Once upon a time I started studying for a PhD. I never completed it because I couldn’t finance myself. (That’s one reason. Life is complicated; there were other reasons, but let that one suffice.) The PhD was supposed to focus on a form of school education called Content and Language Integrated Learning. It drew on my experiences and research I carried out in the classroom. Part of the preparation for the PhD involved studying aspects of qualitative research and trying out techniques. One technique which my tutor was keen for me to experiment with was called “vocalised internal monologuing” or “intra-personal communication” – basically, talking aloud to yourself.
Apparently, in an effort to find out what people are thinking when they are doing things, some researchers have wired up their subjects and got them to talk aloud. The assumption is that recording what the subject says gives an insight into the subject’s semi-conscious or even sub-conscious choices.
I don’t want to reject this technique out of hand. I can even imagine that it might work successfully with people who are able to express themselves at the same time as they are physically doing something that does not require thought. Something repetitive. I could certainly see myself talking aloud about what I’m doing whilst washing the dishes for example.
In my case, though, my tutor was asking me to talk aloud about the process of writing and analysing written documents. All while I was actually writing and analysing. It just didn’t work.
It’s hard enough, I find, to dictate into word recognition software simply creating a text. (As I’m doing the moment.) If I have to create a text at the keyboard while at the same time talking about what I’m doing, the two processes conflict to such a degree that nothing gets done. For me at least, the creative act of writing and the act of reflecting on the creative act of writing must happen sequentially. Not concurrently.
I started thinking about this now because I wanted to say something about my creative process. But putting on the microphone-headphones and starting up DragonDictate tripped me back 14 years into my memories of working on the PhD.
To get back to what I meant to write about when I started…
Writing in blocks
After expressing my wish last week for a more settled life that might allow me to focus on my writing, I decided to try and do something about it. On weekdays now I am setting myself the task of writing in 45 minute blocks throughout the morning. I start about 9.30 and go on until about 1 o’clock. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to keep this up. The everyday does still intrude. But at least I can make the effort.
The 45 minute rule is intended to keep me from sitting for hours in front of the computer. I’m using the timer in my telephone and when the alarm rings I get up, stretch, walk around. Maybe go and make myself a cup of tea. As I have a desk which I can raise or lower, when I come back I make sure I change from sitting to standing or vice versa.
Scrivener & Scapple
Under the new regime I have created a document in Scrivener for the whole of Elin’s Story. All of the four (or it may be eight) books I’m currently planning. I have written a description of the whole story as a very abbreviated summary. Now I’ve started breaking the summary down into chapters.
I’ve lived with this story for getting on for six years now. I have a lot of it in outline, either in my head or in various electronic documents and physical notebooks. The summary is not by any means complete. I fully intend to add to (and subtract from) what I have written now. But it feels good to have created this outline structure and to have at least an idea of where I’m going. The full summary is about 3500 words long and the projected novel (all the books together) is 480,000 words. I have a way to go yet.
My next task is to build up my cast of characters and assign them to different chapters in the first part of the first book. This is so I know when I’m introducing them and can focus on bringing them in appropriately. To help me I am creating family trees, character sets and timelines using Scapple. (Software that was recommended by my fellow Blogg 52er Lars Billbäck. Thanks Lars!)
I brought a mass of material with me on memory sticks (I have used two or three different computers to write Elin’s Story over the last five years) and I find that I’m also going out on the Internet to track down other information so I’m not sure how fast the story will advance, but I’ve got things to keep me busy at least. And that takes me to the end of my second 45 minute session dictating this blog entry so I’ll close now and promise to keep you posted on future developments.
The illustration is a screen-capture image from my desktop.
This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.