Saturday, March 10, 2012

Multiple Personalities of the Write Brain

 I’m excited to welcome Carolyn J. Rose to Straight From Hel. Before she takes over, let me tell you a bit about her. She has a long bio, so I’ll reveal two things I found really interesting: Carolyn served two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s written a lot of novels, including recent indie titles A Place of Forgetting, An Uncertain Refuge, and No Substitute for Murder. A mainstream mystery, Hemlock Lake, was released by Five Star in 2010, and two Oregon-coast mysteries (The Big Grabowski and Sometimes a Great Commotion) penned with her husband, Mike Nettleton, came out through Krill Press in 2009 and 2010. Oh, she’s also going to be giving away a copy of No Substitute for Murder, so read to the end of her post to find out how to enter.

Now, I’m going to put my feet up and turn the blog over to Carolyn.

Please welcome Carolyn J. Rose.

Fortunately, I’m the kind of writer who enjoys revision.

Why fortunately? Well—let’s face it—I have a touch of OCD when it comes to tweaking my writing. If I allow myself, I could go on revising a piece for days—perhaps even for decades. I could revise books already in print or poems I wrote in grade school.


I don’t know for sure, but my theory is that the process of writing—the preparation, plotting, perseverance, and patience—make it difficult for me to recognize when a work is finished and/or to let it go. Sure, I reach a point where I’m happy with a project. But am I satisfied? Probably not. Probably never.

The writing process is just that—a process. There is one ultimate goal (finished novel) and hundreds of intermediate goals (specific scenes, chapters, bits of dialogue, etc.).

The process also involves a lot of what ifs, then whats, suppose thats, how abouts, and okay buts. It involves waking in the middle of the night to scrabble through the contents of the nightstand in search of pen and paper, stopping in the middle of the soup aisle to make a note on the back of the grocery list, and pulling over to the shoulder of a highway to excavate an index card from the glove compartment and note a plot twist.

I co-authored 5 novels with my husband and can tell you that a second author complicated the writing and revision process even more than it already was.

But my solo projects were hardly solo acts. Inside my author’s brain—what I call the Write Brain—is a committee. Every member has good ideas and they all have good intentions. But if you’ve ever served on a committee, you know how complicated even an easy project can become if the chairperson doesn’t have a firm hand on the helm. And if you’ve ever been that chairperson, you know that some members clamor for a larger share of your attention than others, and clamor at inopportune times.

So it is with my committee. Members all want to be heard and, to make certain that they are, often chime in with their comments when I’m busy with other things. But because they frequently offer better plot twists, character traits, or similes, I listen. And, when I can, I take notes.

Over the years, I’ve put aside annoyance about ideas that cause me to dump entire chapters or create more obstacles for my protagonist. I’ve come to welcome their input, even though it seems they prefer to sound off at inconvenient moments and enjoy catching me when I’m not prepared to record their thoughts.

By this point in my life and writing career, I’ve heard from them so often that I’ve given them names.

There’s Poolside Polly. Her ideas aren’t always all wet, but the concepts often go down the drain while I finish my water aerobics class and dry off enough to get at the pen and index cards I keep wrapped in plastic in my gym bag.

Midnight Margo offers brilliant ideas in the dead of night. Those ideas don’t always sparkle in daylight, but the best ideas, like the biggest fish, are the ones that slip away. I don’t roll over and go back to sleep without writing them down first.

Gardening Gracie waits until my shoes are clotted with mud and manure and then announces a dozen details for a terrific scene. Do I keep a pen and paper on the gardening cart? You bet.

Diana the Dinner Diva loves to eat out and enjoys adding spice to the meal by coming up with ideas for unique characters while someone at the table is providing juicy details of how their last relationship went south. Trust me, friends expect more from than an offhand “Poor baby” while you’re jotting down a string of notes on a napkin.

Shower Shawna is inspired by soap, shampoo, and the spray of water on my head. I keep index cards in a drawer by the sink and try to allow myself an extra five minutes for each shower.

Unfortunately, most of Dog Walk Donna’s ideas are forgotten before I get home. Between the leash and the plastic bag for poop scooping, I have no free hands to record suggestions about pacing and tension. I’ve tried repeating them to myself, but conversations with neighbors and encounters with other dogs that send mine into a barking frenzy wipe my short-term memory banks clean.

Who is on the committee in your Write Brain?

Tell me about who you hear from and when and we’ll put your name in the drawing for No Substitute for Murder.


  1. You're talking right to me! Only I don't pull off to the shoulder, I write on my lap. Stupid, yeah, but not as bad as talking on a cell. I like the idea of the Write Brain. I've always wondered why I can never leave a project alone. You've helped me understand my affliction and it's comforting to know I'm not alone. I definitely have the midnight brain and the gardener's brain and for some odd reason, whenever I'm spinning greens I think of the two main characters in my first novel. Now explain that one to me!

    I would love to have my name in the hat for your nove. Thank you.

  2. I have a little minx from the underworld named Jezebel who talks at all of those moments. Nothing is worse than thinking of a great idea, only to forget what it was later. Pad and pencil always on hand is a must for my sanity.

  3. I think my committee is very small - Movie Theater Charlie and Give Me Any Idea Joe!

  4. I've got a Midnight Margo too! She can drive me nuts because her ideas disappear so quickly - and they're good ones too!

  5. I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only one with a committee chiming in.
    Yvonne, I can't explain any of this, but maybe someone who leaves a comment later on will have some insight.

  6. Amanda J. Capper3/10/2012 9:47 AM

    I have so many voices, all whispering at once, and most of them are no use whatsoever.

    But my favourite would have to be Deep Dish Delilah (I just made that up, I never thought of naming my muse but it's a great idea). Nothing to do with dessert but instead my bathtub. Solved many a problem immersed in bubbles.

  7. I think my least helpful committee member is related to Dog-Walker. In-one-ear-and-out-the-other Octavia doesn't just forget when she's out for a walk; she gets a brilliant idea while she's writing and forgets it before she finishes the end of the sentence she's working on. She has a friend, Ain't-got-the-brains-of-a-dust-mite Martha. I try not to let them visit very often.

  8. My muse is not as active lately as she used to be. I've never named her, but if I did, it would be Dreaming Danielle.

  9. Deep dishes and dust mites - I'm loving these comments.

  10. One of my most frequent writing collaborators (Thomas K. Matthews) seems to have no committee at all - he can spew fiction like nobody's business, generating pages in a hurry. But then the editing is on! For me, I end up listening to "Make Sure You Get It Right The First Time" ... even for a first draft. Of course I never do, so the editing is still on. :o)

  11. Andrew, I could probably edit my work to death. I just have to recognize when enough is truly enough.

  12. The great thing about this is that it's like I'm married to 12 different women. It's like one of those fundamentalist sects except without having to remember a lot of different anniversaries. And I have to say, I love kicking ideas around with all of my wife's multiple personalities. My own writing has benefited from knowing each and every on of them.

  13. Wow, I'm glad my brain isn't quite that cluttered. But I do keep a pad by my bed to capture ideas before they disappear.

    boots9k at wowway dot com

  14. I'm haunted by real people - my high school honors English teachers - Miss Martin and Miss Schrack. Is that punctuated correctly? Are you sure you don't need more symbolism? And maybe you could set the story in Russia (they were obsessed with Dostoyevsky). Da!

  15. Yikes, Joanne, thanks to you I'm now channeling Miss Chase. No way could I ever write anything to please her.

  16. I recently read A Place for Forgetting - nice post for getting to know the author.

  17. Ooh, Joanne, I'd rather be haunted by characters than actual teachers!

    I agree Ann. I like getting to know the authors whose books I like.

  18. Ann, so you're the one who bought the book. (LOL)
    This is also a nice way to get to know readers and other writers. I love reading the comments.

  19. What a fun topic, Carolyn and I enjoyed reading it. I love your list of write brain facets of your muse.


  20. Love the group you've got in your head! It's great that you're so open to all their opinions...and then the ones from the outside world, of course!

  21. I used to worry about those voices - and worry more about admitting to them - but as long as I wear my aluminum foil helmet, I can keep it under control. (LOL)

  22. LOL, you even name your different voices. That's so cool. My alter self appears most often when I'm driving. I think I'll name it as a hot hunk though, Max the F1 driver. He gives me fast plots that resemble potholes.

    The Spinster’s Vow

  23. Enid, I love those fast plots, but I think I can drive into plenty of plot potholes without Max's help. Although the hunky part sounds good.

  24. I have a committee in my brain too ... however, what's really scary, are the animated conversations I have with the members ... makes real folks move over to the other side of the street when they see me coming.

  25. Christopher, you've given me an idea. I'm short and hate being in crowds, so talking to my committee should give me room to breathe.


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