When I run writing workshops I tell the students that all the words they are going to write are already inside them...rather like your teeth.
Finding those precious words is an act of mining; digging deep into the seams that run through our subconscious and bringing the words and thoughts and images to the surface. One of the most effective ways of mining is simply thinking. Meg Rossoff recently wrote in a blog that writing is only 20% of the work of forming a novel. The other 80% is thinking. I absolutely agree with her.
The problem in our high tech, race around world, is allowing ourselves the space to think. When I was young ( i.e. before marriage and kids and sharing all my space with other human beings) I spent an awful lot of time just lying on my bed dreaming into space, thinking and thinking and thinking. Today with all the distractions in our lives this seems to be so much more elusive, that magical thinking time when you let your mind wander and follow the thought all the way to Mars and back...you know what I mean.
But without deep thinking the novel remains on the surface, unlayered, undeveloped, the characters never truly reveal those hidden characteristics which will make them so memorable long after the last page is read. Yes, some of that comes as a gift, leaping onto the page as we write. But a great deal of those deep and important details sift up to the surface through the seams and seams of words and thoughts, during the hours of simply – thinking.
As working writers maybe we find it difficult to give ourselves permission to sit and think, or walk about and think. We might feel that we have to have an excuse, like, ‘Just off to the gym’ or ‘Must take the dog for a walk’ and yes, those might be the best ways for someone to do their thinking.
But thinking is such an important part of the work of writing that we should not feel we need to make any excuse at all – if ‘they’ come upon us, sitting on a chair, staring silently into space. We should be able to say, I’m thinking. And that should be seen as work as much as walking the dog or bashing away on our laptops.
So the next time you see me sitting without speaking, eyes glazed over, you will know exactly what I’m doing..... won’t you?