June 08, 2010

A Writer's Brain, by Janet Sketchley

Matthew, aged 5, presented me with a fantastic, multi-coloured scrawl. “It’s a ship, Mom.” He began to elaborate: for water, as opposed to space; don’t get stuck in that part, because it’s the engine. On impulse, I suggested he write a story about it. He agreed -- after all, he was supposed to be getting ready for bed.

Speaking raw material
His imagination was still primed from drawing the picture, and he started telling the story as soon as I was ready. I wrote as fast as I could, often stopping him to let my pencil catch up. He was so focused that he could pick up where he left off as if he’d never paused -- perhaps playing video games has taught him something after all.

Occasionally he would come and check my work, but for the most part he just kept narrating. Even in the flow, he was precise with his wording, but he never backtracked or tried to edit himself. The important thing was to get the story out in one piece.

I kept quiet when he repeated words or concepts, and resisted the urge to correct his tenses as I transcribed. I watched him on the edge of my vision. He was so involved with his story that he had to keep moving.

What a scene we must have made -- the little boy orbiting the coffee table as he spun his tale, and the adult parked on the couch, biting her tongue.

Itching to organize
If we were a writer’s brain, he would be the creative process: lost in the wonder of discovering the story. I’d be the editor portion, straining against my muzzle. He was speaking my raw material. If I intruded too soon, I might damage it.

When he finally wound down, he had a nice little story. Later, if invited, I could work his “first draft” into a much shorter story. Perhaps he would add some fresh bits, and we would have something “publishable.”

Why do I find it so hard to follow his example?

Both sides doing what they do best
Today, when I sit in front of the computer, I’m going to try to apply his lesson. When I get a picture of where my story is going, I’ll let my fingers dance on the keyboard for the joy of following the muse. I hereby give myself permission to write a sloppy first draft as I explore.

My internal editor can go out for coffee. She’ll come back in a better frame of mind when I need her, and feel validated and supremely important when she sees the mess my creative frenzy has made along the trail. Once both parts of my brain have had their fun doing what they do best, my story will be as publishable as I can make it.

Will somebody hand me a market guide?

© Janet Sketchley, 2003, 2010. Originally published in Exchange, January 2003.
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.


  1. What fun! You have gleaned a great illustration from this, and kudos for not making him go to bed!

  2. The best conversations usually happen at bedtime or when it's time for visitors to go home...


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