Talking and Silence

Years ago, I had a friend who said she thought in colors. This would have been handy for her, since we were both studying art history, but I never quite understood what she meant. We had different mental languages, because I think in words. I even edit as I go.

Like other Wickeds here, I attended Malice Domestic at the end of April. I don’t go to a lot of conferences—maybe three or four a year—and I’m always amazed that I can spend three days or more talking. To friends, strangers, panelists, my writer idols, wait staff, and just about anybody who is human and breathing (and even some non-humans too).

Idols! (And yes, I talked to both women.)

Which is in stark contrast to the other ninety percent of my life. I’m a full-time writer, working from home, usually without any other people around, so I spend a significant amount of my time sitting in front of my computer creating stories in my head. I’m sure you all know that any piece of writing takes more than just stringing words together: you have to hear the voices of your characters in your head before you can set their words down on paper/your screen. And then there’s the invisible narrator if you write in the third person, because somebody has to describe things like the scenery, clothes, food and so on, and then you have to have your characters move through all this clutter that you’ve created.

Plus  you have to make each character a distinct individual and differentiate between them all (and don’t even ask about using accents!). To put it simply, it gets pretty noisy in a writer’s head.

Yes, I talk to cows too. This one’s a neighbor in Ireland.

But that does not mean I work in absolute silence. I talk to my cats (there are three of them, and one or another, or sometimes two, and occasionally three will be sitting on me as I work). In fact, I carry on complete conversations with my cats (no, they don’t answer, although I can usually figure out what they want through their body language, and most often it involves food). I also talk to the neighbors’ cats, and the rare dog that wanders by, and birds, and squirrels, and anything else living that passes through my yard. It seems rude to ignore them, and usually I welcome them.

An Irish cat — my daughter and I both had a conversation with it.

At Malice I’ve shared a hotel room with the same person for several years now, but I hadn’t realized that she talks to herself too. She’s been published for a long time, but I didn’t think to ask her when she started doing this. I have a feeling there are a lot of us who talk when there’s no one there.

Writers use words. Sometimes we need to try them out, because a spoken word “feels” different than a word you think. We (and the cats) are our own first audience. And for me, at least, it makes a difference.

How about you? Do you think in words? Colors? Musical notes? Even smells? And do you talk when there’s nobody to hear you?

23 Thoughts

  1. Interesting. Like you, Sheila, I think in words and always have. I remember narrating the action of my day inside my head when I was a kid. And of course, I talk to my cat and to any critters that wander past my window or door, and on occasion, yes, to myself. You’re so right. The spoke word does “feel” different than the written one.

  2. I’ve been talking aloud to myself for a long time. I realized it when I worked in a cubicle for about twenty years and suddenly other people could hear me. And of course we have to try out words as writers!

  3. Like Sheila, Annette, and Edith I think in words, and like Annette, I can remember narrating the action in my head as a kid. Thank you for sharing that memory, Annette.

    A number of years ago, we had a discussion on Guppies, maybe others remember it. Do you hear the words when you read? It turned out that most of the women did, most of the men did not. We could never determine if it was because most of the women who responded to the query were writers while most of the men were not, or if it was actually a sex-linked characteristic. The men said they absorbed the meaning without the intervention of the words. Strange brew!

    1. Not only do I hear the words, each character has a certain accent and I picture what they look like!
      I was so pleased when David Suchet took the role of Hercule Poirot in the TV production. He was exactly how I had pictured Hercule when I read the books!

  4. I have always talked to animals! Being an only child for 10 years, my dog was my best friend. I talked to him about everything! Not only did I read to him, I made up stories and he was kind enough to listen!
    I still talk to animals. My kids call me the Animal Whisperer!
    Nowadays, my two cats are the ones I talk to. I sing to them, read out loud and still make up stories and tell them to them. Of course, they are a captive audience, poor things!
    If I ever wrote all of the stories I have tumbling around in my head, I would be an author with a ton of books out!

    1. I talk to animals everywhere, especially cats. But I just realize that I do not talk to animals in foreign countries in their own language. Do you think they care? It’s probably the tone of voice that they hear, not the language. But it’s still communication!

  5. This is so interesting, Sheila. I’m not sure if I think in words or pictures. I think it depends on what the task is. When I’m writing it’s often like I’m watching a movie and writing down what I’m seeing. I don’t talk to myself. But since my husband sometimes works from home there is another person to talk to. And when I walk Lily we often run into someone and have a chat.

  6. When I worked in a cubicle, I had a radio on, to mask the voices of others and to mask my own mumbling! I also spend a great deal of time alone and I have talked to myself forever. Your blog does make one think! My mother used to say I must be my own best friend!

  7. I, too, am an only child and have always talked to myself, my imaginary friends, and all living creatures. People turn around on the street to see who is talking. It’s me, having quite a good conversation with myself! 🙂 I read mostly in pictures. I see every character and scene as if I’m watching a movie. Maybe that’s why I have never liked a movie version of a book because the movie just isn’t “right”. BTW, I also hear in shapes sort of like the opening piece in Fantasia.

    1. I hadn’t thought about including that. I usually write about places I know or have seen, even if I relocate them from place to place. Of course I visualize walking through them with my characters. The good part is that if there’s an inconvenient door (or lack of) or a tree in the way of seeing what’s happening, I can change things easily.

  8. I talk to myself. And my dog. Oddly enough, it’s always a one-sided conversation. 🙂

  9. I definitely think in words. And I talk to myself. When there are other people around (like my kids for the summer) it can be pretty disconcerting for them! LOL

  10. I also think in words and, as Kait wrote, hear the words as I read. Fascinating about the men vs women doing that! I once worked with two other women who also talked to themselves. We had the understanding that if you didn’t hear your name, then I wasn’t talking to you. Now that I’m home writing full-time, I had to teach my husband that. He’s finally stopped asking, “What? Are you talking to me?” when he hears me working.

    1. It gets worse if your husband has a hearing problem, even a slight one. I suppose it’s easier for him to believe I’m saying something to him, than to ignore it and face the wrath of the Woman Ignored.

  11. I think in words, and I figure things out by writing them down. No wonder I’m a pantser. I do see the settings in my novel very clearly, which is why I sometimes forget to describe them to my readers–at least in my first drafts.

    I don’t talk to myself–at least that I’m aware of.

  12. I definitely think in words. I have entire conversations in my mind. Very rarely do I have them out loud, but I have had some doozies in my head.

  13. I think in words but have a writer friend who thinks in colors. Fascinating! I talk to myself, especially when I’m alone in the car. I also hear my charaxcter’s voices. Sometimes I feel as though I’m just taking dictation from them. It would be a luxury to have as much quiet time as you do. I sometimes check into a Holiday Inn Express for a weekend, just to get away from the constant, albeit loving, interruption of home, family and duties– and crank out the necessary number of words!

  14. I’ve talked to myself for a while. I read that people who live alone can lose their voices because they have no one to talk to. Not happening to me! I not only talk to myself but plants, the TV and other things. With cell phones, I don’t seem quite as strange as I used to.

  15. I love this post and the comments. I dream in color and think in musical tones. Sometimes when someone suggests edits to a section of my work, I tell them it would disrupt the cadence of the sentences. I don’t have to read it aloud to hear the cadence, but reading aloud does confirm it.

    I talk to everything, including saying hello to the cows at Richardson’s Farm who are grazing in the pasture I drive by many mornings. I talk to inanimate objects, too, but talking to animals is more rewarding. They cock their heads and watch you, almost begging for more. I have to watch this thinking out loud at work because I share a tiny office with a few others. I relish the days I’m the only one there.

    I hear my characters voices in my head, each with his or her own accent, tonality, and manner of speaking. And I talk back, sometimes aloud. What great conversations we have when I’m muddling through a scene to make it write…er, right.

  16. Hi! I really like how this article opened up a topic that I didn’t even think of (no pun intended). People can think on different ways and this can express themselves differently with the same experience because of it. When I think I usually think or recall as if I’m watching a movie. Even my memories of myself sometimes has that third person perspective, although I never quite fill out myself in the memory like everything else. When I write I think of the scene as if it’s a movie as well, and have been complimented on my flow of action. However, it’s difficult for me to bring details into words sometimes because the impression of images is so strong (also mentioned to me that my descriptions could use work). Even when I was in school I would always “picture” my notes as if I was flipping through them in the moment. Not that I have photographic memory, it’s not perfect. But it helps me bridge the gap between my knowledge and my working memory.

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