The Voices in My Head-This is Your Brain On Writing
If I say to you, I hear voices in my head, does this suggest to you that my mental state is disordered? I thought so. Let me explain.
I have a range of voices that I hear inside my own mind; none have (so far, anyway) seemed to be external, in the sense of being like hearing another person calling from a different room.
The first of my voices is the mundane, work-a-day one that says things like, “You need to buy more milk,” and “Remember to put the bins out,” and other everyday things. It’s the voice of basic level consciousness, the one that reminds me to look both ways when crossing roads.
The second voice is more sinister and it’s also a chameleon. It’s the voice of my inner critic. I suspect there may actually be a number of them, depending on the severity of the information being doled out. It tends to tell me, in varying ways, what total shit I am. Sometimes it’s clever and it wraps this all up in what you might call a shit sandwich; by which I mean it puts nice things on either side of the stringent criticism.
The third voice is that of intuition. It seldom shouts unless I refuse to listen. It feeds tentative information about things that are often nebulous and hard to define. It puts together subliminal observations and stored memories and brings out of those sources often some incredibly, frighteningly accurate analyses.
The fourth voice is the still small voice. It’s similar in some ways to the Intuitive voice but has a different internal quality. I’d say it’s like the voice of my guardian angel, whispering to me. This is not something I hear often but when I do, I get goose-pimples and the hair on the back of my neck stands on end.
The fifth voice is one that in the past had prominence: narrative voice. It’s the thundering of tales in my head, the turning of a few thoughts into a coherent, compelling story that if I let it, can keep me awake all night, and typing for days until I become exhausted. Before I was ill, this voice would be there constantly, like white noise. Sometimes it became overwhelming and to get rid of it, I had to write until it stopped driving me. This narrative voice is starting to increase again. For a long while it was blocked (by the effects of my parathyroid tumour) and was dim. I had to become very, very still and undistracted to be able to tune into it. Sometimes it was shut off entirely.
So in the light of this, I found the following New York Times article (This is Your Brain on Writing) intensely comforting. The experiment was to look at the human brain during the act of writing. They did a number of different tests, to see what parts of the brain were used for the simple act of copying, what for plotting, and so on and the results have been hotly debated. The conclusion seems to be that the way the brain of an experienced writer works is different to that of a novice writer.
“One region near the front of the brain, known to be crucial for holding several pieces of information in mind at once, became active as well. Juggling several characters and plot lines may put special demands on it. But Dr. Lotze also recognized a big limit of the study: His subjects had no previous experience in creative writing. Would the brains of full-time writers respond differently?To find out, he and his colleagues went to another German university, the University of Hildesheim, which runs a highly competitive creative writing program. The scientists recruited 20 writers there (their average age was 25). Dr Lotze and his colleagues had them take the same tests and then compared their performance with the novices’.As the scientists report in a new study in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently, even before they set pen to paper. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.“I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice.”
For the full article, please read it here:
In the wake of my surgery, to discover that my narrative voice is returning is excellent news. I don’t know how long it will take before the thunder of its roaring with overcome the critic and the everyday voice but I live in hope that just as my capacity to use my second language (French) seems to have returned, the narrative voice will just gain strength as I use it more. The brain is plastic and elastic and it can and will restore itself if given time and care to do so.