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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Hello, It’s Me

I didn’t write as much as I wanted to. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to. I didn’t sleep as much as I wanted to. I ate more than I wanted to. I obsessed about work  more than I wanted to. I had more catastrophe fantasies than usual, and I have a half dozen at least on an average day.

I also did something that I don’t think we’ve ever talked about. I wrote in my head. I didn’t stop dreaming up great first lines. I didn’t stop coming up with witty dialogue and pithy rejoinders. I started poems, stories, novels, epics. I wrote War and  Peace IN MY FUCKING HEAD. What is all that writing that goes on in the head? Is it figuring out stuff? Part of the so-called process? Is it fall out from too much acid? Is it the necessary obsession with your work, the so-called immersion. Or the early onset of a degenerative illness? Grandiosity of the lowest order? Or a common suspect, much beloved narcissism?

Or is it just not writing? What do you make of the static?

Anyone still out there?

57 Responses

  1. I dunno. I thought it was the reason we all carried around tiny notebooks, though. At least, that’s why I carry around mine.

  2. Anyone still out there? What are you crazy?

    Welcome back Betsy!

  3. I write in my head all the time, then when I sit down to make it official it always goes off in a direction I had never imagined. So for me I think writing in my head is just a byproduct of being obsessed, it doesn’t translate to being productive. Maybe it helps me get the stupid ideas out of the way.

  4. There’s really nothing better than all those brilliant first lines and titles that run through my noggin like the stock market ticker. The stuff that never makes it to paper is my best seller, sister!

    And let’s face it. It’s the best way for me to think about me, and for me to remind myself how interesting me-myself-and-I are while my me-moir about me remains for my eyes only.

  5. Yay and welcome back! You were missed a lot, methinks. I know I missed your voice.

    I think writing in your head is perfectly normal and acceptable as long as it’s not the only writing you do (I’m using the universal “you” here — I know you don’t just write in your head). At some point, “you” gotta put them there head-words on a page.

    Did I once read that Chekhov wrote entire stories in his head, which was why when he sat down to write, he could complete a polished short story in 48 hours? Or is that something I made up in MY head?

  6. Welcome back Betsy! I’ve missed you! I write in my head all the time, wonderful lines. I am not sure what it all means. It took a while to figure out that’s what I was actually doing instead of just “thinking”.. I do that sometimes right now but it feels like experimenting on where my current project is going and how I like it.

  7. Reading not writing by the lake still unable to be here now, the unresolved emotional ending to my next WIP sloshing to shore and then not epiphany but dialog lines float to the surface and I rush back to the can in ahead of my crew to write it down.

  8. So glad you are back!

    I write in my head when I have something to say but I really need to do the dishes.

    It is not so very different from the rehearsals I have when I am anticipating a difficult conversation, and also very much like the mental revisions, when I wish a conversation had gone differently.

  9. I do it all the time.

    I can’t turn it off.

  10. I definitely write in my head. Like all the time. Doesn’t everybody? The problem is turning it off at night.

    Hope you enjoyed your unplugged time, Betsy. Glad you’re back.

  11. ‘Grandiosity of the lowest order’, oh where were you when I was shrinking? Just once I would have loved to have written that in someone’s chart. Welcome back Madame.

  12. I write in my head while I am waking up in the morning and while I drive. Now in the morning, I try to make a note of what essays I was working on. I’d like to say I do the same thing when I get where I am going, but I often get too distracted.

  13. Yup. It’s just not writing. I do it all the time. Not write, that is.

  14. This sounds like me. All the writing I get done is in my head. I have a couple hundred pages numbered, but nothing is on them. I have some fantastic opening sentences. I think someone should run a contest of the best opening sentences. Perhaps it’s already been done.

  15. Oh, I think it’s part of that observer status in life that writers naturally have. We are always narrating things to ourselves. Something we see or hear links to something else, which links to an exquisite line or phrase. Or so it seems at the time. We come upon snippets all the time, which may or may not be stitched together into a meaningful whole. But I like the snippet-to-snippet way of life. Our brains are activated to operate like that.

    Damn, we missed you, woman!

  16. The problem for me is distinguishing the static from the station. Takes a lot of tuning. . .

    I have piles and files of snippets and bits, beginnings, endings, and weird middle stuff. Some of them have been useful, some won’t ever be . . . but how can I tell?

    • It seems my knob is busted and it’s attached to an 8-track…

      • An 8-track of Todd Rundgren — I keep playing Hello It’s Me in my head, all day today, which reminds me of summer at the public pool in about 4th grade. “Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong …” Love it.

        Welcome Back, Betsy.

  17. I do a lot of writing in my head. It helps my “process” but mostly it keeps me from going insane during the more boring parts of my life.

  18. I missed you SO much.

  19. Welcome back, Betsy.

    Static is a good word for what I do in my head. I do a lot of silent self judging, monologues of negative self talk, some lip syncing of I Will Survive with a hairbrush microphone, but mostly obsessing about snacks and sex.,

  20. Oh boy did I miss you. The nightly check in with whatever’s inside of your head. You must have missed it too, thus the dilemma posed herein.

    It’s all good on that side of the line, but once the head-writing spills out the mouth in a sort of oral narrative to nobody, well, then you’ve not written too long.

  21. It’s most likely part of the process and you’re lucky you’ve got the ability. My brain can’t hold a thought any longer than the length of its sentence. Friends often comment on how deep in thought I look which is funny considering how blank I really am. Too bad I’ve got gray hair. No offense to anyone else, but I’m much more suited for blond.

  22. I think the writing that we did here while you were away was the same thing: stream of CONCIOUSNESS. Don’t see anything wrong with it, but the best stuff has to be written down. So good to have you back, missed you.

  23. The stuff that goes around in my head comes out my fingertips on the keyboard.

    We were all very naughty while you were gone. Especially Tetman. And where was August? With you?

  24. It’s the immersion, or part of it. More than obsession. A more transcendent form of being. Obsessions are more focused, therefore unbalanced and limited. A writer worth reading is a person, a form of human being, more fully engaged with the world.

    Oh, fuck, I don’t know what I’m talking about. It sort of sounded good in my head, but while trying to scribble it down, it got tangled up in the Ron Wood coming from my stereo and the fumes of an altogether pleasant day. It’s just the way writers are. In general. There are variations, but it’s all the same stuff, a certain general way of being in the world.

    You can’t write all the time. Sometimes you just gotta let the stuff swirl around in your head. Other times you gotta write it down. Moderation in all things. Including moderation, which makes “moderation in all things” like one of those reflections in a pair of barber shop mirrors that goes on forever, growing ever smaller and more distant.

  25. Sweet Jesus, you’re back.

  26. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that every writer works his or her own way. Some think stuff (as do I, too), and others sit down at the typewriter with a thought and start writing. One writer in my writing club makes an outline and then fills it in. An ironic observation that has nothing to do with anything is that 90% of the literary agents are female. In a recent W. D. list, 23 of 25 were. As my daddy used to say, “Women don’t think like men.” Another ironic observation is that a well-written novel that would please all who read it would never be published because he/she didn’t have a well-written query letter.

    And so it goes. . .


  27. Welcome back!

    You have catastrophe fantasies, too? Well, then the writing in your head is the other extreme.

  28. You were missed. Coffee by itself is not the same at all as coffee with Betsy.
    Writing in the head…Remember Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple in her head? Mozart, always. You have to memorize, too, though, so it can be written down–otherwise hearing “dialogue” can go very wrong.

  29. Welcome back! I just had a forced week-plus-some away from my blog. Men really shouldn’t try to “fix” computer things. I spent a lot of the time just noodling over ideas in my head. Shitty part? I sat down to write out these glorious ideas only to realize I’d forgotten all but one of them. I need a notebook.

  30. Well, thank God you’re back. Been jonesing and the jitters had me doing a rumba version of the St. Vitus Dance, which, in itself, wouldn’t be so bad ‘cept I have no rhythm. Do you wanna dance, under the moonlight…do you wanna daaaannnnncccee? Write in my head, oh yeah. Brilliant stuff while I lie in that halflight between sleep and wakefulness. Sure I’ll remember later, knowing it will slip away with only a tantalizing sense of what might have been. Boom chakalaka. Happy feet that you’re back. Dancin’ with happy feet.

  31. I thought everybody wrote in their head. I’ve done it all my life. Sometimes it drives me crazy. It doesn’t make me a better writer, either. If it’s related to something I’ve been trying to write, I’ll jot it down.

    I got a new keyboard, supposed to be ergonomic, and none of the keys are where my fingers think they should be. I’m going nuts.!

  32. Edward Jones wrote most all of “The Known World” in his head. It took him six months to get it down on paper (though ten years, I believe he said, to think it) –

  33. Coping mechanism? Internal artistic tic? Purgatory?

  34. In the category of much beloved narcissism–or maybe it’s grandiosity of one order lower than the lowest order (new depths descended to, a new shaft in the mine of the foolish self where sparkle the pyrites)–or god forbid but maybe it’s the early onset of the brain rot that will finish by rendering me a gibbering idiot drooling into my beard while ceaselessly playing the slots at my friendly neighborhood casino….

    Anyway, what it is is a thing my mind does probably at least once a day, and that is to trifle with the intentional spoonerism. For instance, earlier this morning as I was taking my morning walk, it occurred to me that I was walking down the striddle of the meet.

    English is a wonderful toy. And it’s free!

  35. I bought a voice recorder awhile ago, to playback my guitar noodlings and listen to a voice that sounds even worse than I thought it did. It’s a cool little device that has numerous folders. In category B I let my daughter run wild with her songs and stories. In C, I try to verbalize the thoughts bouncing around in my brain. Sometimes it works and I manage to capture what I used to forget as I was driving along or walking through the woods. But here’s the latest problem: I often forget to bring the voice recorder with me. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Or is it a waist is a terrible thing to mind?

  36. I think it’s necessary…or, at least, that’s how I justify the voices in my head.

  37. Still out here. We missed you, Betsy.

    I don’t know what to make of the static. Are we composing the way musicians do, in melodic strands of words? Are we dabbing at the canvas until it muddles to brown? Are we practicing? Stalling? Whittling in balsam?

    I always thought it was just the weed.

    • I’m convinced it’s the ability to tune into the static that is the essence of the artist/writer/musician. It’s what confounds all those people who ask “how do you think up that stuff?”

  38. August told me not to go to Marfa until I’d written 10k words. When I got there, I was several thousand short and I had to confess. “But,” I insisted, “I’ve been writing in my head for days.”

    This is what he said: “Head words? Head words don’t count!”

    Then he said some other, funnier stuff, but I’m a little unclear on the whole fair use thing, and we all know how litigious August can be.

    I’m so fucking glad you’re back.

    A writer whose work ethic I admire uses Dragon dictation, so I loaded it on my iPhone. It has an intuituve learning curve I haven’t overcome, so the few times I’ve tried to use it the result reads like Paris Hilton’s found poetry attempts, but I think it’s an interesting release valve for all those headwords.

  39. I envy you and those like you who can write in your collective heads. I need the pen in hand, or fingertips on the keyboard for that type of focus. Most days bbeing in my head is similar to the view I have when my husband has the remote.

  40. The writing in my head never concerns me, but I’m starting to get worried about the writing in my dreams. Every night, lines and lines of poetry as a soundtrack to whatever images are going on. Lately, I’ve started to edit and scoff at my word choice in my sleep. I wake up exhausted.

  41. More importantly: welcome back!

  42. Welcome back!

    I always feel like the space in which my writing happens–both the nonfiction part where I am processing what happens to me for distillation into written form later on and the part of me which is imagining possible plots, characters etc for fiction–is a kind of parallel universe, the writing that happens in my head is my way of communicating with it.

  43. I kind of like writing in my head and I’m usually unaware I’m doing it. When I realize it, a lot of good stuff stops. It’s great when you can reconstruct some of it, get back to that place somehow, and put it on paper.

    Wonderful, penetrating, right on post, Betsy! Thank you!

  44. Welcome back! Missed your posts. I only write in my head if I’m deep in a WIP. Otherwise it’s just noise.

  45. I must be perfectly honest, and honest, of course, is the key to this missive, believe it or not. But when I, out of total fucking mind torturing boredom, decided to see if Betsy was back and what she had to say today, I had a very serious déjà vu. That picture of a shark in the water took me back to Friday, which was my birthday, 47 assholes, three years to my next goal, which is when I was lying on my couch writing my memoirs in my mind. I was having a struggle on that couch against an unlicensed psychotherapist who calls me his friend but is really my girlfriend’s friend and whom I consider a disgusting sloth. The struggle was that he told me I was making a mountain lion out of a mouse, and at my kitchen table, as usual, he crayon sketched an anecdote that made me want to smash him in the face for being so fucking stupid. Yet, there I was on the couch, questioning myself. I went to bed that night wondering if everything I had experienced was somehow blown out of proportion by some need I had in me to be loved. I woke-up in the middle of the night yelling, Eat me, mother fucker! Eat me! So, to all of you who wish to write like me, and like me is the compelling phrase in this missive, you gotta just yell, Eat me! Mother fucker! Eat me! And if that made sense to you, eat me!

    • Sounds like the static from the Sirens of mid-age visited you: cajoling, taunting and enticing you towards the next phase of life. Too bad they showed up on your b-day, but then that could be a gift-in-disguise.

  46. Weird. I tweeted this question a few days before this post.

    Yes. I do. All.the.time.

  47. Lots of voices in my head these days, but none of them appears to be a writer.

    Good to have you back.

    I assume you’re already busy pitching that fabulous narrative we wrote in your absence? We can deal with dividing the advance and royalties later. I call credit for the vampire bit though.

  48. It’s not static, it’s simple karma. I say simple to differentiate it from anything concerned with rebirth and all that. Half a dozen fantasies on a single subject in one day is the simple result of conditioning. A certain fantasy arises because it is used to getting fed, and without food it will die. For a thought, thinking is food. If you want to be rid of them, don’t feed them. It’s the same with hunger. Hunger arises, if you fulfill its prompting by thinking about it or by eating, it gains strength and will appear again. The amount of time you allow it to remain in consciousness is the amount of strength it gathers, is sooner its next visit. Simple, no? yes? Maybe?

  49. Yay to Bill Freeman.

    Yikes, can’t you folks get it through your head that WE COME BACK? Nothing REALLY matters. You just keep trying things, fucking up, and come back to try again.

    So, you write a lot in your head. Fab.

    Next time around, Betsy, you’ll be here as some tremendously gifted ten year old boy, and you’ll put the words on paper.

    Think ahead.

    Don’t worry. Don’t obsess. This is not the only “life” you have. RELAX AND ENJOY.

  50. I’m late on this so I’m not sure I’ll see it, but I wanted to share my vacation disaster fantasy w/ you. I was camping on a river at the base of a very large snow covered mountain. I thought, worse case scenario: an earthquake will trigger an avalanche, which will push me into the river, but my neck will break first, so I won’t experience much. That night it was so cold I WANTED it to happen; I was lying awake thinking ‘why hasn’t it happened yet?’

    Writing in head: My 4th day on the trail I wrote a sure-thing prize winner. Then yesterday, in the airport, I decided to let it go.

    I hope you had a great one. It has never felt better to get back to reality.

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