Alone in a Crowd: Inside the Mind of a Writer

Being a writer generally feels a bit… surreal.

Writers tend to fluctuate between two planes of reality: The one in their heads, and the one in the waking world. The writer is often fully buried in his or her mental world, but rarely completely inhabits the waking world. The writer can also often be found somewhere in between, wandering in one direction or the other along the fantasy/reality spectrum.

What I do notice – at least with myself – is that my need to dwell in my mental world often creates conflicts with the waking world. If I spend too much time in one or the other, it causes me a fair amount of stress. If I linger too long in my head, wallowing in my thoughts and fantasies, I begin to feel like I’m losing my grip on the real world. Then, like a drowning person, I feel a desperate need to lunge to surface so that I may gasp for air.

But if circumstance forces to me stay overlong in the waking world, I begin to feel like I’m losing my sense of self. And so, like a person languishing in the heat and eager to cool off, I feel the need to plunge back into the sea of my thoughts…

I confess, my instinct is usually to dive for the bottom.

I generally work a four-day week at the day job. By the fourth day, I usually feel rather out of sorts. I’ve become disconnected from myself; I’ve spent too long out of my head. By way of contrast, the morning of my first work day feels completely bizarre, like I’m living out a scene from a Rob Zombie film. I’ve been inside my head for too long, and coming out of it makes me a bit loopy.

In my experience, there are only two people – or groups of people – who can interact with writers at will, and do so without rudely disturbing their in-my-head/out-of-my-head fluctuations. Those people are writers’ spouses, and other writers: The two demographics that are ‘in the know’ as to how the writer’s mind works.

The rest of you?

We love you, at least when we’re living outside of our heads. We love you, we value your company, and we’re grateful for your friendship.

When we’re buried inside of our heads…?

You’re a ghost. A phantasm. A specter, a mist, and a shadow. We’d like to connect with you; we truly would. But at the end of the day you’re just not… real.

Now the eternal question is this: Does the waking world really fade in and out of the writer’s perception, as though he were the god of all reality? Or does the writer simply fade in and out of the waking world, like your drunken uncle who keeps going on long benders?

Does it matter? To paraphrase Neil Gaiman: The writer simply does what he does because it’s who he is; if he did otherwise, he would cease to be himself…

And if he did that, we wouldn’t have any more stories to read.

9 thoughts on “Alone in a Crowd: Inside the Mind of a Writer

  1. This was so good! And it’s absolutely true. I feel exactly that way. Sometimes I’m torn between two worlds and slightly unbalanced, but I don’t want to change. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It really does feel like two worlds exist or in my case maybe three. 😏 The trauma world, real world, and my writing world. And they fight to all exist at the same time.

    This is a great blog post!

  3. Hi Virginia,
    I hope you had a lovely Christmas and your New Year is wonderful.
    This was an interesting and heavy blog. Nice job it got me thinking about myself as a writer.

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