Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

What's Going On in Your Writing Headspace?

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Do you see the words within your mind when you write, or do you hear them as if spoken aloud? It’s a strange question, I know, and one I would never have thought about if Netty hadn’t asked it in a piece of writing she brought to our writing circle. You might remember her from another post. She’s my poet friend.

I write. I read. To borrow a phrase from Nike, I just do it. Sometimes I think about the mechanical process of writing and reading, how adults acquire literacy skills. I know that new readers often read in a strictly linear way, word by word. If they don’t recognize a word they stop, stumped, and don’t continue. They handle a book the same way, start at the front, and work through page by page to the back.

Experienced readers are more flexible and intuitive in their approach. They flip through the pages of a book to get a “feel” for it, and then go back to sink into the text. They know it’s “okay” to jump around the text. They extract the meaning of a word from the context within which it is placed, surrounded by other words.

Here’s an experiment to illustrate. Take a paragraph and blank out some words randomly. Now hand the paragraph to a friend to read. Chances are, if your friend is a reader, she will read the paragraph just fine, making correct assumptions about the missing words from context, and what she already knows about how language works.

For the most part, Netty sees the words with her mind’s eye when she writes, just as they would appear on the page. My novelist friend, Veronica Ross, visualizes or pictures the image of what she is writing about, such as the finer details of character or setting. She likes to take photographs as a visual starting point.

I hear the words as if they are spoken aloud. Actually hear them with my mind’s “ear”. I realize from my answer to Netty’s question that I write for sound as well as meaning. How the words sound when they are put together is important to the way I write, to how I create.

It’s funny, what we don’t realize about ourselves until it is pointed out. I overuse my hands to emphasize or parallel the words, what I am saying in conversation or an idea I am working out in my mind. My husband and daughter tease me, mimic my actions.

Emotions are something else. If I’m sad, I feel sad. The feeling is independent of words, and is felt in its totality. It’s only when I write that I hear the words.

What happens in your headspace when you write? Do you primarily see the words, hear them, or visualize the images?

~ Marianne Paul

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page