Writers brain and other bits andpieces

I’ve got writer brain: that fuzzy, deep-in-the-world-of-the-book existence where it’s sort of hard to remember real people’s names and where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to do–unless it’s connected to the book. When I’m spending this much time in the story, it’s sometimes harder to connect to reality than to the stuff I can see in my creation. I was driving across town in really heavy, slow traffic, having just polished an action sequence, and realized… I’d stopped… in the middle of a busy intersection. No reason, other than the fact that I just had a thought about how to do something in the book and got distracted. Completely stupid, and I was lucky the oncoming traffic had to wait for the light to change and the guy in the first truck was patient. (For the record, I’m normally a great driver — years of being made to drive obstacle-course-type of situations by my dad, a champion driver, forced me to learn. However, no more driving for me while brainstorming.) I immediately turned around and went home, getting my unsafe self off the damned street.

It’s weird to think that there are people out there who don’t carry whole fictional worlds and sets of people (with complete interactive histories) around with them all of the time. Worlds that they are busy manipulating and orchestrating and controlling. That would be so… quiet… in my head. I’m not sure I’d know how to handle that much quiet.

Once, when our kids were little, I’d taken Jake (the youngest) to a mothers-day-out program so I could write. I was supposed to be there at 2:30 to pick him up. As I was writing, I got completely in the zone. It flowed, it worked, it rocked. I could ‘see’ the whole world in 3-D surrounding me; I was ‘in’ the moment. And the phone rang, this distant sort of jangling and I suppose I answered it (it was to my ear); a woman was asking, "Honey, are you going to pick up Jake?"

I swear to you, I scanned the page in front of me, looking at the names there, so immersed in that world, I asked, "Who’s Jake?" Because he sure as hell wasn’t on the page.

And she said, "Um… your son?"

I was two hours past due to pick him up.

The times I’ve called the kids by the wrong name are legion. (The standard joke around here was that if they walked in the room and there was a computer on, they’d instroduce themselves with, "Hey mom, it’s Luke." (or Jake) (there are only two of them) (I still got their names routinely wrong when I was writing.)

Please tell me I’m not the only one. What have you done that was absent-minded or nutty or a little crazy when you were so deep into writer-world (or so deep into a good book) that it had taken over your brain?

21 thoughts on “Writers brain and other bits andpieces

  1. maggieburns

    The weirdest thing is when I think I see someone from something I’m writing in the real world, walking around. It’s a huge jolt of recognition, followed by disorientation and confusion. Very creepy indeed.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, you KNOW you’re in the zone when you start to see your characters in the flesh! I’m sure heroin can’t begin to touch that kind of high.

    Synchonicity is everything.

    Forgetting the name of your son is priceless, Toni, I feel a LOT better.

    Writer brain has many incarnations. This winter as I was finishing THE PRICE (a very, very, VERY dark story) I had a total meltdown about Michael pruning the Crape Myrtle trees in the front yard. I was in such a bleak place that I had been desperate for the first signs of spring, and now the trees were just sticks. I was practically suicidal.

    It makes no sense at all, but it was a metaphor in the book and it leveled me.

    No one should ever have to live with a writer. No one. Now THAT’S a panel, if you ask me. If anyone were ever brave enough to tell it like it is.

  3. pari

    Yep, Toni . . .

    I’ve driven to wrong places, gotten out of the car and into a building before I’ve realized it wasn’t where I meant to go.

    I can’t tell you how many pots I’ve destroyed while boiling water for tea — or hardboiling eggs — and simply forgetting them until this weird smell finally penetrates my concentration.

    My kids are used to being called by a variety of characters’ names now — so much so that they usually just rely on tone rather than content (great, just great).

    Oh, there are so many examples it’s scary.

  4. d.a.davenport

    And the looks you get from people as you are driving down the road, talking out loud as you give voice to your people. Acting out the scene as you drive. I have a voice activated recorder and it’s like have a companion with you that listens to all the rants no matter how bizarre they get. I have to watch myself in stores so I don’t get known as the crazy lady who talks to herself all the time.

    And I used to be a damn fine cook…now the hubby has had more burnt dinners than I can count.

    Sharing life with the people, places and things only I can see is rewarding as hell…and just a bit mad at times.

  5. toni mcgee causey

    Oh maggie, and billie, I know what you mean–describing someone you think you’ve completely made up and then standing next to them in line at the store. It’s hard to resist questioning them to see how far the similarities go.

    James, nah, narcissm is more about inordinate self-love, self-involvement, and this is more about creativity, pre-occupation, being in the zone, which pretty much every creative person feels.

    Alex, that would have depressed the hell out of me, too — stark winter can really get to me after a while. I need the green, which is probably why I keep living in the south.

    Pari, I’m cracking up. You reminded me of how many times I’ve burned things in the oven (with smoke billowing out, not five feet from where I sat) because I’d gotten back into the scene.

    d.a., that’s a great way to put it — a little bit mad. I agree with you and Alex — that really would be a (scary) panel, about living with writers, because beyond the whole acting-out-the-scene aspects, there’s the other side, the listening-because-someone-makes-good-fodder trait.

  6. toni mcgee causey

    Louise! Too funny. I once had a screenwriting agent smack her desk to make a point while she said, “Toni, you realize Frank isn’t real, right?” Apparently, I’d been quoting Frank as the authority on something in the story. It felt… wrong… for her to say he wasn’t real. Like she’d stabbed him or something.

  7. Elaine Flinn

    Ah, Toni! This one has me holding my sides. Last week in Carmel – I pointed out the condos across the street from the police station to my husband – and told him that’s where Randall lives. He gave me a double-take and then laughed, “Uh, he ain’t real, kiddo…snap out of it, okay?”

  8. toni mcgee causey

    Elaine, I love that… sometimes they’re as real as people you “see” on the internet, who are supposedly real.

    When I was first journaling online back in the prehistoric ages, when there were literally less than a 1000 journalers, one in particular was a woman beloved by many. She started a journal-ring and a lot of journalers joined and became friends and after a couple of years, they planned a convention just to meet up. Whereupon the woman (who’d had photos of herself and family and local friends plaster up on the web) had to come clean that she was fictional. The real person was a guy who’d started it as a lark to see if he could write from a woman’s point of view strongly enough to convince others of that voice, and he swore later that he had no plans for it to take off the way it did. Lots of negative fallout from that one in the journaling community. Now, it probably wouldn’t cause more than a blink, but it makes ya wonder.

    JT. if I drove around when I brainstormed, I’d probably be in a few dozen wrecks or in Canada. I get too lost in the world.

  9. a Paperback Writer

    Who’s Jake?Oh, that is choice.I personally tend to call my students by the names of characters in my manuscripts. They assume, of course, that I’m calling them by the name of another student — but they don’t know it’s a completely fictional kid.

  10. Robin Burcell

    I can so relate. I was in the midst of edits, once, and came home to a quiet house, thinking, wow. Unusually quiet, but this is great. I sat down, started writing, and about two hours later, the phone rings. “Were you going to pick up your kids?”Hey, I was only two hours late. Not too bad considereing…

  11. Tom

    Yeah. Writer brain.

    I was headed north toward 405 in Long Beach, but in my mind I was in New Mexico. Light turned green, I moved out . . . and almost hit the oncoming-turning LBPD Plain Brown Wrapper.

    Yup – there was a green light, but it was only the left turn arrow. The cop was decent about it and didn’t ticket me once he was sure I wasn’t DUI.


  12. James

    “James, nah, narcissm is more about inordinate self-love, self-involvement…”

    And frequently forgetting the names of your own children, and forgetting to pick them up, wouldn’t fall into your description how, exactly?

    Suggestion — ask your kids, “Which does mommy care more about: them, or her stories?”

    Only a narcissist could rationalize the behaviour you’re describing as solely part of the creative process. Good luck to your kids. They will need it.


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