my best “epiphanies” take place while sitting in traffic, in the dentist’s chair or grocery shopping.
I’ve made it a habit to “sit in” my stories… Basically daydream with my eyes closed, imagining I’m in the characters’ heads. Similar insight comes while we sleep, I’ve learned.
In the outrageous novel Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (who considered Pale Fire his masterpiece, as did his wife Vera) inserted a 999-line poem, which he painstakingly wrote in rhyming couplets. At the 840-line mark of this poem, Nabokov, via a fictional character who’s an accomplished poet named John Shade, put in a passage that addresses exactly what we’re talking about here. Hope I don’t bore you in briefly quoting it. It’s just so beautiful and so relevant:
And so on.
It’s nice to meet you, August. Thanks so much for dropping by.
Oh gosh, finding the time to write. That’s exactly what I posted about today. And I think you are exactly right. I do most of my plotting in my head when I’m away from the keyboard. I spent most of the day yesterday reading The Art Of War for Writers, and that got me thinking about my newest characters and plot for my new book. I couldn’t get it out of my head, even when I went to sleep. I dreamed about it all night long. This happened during my last book and I used to wake up in the middle of the night and jot down notes on my iPhone which I keep on my nightstand. I hope I have the same process this time around. I did some of my best work while I slept!