Writing and the “Your Brain” Problem

I’ve often thought that it would be really cool to participate in NaNaWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”). In fact, this goal has even found its way onto my Bucket List as one of the things that I will somehow manage to do before I die. When I was seventeen years old and knee-deep in writing fanfiction I said to myself, one day I’ll do that. I’ll write something real, something original, and then I’ll actually be able to show it to someone not on the Internet. And since I write every day, it won’t be that hard; I’ll just commit to this one project and I’ll make it work.

Of course my twenty three year old self lacks that same level of self-confidence. And considering that it’s taken me more than a year to get even a third of the way through my novella, perhaps that’s not uncalled for. You see, in the interim I’ve learned that there’s a fundamental difference between writing fanfiction and writing your own original work. That is, you lose the ability to rely on someone else’s world building to prop up your story. When I left something out in a Harry Potter fanfic, such as where Harry got the Invisibility Cloak from, JK Rowling’s work supported it and my readers simply filled in the details on their own. When writing original fiction, I’m responsible filling in my own plot holes.

This wouldn’t be so tricky except for what one of my creative writing professors helpfully nicknamed the “Your Brain” problem. He explained that, in effect, the brain performs the exact same function for a writer’s original writing that JK Rowling does for fanfiction; it fills in its own gaps. And this is a problem because while it helps you write, other people can’t read your mind the way that they can read Harry Potter. So while you’re trying to make your story as complete as possible, you’re also completely unable to track down the confusing sections until someone else points them out to you. All of which basically means that writing and editing original fiction takes twice as much time and effort than a piece of fanfiction does. Herein lies my struggle.

Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example: I once presented a piece of writing to a class in which I’d completely neglected to identify the gender of my narrator. (For the record, it was written in first person and completely reflective; no one ever spoke to the narrator.) Since I’d always known that the character was male, it never occurred to me that my readers lacked the evidence to support that. Needless to say, I’m now more conscious of these mental mistakes. I try to outline more than I used to and try to anticipate clues and details that need to be included. Which means that some days it may take me over an hour just to write three hundred words. It means I’m more selective about what I say, less attached to particular phrases, and constantly editing and re-editing even as I type. I might be a better writer than I was at seventeen, but I’m sure as hell a slower one now, too.

Maybe one day I’ll participate in NaNaWriMo. But for now I’ll just take my sweet, slow time with my novella. Even if it does take me two more years to get through it, at least I’ll have finished it.

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7 thoughts on “Writing and the “Your Brain” Problem

  1. You’ll do it. If you want to then you will.

    Side note, you’ve got a thing that a lot of people who’ve been doing it for a thousand years still struggle to have: soul. That’s my word for it, anyway. When you write, you sound like a person. I can hear you talking. It’s personable. It’s human. You can’t teach that–I can’t identify it. Just remember that you do it. You’ll find it becomes one of your greatest assets.

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  2. We all change our way of thinking as we grow older and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When I was 16, I wrote an essay for an exam and when I was 18, I added a new dimension to it and edited it and it won me a short story competition. It’s easy to build on your old works if you want to because you have added experience now as compared to then. Even now at 21 I still find some of my old work were way ahead of my peers then and I have somewhat stagnated now. But that doesn’t mean I suddenly suck at writing; it’s as though I take more consideration into my work such that I don’t rush out any of my writing. Filling the plot holes is definitely something important because your story, as you said, might get confused amidst the hustle and bustle of the writing process. I think that we are now able to learn from our mistakes and keep improving as we become older so the brain problem will ease itself out in due time 🙂

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  3. I recently wrote a novella and had friends read it. One of the primary comments was I hardly described my characters – no one knew what they looked like. Admittedly, I try to write minimalistically, but still, oops.

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