I write to hear myself think


I will be looking for someone to study my damaged brain.

Brain research

Brain researchers get opportunities to study how the brain works, mostly by accident. In a civilized country, we don’t destroy part of a human’s brain to see 1) if said human can survive without the damaged part, and 2) what effect having a particular part missing has on thought processes and the ability to function in our increasingly complex world.

So researchers have to depend on those poor souls who have a part of their brain destroyed by disease or accident – and who are willing to let said researchers poke around and submit them to endless testing. They have studied people who have no short-term memory, or people who have lost their sense of smell, or people who cannot recognize themselves in a mirror.

Brain research subject here

Other people take notes when they write, before they write, after they write. I take a LOT of notes.

Why do I think I might be useful to researchers? Because I seem to think outside my head, and store endless notes before, during, and after the process of writing fiction.

My average seems to be somewhere around 10 to 20 external words per word of finished fiction.

That’s a lot.

How much verbiage are we talking about here?

When I stopped to think about it, it means that for 10,000 words – a typical chapter – of Pride’s Children, I have written 100,000 to 200,000 extra words. When I finish Book 1, at around 150K words, I will have, stored in files, on the order of 1.5-3.0M words. And when I finish the whole story, at 400-500K words, there will be 4 to 10 MILLION words in these files.

Those are my ‘learning to write’ words, representing the more than 10,000 hours I have spent on this project, and what will be my first published work.

I keep track of everything in writing – personal and story – as it occurs to me. This clears it out of my brain so I can think of the next bit. So the files are closely reasoned bits of why a character would or would not do something – mixed in with bits of how I slept last night and why my brain refuses to kick on this morning.

Increasing writing speed – NOT

You’d think I’d get better at it, wouldn’t you? That I could figure out how to shorten the process of turning ideas and outlines and spreadsheets into a story.

Instead, what seems to have happened is that I have gotten very fast at producing those 10-20 words. I let the imagination run free – on the computer – getting it all out where I can’t lose it, because my in-brain storage system is damaged, and I need to use an external hard drive.

What might this mean for researchers studying ME/CFS?

I’m pretty sure all this happens because of the CFS – the brain is actually damaged in some important way, and I have found a way to operate around the damage, so I can write.

Surely this means I might be of use to SOMEONE in the medical research community?

And the best part for all involved? I won’t have to actually let them study me. I can give them my files, my best wishes, and let them go through all that stuff for hints of useful bits. There should be some grad student somewhere who can figure out how to handle the deluge without getting wet.

It’s already digitized, guys! Except for the twenty or so packed notebooks, and reams of early drafts printed out, it is in a digital form which someone could invent a bot to read, AND I am a tidy person: when I learned Scrivener (where all this stuff is stored in projects), I realized that the most important thing I could do for posterity was to date-stamp every entry.

And most of the files are in strict chronological order.

I can’t see how much more useful I could be to medical science than if I went out and purposely put a hole in my brain.

Let me know.

How about you? Are you a useful subject for brain study?


7 thoughts on “I write to hear myself think

  1. Catana

    I depend totally on notes. Masses of them before I start writing, sometimes years’ worth. And then while writing. If they were in any kind of order, they might be useful as a view into my brain. And if I didn’t delete the ones that are no longer relevant.


  2. juliabarrett

    Oh well, had 2 MRIs. Had to sing songs during the entire process because I am claustrophobic. Found something incidental. Mostly I’ve filled out loads of questionnaires.


  3. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    When I’m stuck while writing a story, I do a lot of writing about the scene in question. Who is in the scene? Are they the right people? What would the mental/emotional focus for each character be? What practical goals would each character have? What does this scene need to accomplish? What exactly is present in the setting? Why do I feel stuck? Ah! How can I address that issue? And so on.

    It’s amazing to me that the process of writing about the piece of the story where I am stuck always gets me unstuck. It feels like magic every time. Because when I’m stuck, I’m really stuck. It feels like I’ll never be unstuck. But writing about always works for me.

    I don’t get stuck as often, however. Some of it is because I have learned to do some pre-planning (in writing) about the setting. What does it look like? What aromas are on the air? What will my character touch? What sounds are present? I need to know all that before I enter the scene.

    For the rest…not sure. But I believe it has to do with the experience of writing all the way through 20+ stories (not all of them published) from beginning through middle to end. There are many things that I now know deep inside about storytelling that I didn’t know before.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It’s a wonderful process, writing to unblock the supposed ‘writer’s block.’ I do that too – and it adds lots more words.

      And I had forgotten to include all the planning words in my count. Bunches more, but very focused on the plotting, characterization, and themes, since it involves filling in hundreds of text boxes in my Dramatica files.

      So, a few more.

      But I AM hoping it will get easier or faster or more efficient ONE of these days – or I’m simply not going to make it past the current trilogy.

      The first novel I wrote, I completed – and still have plans to turn into a historical mystery (it’s now old enough) – and that was before my current insanely involved planning. It didn’t take me nearly as long, and I did NOT accumulate the words or the pages like for Pride’s Children. I wrote by hand then, too, and wasn’t trying anything nearly as complicated – so whatever notes there are from those days are fewer in number and not digitized. Anyone who wants to type those in for me is welcome to.

      It’s Scrivener’s fault – the program makes it so easy to gather and store huge amounts of text that I got into the habit – and now I have a hard time not talking to myself continuously as I write. Believe it or not, I’m a lot faster than I was when I really started this last revision. Now I can usually get a scene done in 5-10 days; then it could take a couple of months.



Comments welcome and valued. Thanks!

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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.