Oh, the little voices! They whisper to me, my precious. They whisper in my heeeead...
Well, don't be. You have these little voices too. The difference is that I am *aware* of mine. And the reason I am aware, is because I'm a writer.
What, what, WHAT? Am I saying that all writers suffer from auditory hallucinations and/or are dangerously unstable? Am I saying that EVERYONE hears voices? Stop the crazy!
No, no, my precious. The crazy goes on. This post was inspired by a comment from Isabel, who asked in the comments if anyone else finds themselves mentally 'narrating' their life. That is, as you move through your ordinary day, somewhere in your head there's a constant voice-over of your hair-brushing or your walk to school or your biology lesson, as if it were a scene in a book that you were writing. You find yourself picking out the details that you would chose to describe, the ones you would change, pondering if 'pale gold' is a better phrase than 'honey coloured' for sunlight, considering what scene should follow, etc.
For some of us this voiceover is a constant thing that we are always aware of. For others, it's something that you notice occasionally and are slightly worried by. I'm sure there are also people who never experience this and who are, as they read this blog, edging away from their computer screen and checking the doors and windows just in case a deranged Zolah comes bursting in with an axe.
Let me explain. You know that question? The dreaded question that writers get asked the most out of all the questions in the universe? That one. Where do you get your ideas?
The answer is FROM THE LITTLE VOICES IN MY HEAD.
It's true. The narrating voice that tries to turn your Monday morning bowl of cereal into an exciting scene of cornflake versus Cheerio suspense, that ponders how to describe your P.E. teacher in a way that would make her seem like a possibility for an undercover supervillain, that observes every detail of your daily walk home and speculates on what would happen if the house behind the wall was haunted, or if you suddenly heard someone crying for help behind that tree - that is the WRITER'S VOICE. Or the artist's voice, the actor's voice, the sculptor's voice, the achitect's voice. It's where all the ideas come from.
The thing is, this constant voice-over can be...disturbing. Let's face it, it's not pleasant when in the middle of being horribly sick, you hear it whispering 'Wow, you should be making notes on this, you'll never remember the exact texture of that vomit'. It's worrying, when trying to comfort a friend, that a tiny part of you is thinking 'The way she's crying without making a sound is really moving. I should use that'. It can be horribly upsetting when you yourself are in the midst of terrible grief, to realise that there's a tiny part of you which is standing off to the side memorising it all in case of future need.
The little voice is not an emotional thing. It's DETACHED. It's like a flash-drive plugged into your brain, recording everything without being touched by any of it. It's so detached from you and your emotions that it can even seem a bit alien, like someone else talking in your brain. Because, after all, you would never be so callous as to make mental notes on the way that your sister's face flushes up when she cries, just on the off-change you wanted to write a crying scene. Right?
Here's the thing, though. Humans only use a tiny part of their brain capacity. The part that they do use is a constant, flashing lightshow of sensations and impulses. The average brain is processing millions of information fragments every second of the day. Your grey matter is listening, smelling, feeling, tasting, reacting. It's keeping your heart pumping, doing your homework, carrying on a conversation with your friend, listening to the TV, eating this omelette, wondering if the dog needs a bath. All at once!
If you don't train yourself to make use of any added pieces of brain capacity you can (even in the form of a Voice in the Head) how on earth will you ever manage to notice any story ideas floating past in the middle of all the information that is flying at you every moment you are conscious? You won't, is the answer.
The ideas will be there. They're everywhere. Ideas are like dust motes. You can't breathe without stirring millions up. But most people are so busy getting on with their lives that they don't notice them. THEY DON'T EVEN SEE THE IDEAS THERE. That's why Where do you get your ideas? is the most popular question writers get asked. Non-writers think ideas are rare, precious, fragile. They're not. It's the ability to actually *see* the ideas that is rare and precious and fragile.
Everyone's born with it. Few keep it into adulthood. Entirely well-meaning people, like your parents and relatives, will try to crush it. Many teachers crush it all day long with one hand tied behind their backs. Friends who want you to fit in will crush it under the weight of their expectations. None of these people realise what they're doing, of course! Most would be horrified at the thought. It's just that they want you to focus, concentrate, act normal, stop day-dreaming, pay attention, get outside and play in the sun, stop telling stories...eh, you've probably heard them all.
So here it is. If you want to be a writer, if you want to be able to see the ideas drifting past you, if you'd rather not be 'normal' thanks very much? Hang onto the little voice in your head with both hands, and your fingernails. And your teeth if necessary. Pay attention to it. Feed it by opening your eyes to the world around you. It will repay you a thousandfold.
If not? Resign yourself to asking other people where they get their ideas from, and seeing the look of resigned boredom in their eyes as they struggle to explain.
How many of you hear that little narrating voice? And who's willing to admit to it??