Writing the Unseen: Collision

You’re sitting in front of a computer, fingers poised over the keyboard. Ideas swirl in your mind, words flash in your subconscious, and you feel yourself mentally writing a sentence. But it’s not on the screen.

Then something happens. The ideas become words that shoot their way across your neurons into the muscles of your fingers. And you begin to type.

It’s a magical moment, that point at which the unseen thoughts in your mind become seen. And any writer will tell you, in hushed tones as if embarrassed, that it is indeed a deep magic.

Sure, we can easily explain the physical act of writing. While we still know little about the brain, we do know enough about neurobiology and linguistics to understand how ideas become words and convey meaning to each other. We know enough about anatomy to track the electrochemical impulses across the brain and down the arms, into the hands on the keyboard. These are the things we can see, and quantify, and color-code.

But what we cannot see, and yet know instinctively, is that writing is an act of war.

An idea floats through your mind like a bird in flight, and you think yes! That’s it! So you reach out to grab the idea, to make it yours and find your own words that fit. Your soul feels a potential lightness of sorts, transcendence in this concept that your mind wants to capture. But words don’t come. Letters fit together clumsily if at all. You are tethered, bound by the limitations of your brain.

Unseen forces attack. They stand behind and around you. Within you. Aren’t you stressed? So your facial muscles tighten and you feel a headache coming on. You don’t have anything to contribute. You hang your head and try to focus, but the idea that once seemed perfect floats farther away and you feel your resolve slipping. You’re wasting time. Then you’re remembering all the other things that remain undone, and your heart rate picks up and your mouth goes dry. What if I’m not good at all? What if I don’t have what it takes? Your own insecurity is the worst enemy of all.

But you press forward. You persist. And in that magical moment, on the frontlines in your soul, courage propels you and somehow those words make it from your brain to your fingers, to the screen.

Writers, if you want to write the unseen, you need only understand the war inside yourself.

(This is the conclusion of my series on writing the unseen.)

85 thoughts on “Writing the Unseen: Collision

  1. There’s this idea, if we write enough, we’ll become confident and everything will go smoothly. But that idea is quite similar to the one that once we grow up, we’ll have all the answers, know everything, and always know what to do.

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    1. Insightful point, angel011. It seems like the older I get, the fewer answers I have and the less I know. I guess life (and writing) would be awfully boring if we didn’t have some level of uncertainty.

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  2. Know this feeling. I find revisiting the first draft after doing something completely different produces the best results, but I only get time for this when writing for pleasure!

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    1. Hi there, Revisiting a draft after a long break can be helpful, for sure. If you’re lucky, the reaction is “wow, I can’t believe I wrote this!” but for me more often than not it is “oh man, what was I thinking?!?!” LOL. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. As I read, I at first thought that I had not felt the things described. And I don’t, really, when I’m writing fiction.

    It’s when I sit down to write my blog that I feel the war. I wonder why it feels so different, writing in those two mediums?

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    1. I understand this. I find it challenging to write my blog because I am not able to attribute the thoughts or actions to a character. I have own my feelings, beliefs put forth in my blog. However, a fictional character has more freedom, because even if there is something of our own character written into the character, we don’t have to tease it out or own up to it.

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    2. I would guess that you have different goals in mind (and therefore different subconscious pressures) that affect the internal “war” you bring to the screen. Out of curiosity, what kind of fiction do you write?

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      1. I write screenplays, actually. I’ve written three and I’m working on a fourth. I usually write very character-driven stories, I really love character studies and I’m big on people-watching. I do a lot of love stories, and at the moment I’m working on a spiritual journey type story. 🙂 Thanks for asking! What sort of stuff do you write other than your blog?

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  4. I am familiar with this feeling. This actually happens more often than not for me. Usually listening to music helps me to focus. It’s harder for my mind to wander, so I can make myself focus easier.

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    1. Hi Scribbler, I like listening to music when I write also. Strange but true, that having something to “tune out” aids focus. Going to coffeeshops helps, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Well said. I’m not a writer just a researcher. In ancient times people like you were once called “weavers”. keep on weaving. When there is no more story to tell. Life will cease to exist. That’s how important storytellers are to existence.

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    1. Thanks Paul. Without researchers like you, weavers like me (love the analogy) would have far less to say. There is something vitally important about digging down deep into a matter, to discover truths that might not be visible otherwise.

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  6. Lack of confidence is what is stopping me from spending every free moment writing. The ideas are there: tons of them. So many, in fact, that I have outlines going for about seventeen different stories at the moment. This post completely and utterly captures the issues I have with sitting down and getting the words on the page.
    Thanks for the inspiration, and the knowledge that I’m not alone! Keep the posts coming!
    http://www.thetravellingsock.wordpress.com

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    1. The good thing about having so many ideas is that you probably have something you could work on, to match any mood. When I was trying to finish my novel, I had to make myself get up early in the morning to write. Otherwise the day would get away from me. Congrats on the half-marathon, by the way!

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  7. I spotted the LOTR image which I liked and was pleasantly surprised by the writing insights. I find writing flows more naturally now, after about five years of regular writing routine, and though I have to work at it to achieve a decent polished finish, I am at least at peace with my writing-self. I am currently proof-reading the sequel to my first novel ‘The First Warrior’ which has just been published on amazon. Have you considered electronic publishing? I am struggling with the publicising side of things – the writing is easy by comparison, so any insights would be gratefully received.

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    1. Congrats on finishing and publishing your first novel! Electronic publishing has evolved so much over the years, and I do feel it is a viable option and I haven’t ruled it out for my novel, although I’m pursuing traditional publication for now. I agree completely that the writing is easy when compared to the publishing/marketing process. Afraid I don’t have many insights here, except to just learn everything we can about today’s market and use all the many tools at our disposal. Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I highly recommend you get the book, The War of Art. It covers the war going on inside whenever we attempt to do what’s great with our art. There’s no war when we do the prosaic.

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  9. Writing is the only thing that makes me truly happy, so I don’t regard the writing process as an act of war but an act of love…like giving birth and doing all things worthwhile doing…like reinventing myself with every word I write. I do, however, have writer friends who feel just like you describe in your blog. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  10. Whenever I try to write/type out an idea that is so vivid in my mind, so close I could just envision it on paper/screen, I feel like that pipeline between mind and fingers gets clogged with everyday mundane litter. Still searching for an effective ‘Draino’.
    I’m just talking Blog here, in no way am I a writer in any sense of the meaning.
    Thank you for the insightful post.

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  11. For me, the rough draft always just explodes out from my brain. It’s the second draft and beyond where the war truly begins. But it’s also where the magic happens. FPressed awesome job!

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  12. I have been feeling that war way too much lately! Between the novel and the blog and short stories and writing articles, my brain gets too mushy and also full of fire. I worry that the ideas are going to run out, or that I’ll never have another good one, but reading this made me realize that people all go through that and it’s never true because we all have creativity! 🙂 Good job being pressed, I bet many people will be helped by this!

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  13. I can most definitely appreciate this notion. You almost need a moment of epiphany to get the words flowing onto paper (or other records), otherwise the ideas just float in your head as a jumbled mess. And sometimes, you feel weird that such epiphanies only generate about 3 pages of writing.

    I had two favourite moments like these:
    1) On the train home one night, a character’s first scene in my book dropped in my head. I promptly typed into my phone. It showed me that a writing the length of 46 SMS’s yields 3.25 pages.
    2) Needed to find for the same character their reason to be the way they are, as I could not find one for many weeks. Spent many nights looking through Wikipedia and country descriptions for inspiration. Two words jumped straight out, and the story behind her motivations came out like a burst dam.

    Keep fighting the good fight =)

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  14. Reblogged this on Pondering & Musing and commented:
    The art of writing – taking the essence of life and committing it into letters, words, sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes elegant and refined, though more often clumsy and contrived. Yet those of us who love words will continue to pursue the elusiveness of truly capturing thoughts and ideas so that others may read. Thanks to annaldavis.net and Invisible Ink…

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  15. Enjoying your site so I’m nominating you for my Illuminating Blogger Award for informative, illuminating blog content. I know not everyone participates in blog awards but I hope you’ll at least check it out because it’s a great way to discover new blogs and meet new web friends. If you’re interested in participating, you can check out the details at my site … foodstoriesblog dot com & then click on “Illuminating Blogger Award Site” in the upper right-hand corner … Either way, hope you’re having a great day 🙂

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  16. This is the only item of yours I’ve read in this series, and I can feel where you’re coming from here.

    It’s hard enough creating an idea, without crushing it yourself before it has had time to get some fresh air, and be assessed from different perspectives.

    Type it, put it on the screen, save it, add more, then look at them later. Some will be good, others bad, but at least you increased your chances of creating a better product.

    Maybe a couple of those bad ideas could be mixed together to make a good one. But don’t throw any of the ideas out until the product is at the printers.

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  17. Very well put, I thoroughly enjoyed your insight on the topic. Brings a question or topic to mind; recouping after you either won or lost that battle during the war and how you move forward and deal with the next battle.

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  18. There are few things more satisfying than seeing your words in print and knowing no one can change them.

    There are few things more terrifying than seeing your words in print and knowing YOU can’t change them. 🙂

    I had never considered that my words weren’t really words until typed into existence. Wonderful perspective. You might enjoy “The Midnight Disease” by Dr. Alice W. Flaherty. She explains many of the unique brain processes involved in writing.

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  19. Every day while going about the money-raking day job, those ideas skitter through my mind on the buzz of iPod tunes. I take time out to jot these notes down on my phone, since my memory’s poorer than a politician’s morality bank. But sometimes even these measures aren’t enough; I stare at that accursed screen in the evening, and the words, the images, won’t translate fluidly. I’ll force out some scutter, hope for the best … know that some days are tougher than others when the ink’s running dry.
    Good to see a shared frustration put down, in a Schadenfreud kind of way 😉

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  20. A beautiful post!! And you have said it in an amazing way. In starting, I am blank and keep on staring at the paper. Then suddenly a lot of ideas and words clash in my mind and I find myself writing. It is really an amazing feeling. Anyways, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  21. Excellent writing and introspection. Love this, exactly what I needed now that it seems impossible to make myself sit at a table and put the pen to the paper. Must win this war!

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  22. I am blown away by all your insightful and encouraging comments. I’m looking forward to spending some time getting know each of you and checking out your blogs, but for now I just want to say THANKS so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

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  23. I’ve been through the very same situation, more than once! Instances when I had to go through this inner struggle and push myself to write something. I could relate to your post so well. Loved it!

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  24. As a writer, I think we all experience the same thing. It never ceases to amaze me how some writers and artists string words together to create an image that I see just as easily, but could never describe for the life of me.

    Very well said. Looking forward to reading more from you!

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