What’s the most common question I get asked as a writer?
How do you remember all this stuff?
It’s usually in awe at the wall of folders I have from my works in progress. I keep a folder on my desktop of ideas for novels, characters, scenes… but when I get something more developed, a rough plot, a cast, a more definite outline… along with pages of writing, either the beginning, or a few key scenes – it gets a ring binder and a place on my shelf. I keep all my notes in there, I design a cover and spine. That way my idea feels real. And when it comes time to do some writing on said project, I can pull out the folder and everything I need is contained within.
And when you have over 40 titles on the shelf you find people staring at them wide eyes and asking you – how do you remember all this stuff? How do you keep the characters straight in your head and not mix the books up?
My answer is always very simple. I remember all my friends, and family. I know where they live, I have an idea of their wants and desires, what they look like, their little personality traits and favourite sayings… so it’s just like that. The books and characters within are the same as friends and family. In fact, I probably spend more time with my fictional family, because they live in my head more prominently, I go on adventures with them. We have conversations. They might change or grow up even before I put words on paper.
The human brain has such a capacity for learning and remembering, why does it always seem like a shocking feat to remember the books I’m writing – or even the books I’ve read?
I guess for someone who is not in the habit of writing books, or reading a lot for that matter, easy recollection of fictional facts seems almost like science fiction. Like you are some sort of genius. So when they get over the realisation that I’m not hiding away in a dark room with over a dozen cats writing erotic fiction for my own fancy, and actually see the scope and effort I put in, something grinds and crunches in their heads that I must be the re-incarnation of Albert Einstein himself.
How does their brain take the leap from some mousey, unattractive shut-in with sexually deviant tendencies to a crazy haired genius after entering my office? Surely there is a somewhat more modest middle ground?
I think writers are much like albino animals – rarely seen in the wild, perceived as odd, weird, or magical, but on the whole, (apart from the propensity to get sunburn) no different to the regular coloured masses. I’m beginning to learn that the general public’s assumptions of what a writer is, is so vastly different to what I actually do. It’s up there with astronaut or vascular surgeon – it sounds impressive but we don’t know the ins and outs of what they actually do every day. (Not that being a writer is as important as an astronaut or a vascular surgeon – just that they are job titles not many know details about) I’m frequently launching into the mechanics of writhing and the publishing world for friends and family. Their notions that I sit at my computer for a few weeks, churn out a novel and then send if off into the ether to be transformed into a book on the shelves of stores is completely naive.
I spend a lot of time writing, and with the characters, worlds, and story acrs that I write; so why wouldn’t I know them by heart? If I was in any other occupation, wouldn’t I know all the intricacies of that job too?
So, I guess I have to embrace being some albino animal as well – though it’s not too much of a stretch having pale skin, red hair and freckles – where people come and stare in stack-jawed intensity when they discover what it is I really do on occasion. But on the most part, I just get on with it.
Though I always get surprised at some of the frequently asked questions – I mean, if they thought about it, even only fleetingly, the answer is so obvious I may as well slap them in the face with a rubber chicken…
In fact, I may do just that.
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