Writing Mentally

The ability to write mentally is a mixed blessing.  It can be very helpful, and it can be very hurtful.

Writing mentally is basically thinking about the story you’re writing and what you want to say in the first scene.  It doesn’t mean outlining it in your head, seeing what all the high points will be– it means actually figuring out what the sentences will say.  What is the first line?  What’s the last line?  How do we present this plot twist so it doesn’t make the reader yawn?  When you write mentally, you’re just thinking about your story so pointedly that you know exactly what you want to write.

Then you sit down and write it an hour or a day later, and it turns out to be junk.  This beautiful thing you had woven in your head just won’t work on paper.

That’s how it works for me, that is.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t remember a small paragraph of text over the space of a single day, let alone a full page.  If I had a year to memorize it, perhaps.  Two minutes?  Nope.

I’m a huge thinker when it comes to my stories.  I invent fantasy concepts in my sleep and have yet to use any of them.  I mentally write scenes five times before I actually write them, and when the latter happens it’s nothing like what came from the former.  I can dream up a full character outline and use none of it.  I get general ideas of characters and use the opposite type for the same job.  Plot twists that I figure out away from a writing utensil almost always fall flat when I try to write them.

In other words, I think a lot of things but few of those thoughts come to fruition.

All that really matters, I’ve found, is what occurs to me as I write.  When I write, I get millions of ideas that have only occurred to me because they’ll work.  Usually.  Any of these ideas will take the story down a different path, and none of them came from premeditation.  That’s what makes me loath outlines– the fact that I can’t use my ideas.  When I outline, I can’t go from outlining, where my ideas are coming freely, to writing the story, where the ideas are needed.  Usually I outline in a notebook and write on a computer that’s in high demand.  Once the ideas grow cold, they’re useless.

But this brings up the other side of mental writing: being able to write things and use them.  You can sit at your notebook and stare into space, writing things mentally.  Then, once you snap out of it, you’ve got a ready-made scene– just add ink.  If your idea occurs within ten minutes of a writing session, that’s great too– you can probably use it.  I’ve done this before many times, with effects quite a bit less horrible than mentally writing things hours beforehand.  You can give yourself a great first line for a scene and run with it pretty effectively.

All that to say this: for a discovery writer, mentally writing hours beforehand can be hurtful.  Conversely, mentally writing minutes beforehand can be extremely beneficial.

My advice: don’t mentally write.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

56 Comments

  1. Charley R

     /  October 8, 2012

    Hello, fellow mental writer.
    I feel your pain – luckily for me I can chew a sentence over in seconds few and have something I like, and just run with it on paper. I’m a big outliner too, as it helps keep my ideas in line, so I guess that goes rather well with the mental writing.

    The idea being wonderful in your head and being sucky on paper, though? Story of my stories. A lot. I feel your pain.

    Reply
    • Liam, Head Phil

       /  October 8, 2012

      The reason I say this? I’m on the last scene of Phil Phorce and my overactive mental writing skills won’t give me something to go on.

      Reply
      • Charley R

         /  October 8, 2012

        Ugh, how frustrating! The suck is strong in this one!

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 8, 2012

        I can’t… I can’t… WAAAAAAAH! Quirk, why do you do this to me?!

        And yes, an interrobang was necessary.

      • Charley R

         /  October 9, 2012

        Interrobangs are ALWAYS necessary.
        Give Quirk a squirting with a water pistol, too. You’d be surprised how much characters hate that.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 9, 2012

        Ooh… I’ll try that.

      • Charley R

         /  October 9, 2012

        Do so. It will be most amusing.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 9, 2012

        Indeed ’twill.

  2. Finally, a post on mental writing! I mentally write constantly, but I didn’t think anyone else really did the same. Sometimes I get good ideas this way, but for the most part I don’t get results as great as I had hoped for when I actually put pen to paper. Your piece of advice is probably a wise one.

    Reply
    • Liam, Head Phil

       /  October 8, 2012

      I didn’t think this would be such a popular topic… Thanks!

      Reply
      • I second everything Mary said! I do mental with blog posts more than anything else, but… yeah, sometimes it doesn’t look as good on paper/onscreen as it did in my head.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 8, 2012

        Indeed, indeed. Sometimes things are just too crazy to put down on paper accurately.

  3. Hi mental writer
    I’m one too
    unfortunetly
    like exactly the same thing T_T
    And like I make an outline like I’m supposed to in class but then I never end up following it.

    Reply
    • Liam, Head Phil

       /  October 8, 2012

      You’re a discovery writer, then… Welcome to the club.

      Reply
  4. Melly

     /  October 8, 2012

    I have a zillion and a half mental scenes in my head, and I’ve found that none of them are particularly relevant to whatever I’m doing, so I will entertain them mentally but never any further.
    On the other hand, when I’m writing-writing, I outline in the barest bones, so that when I am writing I can just glance at the pinpoint plot moment I jotted down (ex. fetches absentees) and I can use that small piece of plot to create a big piece of /story/.
    I also like to take my big outline and write five or six plot moments on a sticky note and keep that with me instead of the whole journal, since it keeps me focused on the current scene instead of the whole novel. But that’s just me.
    Whoop!

    Reply
    • My problem with outlining even in “barest bones”, as you put it, is my tendency to write mentally overrides my unwillingness to do so. Thus, even though I write down two words for each scene, I’ve already lived through it thrice before the next plot point appears.

      Reply
      • Melly

         /  October 9, 2012

        That would suck. Fortunately for me, half the time I forget what I’m supposed to be writing about and those barest bones get me on track, while my mental author is writing an unrelated fanfiction. Ha ha!

      • I need to get my mental author interested in fanfiction… That would solve a lot of problems.

  5. Mental writing…I usually only use this technique when I have ideas bursting from my head and threatening to spill out my ears. Sometimes it works, other times it fails me. But when I come up with character traits and whatnot in my head, more often than not I am able to put my thoughts into words with them (thankfully) still making sense.
    I’m all for loose outlines, with major events being listed and the minor ones to be determined. It’s just how I write. I never make a play-by-play outline, nor do I just throw caution into the wind and just have at it.
    And now I’m off to write on a novel I’m co-authoring…let’s see…how to work in the time travel aspect…

    Reply
  6. This all sounds more familar than I would like to admit ;D

    ksjournal1.blogspot.com

    Reply
  7. hithere298

     /  October 8, 2012

    Sadly, I can relate. 😥 I lost count of the amount of times I thought of an idea for a new post and thought it was going to end up on Freshly Pressed and be known as the greatest piece of work in the history of life itself. Then I sit down in front of my computer and realize that what I had written was so bad that I would actually lose subscribers if I published it. It’s a really disappointing experience.

    Reply
  8. I do this a lot as well. However, I actually cannot do pure discovery-writing, so this works out all right for me. Which isn’t to say that the story will turn out well, but at least it isn’t harmed by the mental-writing.

    Reply
  9. I mental write a lot too. Occasionally, if I do it for a short piece just before I write it, it turns out well. Usually I forget all my brilliant ideas – or, as you said, they look a lot less grand on paper.

    Reply
    • Liam, Head Phil

       /  October 9, 2012

      I didn’t know this was such a widespread problem, but it sort of makes sense.

      Reply
  10. I know how you feel, believe me. I always carry a notebook around with me for just this reason.

    Reply
  11. I only mentally write when I can’t write it down on paper. I do have the problem that I will forget everything I “wrote” by the time I get down to paper, but sometimes it’ll still help me figure out where I’m going…more or less.

    The worst problem I have with mental writing is actually when I’m truly writing, and I’m so distracted that I stop actually typing and start mentally writing, instead… I don’t even know why I do it, but it’s a pain.

    And you know, I could have sworn I’d commented on this post before, but it seems not… Do you have another post somewhere about mentally writing?

    Reply
  1. Summaries and Synopses « This Page Intentionally Left Blank

Comment! I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: