In This Post, I Will Attempt to Explain Why Writers’ Brains Are So Weird.

The creative process is not normal, and that is fine.

What I am about to describe to you probably will neither shock nor amaze you.

Instead, my hope is that you will feel understood. Maybe even appreciated, for the first time in a long time, or ever.

I will start by admitting that I am not normal. I do not go about my day the way I assume “normal” people do. I am part of a group of people often singled out and isolated from the rest. We call ourselves writers.

Writers tend to experience varying degrees of the same symptom: They seem completely unable to ignore an idea when it shows up to play.

It tends to look a little something like this:

I will physically walk away from my desk to let the dog out/make lunch/switch my laundry, but it’s almost like I don’t actually leave my desk. Full sentences of text will actually wrap themselves around my brain and squeeze until I return to my dumping ground to set them free.

This means I have to run them through my head — sometimes even saying them out loud — over and over again until they are in some physical form and not dependent on my faulty memory to survive.

I will be in the middle of something completely unrelated to writing and will have to stop my task completely in order to write something down before the words consume me.

I have been fully engaged in conversation with someone and have said, holding up a hand, “Hang on just a second” — pulled out my phone (rude, I know, I hate when people do it to me too), jotted down a note, put it back, apologized — “I’m sorry, an idea happened. Continue.”

Some people explain it like an itch. It may go away eventually if you do not scratch it, but it often becomes an urge so intense that you cannot help yourself.

Others might call it a sort of hunger. The longer you wait to fulfill your need to put an idea down on paper, the more intensely you experience that need.

There are days I feel as though my creative process could psychologically be classified as a mental disorder — and I’m not saying that because there’d be anything wrong, in the general sense, if it were.

The comparison, though, is almost too close. The way my ideas burst through the noise is disruptive, all-consuming, and aggressive. An idea emerges, and I cannot think about anything else. A thought occurs, and it knocks repeatedly at the back of my mind until I answer its call.

I bought myself a dry erase desk (mostly) because I cannot pay attention during a video conference if I don’t have an easily accessible means of writing things down the moment they come to me.

There are solutions to these compulsions, ways to cope with the mental exhaustion they often create. But they don’t offer the explanation we’ve all been searching for: Why are we like this? Why do writers feel such intense urges to write? Why do musicians hunger so deeply to compose? Why do artists sketch? Why do dancers move?

It’s an easy out to say “because we’re built this way.” But it’s likely the best answer we have without getting all science-y (though you know, I do love the science-y).

Our brains are, supposedly, different. And each of our individual minds are different. Creativity requires a bit of logic, but it does not behave logically. It is spontaneous, it is unpredictable, and it is untrustworthy. Almost as if it has its own switch that turns on only when it feels like it, sometimes burning bright and other times operating at a gentle glow.

Sometimes the ideas it births are too awful to even mention. Other times, they are — at least to the eyes of their beholders — brilliant.

If you’ve ever wondered why writing is so hard — why being a writer is so hard — it’s because the act of writing does its best to go against every parameter we attempt to put in place for it. It loathes structure, it hates being woken up when it does not wish to rise, it does not want to follow your rules, your plan, or your preferences.

And that is why, all this time, I have insisted ideas are like children. We cannot stop them from being children. We can only adapt to their erratic ways and learn to thrive despite the chaos.

To be fair, you can eventually teach a child how to behave properly — at least I hope so, at the very least you can try — and I’m not sure the same can be said about a novel or a blog post or a song.

But the only way to expect any kind of progress as a writer is to expect that it’s going to be weird. All the time. You’re not going to understand it or even like, but you still have to accept it, work with it, and let it take you where it will.

You can learn to ride the waves, though. I’m sure of it. People will roll their eyes, you’ll get frustrated, you’ll wonder if not being normal is as OK as I’ve claimed it to be. But if you’re lucky, you’ll still somehow manage to write a Really Good Thing anyway despite all the weird. And that’s an accomplishment definitely worth celebrating.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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18 thoughts on “In This Post, I Will Attempt to Explain Why Writers’ Brains Are So Weird.

  1. Hmmm, better than the idea I had. I thought it was because:

    A: I’d been dropped as a child
    B: Been bucked off one too many horses
    C; Been smacked around by one too many bad guys
    D: Been blown up one time too many
    E: Channeled half the power grid of the San Luis Valley thought my body at one time.

    Nice to know I was completely wrong..

  2. I’m so glad you put this into words! It’s hard to explain to others the overwhelming need to write and the subsequent almost depression I fall into if I haven’t written in a long time even if it’s just journaling.

  3. My random ideas usually go in my gMail drafts folder. My phone is basically always next to me, especially if I’m not at my computer. :-)

    I took January off from writing, but that didn’t keep me from writing down a story concept two days ago when something on social media inspired me.

  4. Excellent post! It’s so hard to be a writer in a family full of extroverts for whom absolute silence and time alone is terrifying. They don’t understand how I can sit quietly, doing seemingly nothing, yet not be insanely bored. I am never, ever bored. My weird writer’s brain is constantly creating–it never shuts up, really, and the only way to manage that constant stream of ideas is to direct it into my books. When I can’t write for long periods of time I get depressed, and really cranky. It even starts to affect my health. When I tell people I NEED to write, it’s not a joke.

    1. I relate to this too well! “Don’t you ever like stop working and relax?” well YEAH, sometimes writing is relaxing but also no because my brain never shuts up! haha

  5. So true. That repeating to myself so I don’t forget is obsessive, and half of the time I forget anyway! Ugh. I started carrying a notepad for those emergencies, so now when I’m driving anywhere, I have to keep pulling over to jot down ideas! It takes me twice as long to get anywhere. Yep. Different brains. A fun post!

  6. I try to control when I get my urges to write ideas but I can’t say that it always works well. Like you said, writing really does hate structure, I don’t even try to understand my writing habits anymore. I just roll with them and give myself a high five when I’m happy with what I’ve done.

  7. I definitely have times where I have to grit my teeth and hold on until I can be a writer again, most notably at my day job. And there are definitely times where Im internally writing, and someone asks ne a question or wants to offer advice on something I might have mentioned hours ago, and its hard to not feel irritated at the rudeness of their interruption, and remember that because it was silent and internal, they don’t realize they interrupted me.
    Definitely tricky. As a writer I often feel like I have a world living in my head, a garden and house that need tending, if I can avoid too many interruptions…

    1. I love how you phrased this. “A world living in my head.” That’s exactly how it feels. The creative mind is just so much different than the rest, you can be physically sitting in one place but be present somewhere completely different. It’s both terrifying and amazing at the same time. I left a job that required countless meetings and my unpredictable brain does not miss having to pay attention to agendas and risk being called on in the middle of a thought :P :)

  8. I’m still defending the version that it’s something in the dish washing soap. It has to be. Why else would all of the ideas in the world come to me when I start doing the dishes? XD

    Great post! ;)

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