Internal Chatter: I’m not crazy, I’m a writer.

Picture this:  you’re at a party, standing with a group of your friends and a lively conversation is flowing around you.  You’re staring off into the middle distance and you smile to yourself.  The talk turns serious as your friends begin to discuss the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and the ongoing political turmoil.  They look at you in horror as you burst into laughter.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” one of them asks.  “You think this is funny?”

“Er… sorry, what?”  you ask, bewildered.

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The Big Bang Theory, CBS Television

Welcome to the life of a writer.  In your world, characters talk to you and to each other.  It often keeps you awake at night.  It makes your mind wander in the middle of a family gathering, a business meeting or during a class.  Your family, friends, coworkers and teachers are not amused.

The thing is, that internal chatter is essential to good writing.  “Hearing” the voices talking, listening to an invisible narrator spin a tale, visualizing the scene, debating the sides of an issue during conflict;  that is writing, writing without committing the words to paper.  Let me digress for a minute, then we’ll get back to the writing bit.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • You talk out loud to yourself.
  • You ask and answer your own questions.
  • You will be having a conversation inside your own head, then continue it out loud to whomever is with you, totally confusing them.
  • When you are concentrating on something, the house could burn down around you and you wouldn’t notice.
  • You LIKE being alone, not that you don’t ever want company, but you relish your quiet time without distractions (this is also an introvert characteristic*)
  • You are rarely bored.

Not everyone with these … um … qualities is going to become a writer, obviously.  Nevertheless, possessing these ‘quirks’ has helped me muddle along this writing path.  And yet, I find I’ve become a worse companion!

It’s sometimes annoying a challenge to live with a writer.  Your spouse or partner can feel a little cheated when you’re not paying attention to them.  (Take notice the next time you read an author’s bio or their blog ‘about’ page.  A spouse/partner is so often described as ‘long suffering’, it’s almost cliche.)  It can be weird when you talk about your characters as if they were real people.  We went to the Philadelphia Auto Show last year and I kept pointing out the different cars my characters drive. Eventually, I found myself abandoned amidst the Porsches.  And yet, *sigh* I find myself doing things like that all the time.  “Hey, that’s where Tommy’s Law Office is.”  “Doesn’t that look like the kind of house Leo would buy to fix up?”  “I bet Graham’s band would play at this bar!” 

On second thought, that does sound kinda crazy …

Anyway, the point is, if you are not having internal conversations with your characters, chances are they will be boring and one dimensional.  They have to have vivid personalities (that’s not to say they all have to be outrageous, just memorable.)  You have to know them intimately, their strengths, their weaknesses, their passions and their faults. Write short biographies on each of them.  Create a character database in a computer file or assemble it on index cards.  Even if you don’t address these traits within your narrative, their backgrounds and peculiarities will influence the way they act/react in your story.  And THAT makes for good writing!

So writers, what do you talk to your characters about?  

*Many people think introversion is a disorder like social phobia.  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  I asked my friend Josh Gross, who studies psychology, to explain the difference.  These are his comments:

The way I’ve heard introversion/extroversion described by hard-core Jungian personality theorists is that it all comes down to where we get our energy. Extroverts get most of their energy from outside themselves; be they ideas or other people. This means they need to spend time with other people to be at their best. They may also need some time alone, but they feel the negative effects of isolation faster than introverts.

On the other hand, introverts derive most of their energy from inside themselves. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy the company of others, but being intensely social wears them out faster than extroverts. Sooner or later they need to take some time by themselves to recenter and recharge.

So introversion and social phobia are quite different. Social phobia involves a fear of social situations that is so pronounced that it interferes with one’s ability to function. Introversion simply refers to the need to spend time alone in order to be at one’s best. Introverts can be surprisingly social, as long as they are able to take breaks when they need to. They also are not immune to the damaging effects of loneliness.

Thanks Josh!

42 thoughts on “Internal Chatter: I’m not crazy, I’m a writer.

  1. I read this before on BW, Dr Sorick! But I read it again because I love how I can relate to it every time I read it! 🙂
    I remember a couple of years back, one fine morning I had been spinning this whole sappy story in my head about how my female lead’s father dies and I was wondering how to bring the hero into the picture when I got called away to a birthday party. After a while at the party, at some point my thoughts derailed again and I was back to conjuring up the story. I got so carried away by it that when the others were singing happy birthday I was tearing up! *blush*
    I’d rather not talk about what followed! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Please bear with me if it’s stupid! But from the little I have read on and off Blogosphere, I find that introverts tend to be better writers. They seem to be able to pen down stronger emotions with a certain clarity and conviction that I find missing in the writing of extroverts. Is it okay to think that way or is it just a silly notion formed owing to my small sphere of reading? On the other hand if it’s true, then what possible explanation can you offer? 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It’s not stupid at all! Many writers identify themselves as introverts. Especially fiction writers. Non-fiction writers, maybe not as much but that depends on their area of expertise. A science writer may be very introverted but a writer who blogs about food and entertaining probably isn’t. But a non-fiction writer’s focus is more about reporting information rather than creating a whole new world filled with fictional characters and places!

        Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s been a long time since I’ve dabbled in personality theory, but at one point I was practically obsessed with it. There’s some uncertainty about how fixed introversion and extroversion are. It seems that most of us are able to take on traits of either type depending on the situation. Even the most gregarious of extroverts can be quiet and self-contained if there’s social pressure to do so (if they’re at a library, for instance).

        But if I remember correctly, each one of us also has a ‘best fit’ pattern that is most natural for us. And I strongly suspect that this lies on a scale. Some introverts seem to be more introverted than others, and the same appears true for extroverts. I haven’t tested this, but that’s my hunch. So if someone lies near the middle of the scale, it could be difficult to tell if they’re an introvert or extrovert. My own recommendation would be for them to embrace their adaptability and not worry so much about labels. Of course that’s easier said than done.

        I also don’t think introversion/extroversion are set in stone, but many personality enthusiasts would disagree with me. Again, this isn’t my area of expertise, but my preferences have definitely shifted over the years.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am so thrilled to have your input on this! It makes sense that there would be levels of intro or extroversion. And yes, I don’t see the point of labels either, unless somehow that helps you find a niche in the world! Thanks so much, Josh!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tonight, I will ask my spouse to read this post. She thinks I am grade A asylum material. I talk outloud to myself, whisper, use mannerism, everything. Ido it at parties, in the street and at home. What makes me fall into this trap is dailogue or my characters internal thoughts. Love this post. Only a writer can understand.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Glad I could be of help 🙂 I can relate to some of what you’ve written; mostly the bit about focusing so hard on a thought that you completely tune out the outside world. But I haven’t started having conversations with myself yet 😛 Granted I write nonfiction, which probably has something to do with that. I don’t create new worlds/characters: I just synthesize information to make more sense of how things fit together.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I am an introverted extrovert whatever that is. I just can pin it down. Meanwhile, sometimes I have to beg the voices to just shush and keep quiet for just one minute. Great post and I can relate so much. Sometimes I am at a gathering and looking intently at some guy thinking about how he fits right in with a character in my head 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for helping me discover that I am a writer (the mad kind you just described,) except that I’ve not written anything that can actually qualify as serious writing. But I am the oddball and I don’t mind being one. An eye-opener, Meg.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dr. Sorick, good writers make their readers think; the aim of my writing is to stop people from thinking, but thank you for the pat on the back. It makes me feel better 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, now come on Anand! Reading is to escape from the dreariness of one’s day to day routine! Humor is the perfect antidote for a bad day! If you’ve made us laugh, you are an excellent writer!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Loved this, Meg. Good stuff. A couple points:

    First, I believe you might fit the diagnostic criteria for dissociative identity disorder. I’m not a professional, but I know how to use Google and WebMD. You (or whatever character you are channeling at the moment) might want to get evaluated.

    Second, I think writers need to “live” and have experiences, observing people so they can write vivid characters. I’m glad you went to an auto show. Leaving the house is good.

    I do enjoy your blog and your writing. It’s encouraging and instructive. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not crazy! I have experienced everything on that list. One night recently while writing a particularly upsetting scene, tears poured from me. John thought I had finally cracked. I think he was ready to get me a straitjacket!

    According to this one assessment of myself, I am 97% introverted and a whopping 3% extroverted. Sounds about right…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I face this battle everyday, even when I am working in the office or in front of my manager!! haha all the difficulties we writers face just because there’s voices inside our head!! Your article is really inspiration to both introverts and extroverts! thanks Dr. Meg 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It sounds all too familiar! I often find myself reaching for my longsword and calling for the tavern wench to bring my mead, only to discover I’m living in the second millenium…
    Ok, it’s not that bad, but I have been known to let my attention wander.

    Liked by 1 person

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