The Curious Case of Aphantasia in the Writing Community

the curious case of aphantasia in the writing community
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The Curious Case of Aphantasia in the Writing Community

Aphantasia is a condition where an individual cannot visualise images in their minds eye. It was first described in 1880, but it’s only since 2015 that we’ve had a name for it, coined by Professor Zeman at the University of Exeter. Now I’ve successfully summarised the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page on aphantasia, let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole together.

In October of last year, I was hopping around the wonderful world of Youtube when I encountered a video by AmyRightMeow named, “I have APHANTASIA (and you may too…without realising it!)”. AmyRightMeow is a Welsh artist, known for her animation/animatic work on Youtube, Instagram and most other social networking platforms. The video describes how she recently realised that she has aphantasia and that in order to draw she relies heavily on reference pictures to build up landscapes, living rooms and even people.

I became somewhat obsessed with this idea. And I know, an alternate way of thinking seems like a terrible thing to be obsessed with, but it amazed me that someone with such a different mind could still be so creative. In the back of my head, I kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it, until finally I turned to the good people of the writing community on Twitter. I posed a simple question, “how many of you picture scenes in your head while writing, and how many of you don’t picture anything?” and I got a pretty amazing response.

aphantasia 1

Of the 186 people who voted in the poll, 90% visualised while writing, but 10% did not, a much higher number that the 2% predicted to have aphantasia in the world’s population. Of course, it may be that people with aphantasia were busy searching Twitter for folks talking about the condition when I posted the poll, which would inevitably skew the results. However, I found a surprising number of folks I already followed and chatted with believed they had it too.

The discussions I had with people who have aphantasia were immensely interesting. For instance, you’ll notice that I’m not using terms like “suffer from” or “afflicted with” when I talk about aphantasia, and that’s because the vast majority of the folks I spoke to with this condition didn’t convey that kind of sentiment to me at all. The way they think about the world is different, not difficult. The “aphants” I spoke to found it just as strange to imagine being able to picture things, as I do trying to figure out what it’s like not to be able to do it.

I spent two days chatting about this on Twitter, and with my irl friends via Facebook and by the end of it, three really interesting points came out of my discussions:

  • One of my followers (sorry, I’ve forgotten who and I can’t find the tweet!) suggested that folks with aphantasia may be attracted to writing as a form of creativity, as they can describe things through fact stories, i.e. they know how to describe an apple, but they store it as a list of facts rather than visualising it. Writing is a way of being creative, that doesn’t require the ability to visualise, which might explain that 10% I found through my poll.
  • While the original research on aphantasia focused on the ability to visualise, the term can also be used to talk about a limited ability to imagine any of the senses. When I posed this to my friends from university, they found it fascinating that I can fully imagine all five of the “basic” senses, while they had varying levels of ability for each. This probably goes someway to explaining how absorbed I get when writing 😉
  • Some people also don’t think in words. This stumped me, and honestly, I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it (probably because I think using ALL THE WORDS). Essentially (and this may be a bit wrong, so apologies), some people think in concepts, rather than words or images. I think the easiest way I can exemplify this is with the idea of love. We have plenty of words to describe love, and we feel it, but we also have a concept of it sitting in our brain. When we see it in the real world, we recognise it and think about it, even if we don’t pay it much attention. We might not internally say “they’re in love”, but we might make a series of connections that lead to something else. Like we might look at a couple holding hands and suddenly find ourselves texting our own partner. There’s been a series of thoughts to make that connection, but we don’t necessarily know what they were, because we don’t pay enough attention to when we’re thinking without words. This is an article Alice Cann shared with me if you interesting in diving even further down this rabbit hole.

Basically, the curious case of aphantasia in the writing community has taught me that human perception and consciousness are utterly baffling, completely ridiculous, and I love everything about them. I may also have gotten a third PhD idea from this…possibly, definitely.

So, how do you think? Do you see pictures? Can you imagine touch, taste, smell and sound? Or do you have aphantasia? How do you think it affects the way you interact with the world?

Honestly, I have so many questions about this, I could go on and on. However, for now, I shall love you and leave you. Folks who have aphantasia or who don’t think in words, please feel free to correct me if you spot anything I’ve got wrong!

Otherwise, I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat bizarre blog post and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Best,

EM.

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What up, 2019?!

What up, 2019?!
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What up, 2019?!

As my last blog was a catch-up post, I won’t go into great detail as to why I then went silent for another short stint. I was ill, it went on and on, Christmas, New Year, blah blah blah. I normally attempt to post something when I’m ill, but honestly I was pushing myself to do a ton of festive stuff and at the end of it all…I needed my bed, friends.

Anyway, “What up, 2019?!” she says, vaguely referencing the 1999 Budweiser ads (while desperately trying to avoid realising how long ago that was now). Welcome to the traditional beginning of year reflection and goal setting blog post. I know a lot of people hate New Year’s and I’ve seen a lot of eye-rolling and sarcastic posts about resolutions in the last few days. But me? I love this time of year. Unshakeably so.

Yes, you shouldn’t wait for New Year’s to set a goal. If you think, “Actually, I really want to read 10 books this year,” and it’s July, get to it! But what New Year’s offers is a great big BOOMING reminder to sit yourself down and think about what you’re doing, whether it’s right for you and if there’s anything you’d like to change. Now, some might argue that you should you endeavour to engage in self-reflection more than once a year. Those people are probably right. However, if you’re anything like me (in that you run from self-reflection 364/5 days of the year), New Year’s is a perfectly attainable, bare minimum amount of inward thinking that we can all strive to meet.

So, every January 1st , I crack the spine on a new diary and make a list of things that I want to try doing in the new year and a list of things I just want to try doing in life, at some point. (Someday I will ride a mountain coaster, GDI!)

However, what I don’t tend to reflect on while I write that list is this blog. I often write “Blog more”, “Blog regularly”, but I never really think about the type of content I’m producing until I’m sat down at a computer trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to write.

When I rebooted this blog last year (The Sequel Part 2: Return of the Sequel), I talked about how I disliked the rigid timetable I’d used before, and how, despite enjoying flicking through my previous posts, I didn’t feel like they really reflected what I wanted to do with the blog. I think 2018 was better on both fronts; the upload schedule was much easier to meet and my posts were more closely related to what I was doing. Looking down the list, I’m quite proud of what I produced.

That being said, there are a few things I’d like to change for 2019. So here we go with my blogging resolutions:

  1. Bring back book reviews – For some reason, I completely refused to do these in 2018 and I think that was a big mistake.
  2. Keep a list of any blog ideas – I started off with this last year, but as I got busier that list got real short, real fast.
  3. Set aside time to jot out blogs in advance – To avoid writing from scratch on the day of posting, every time.
  4. Actually implement blog redesign – I have the drawings, I just never got around to getting it on the computer and coding it all up.
  5. Add proofreading services page – Because, hey, I proofread now 😉
  6. Stop looking at your hits counter and write what you want – For a hot minute, I fully considered turning this into an alternative beauty blog because The Dos and Don’ts of Double Helix Piercings is still getting regular attention.

And I think that’s it. Only 6 little things that have been bugging me, but I think they’ll ultimately make this blog much more enjoyable for everyone involved 🙂

But anyway, enough about me! What up with your 2019?! What are your resolutions for this year? What changes are you making in your life?

 

Best,

EM.

Catch-Up: What have you been doing???

Catch-Up: What have you been doing???
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Catch-Up: What have you been doing???

You may or may not have noticed that I disappeared for a couple of months. I hit August, finished the first draft of my MA dissertation, realised I needed to rewrite most of it and took an executive decision; it would be better to fall off the face of the internet for a bit than to lose my sanity trying to juggle everything.

Of course, after my dissertation was handed in I had to move, then I had my birthday, visits from friends and long unseen relatives and, finally, I got hit in the face by my old enemy – the stress illness. I jotted down a few blog ideas, but I never quite managed to get around to writing them up and actually posting them.

And then, the longer I left it… the trickier it got to just put something up. I wanted to do an update post, but so much was happening that I wasn’t sure where to start.

So, this week, I decided enough was enough, sat down and jotted a list of the major things that have happened over the last few months. Hopefully, this will answer the buzzing question; WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING???

 

1. Making friends on Twitter:

Back in July, I suddenly figured out how to use Twitter effectively and started making some great writery friends through hashtag games and writer tags. In September, as a way of thanking the community for the warm welcome I’d received (and to celebrate my birthday), I ran my own prompt game called, “#EMPrompts”. A fair few folks got involved, and it was good fun reading through all the stories people came up with. Seriously, if you’re a budding writer looking to make connections, Twitter is the place to be. Start with #WritingCommunity or #WritersTable. The majority of people involved are insanely friendly, non-creepy humans who just love to write. I reached 1000 followers over on Twitter last month, and I’m still too overwhelmed to figure out how to thank everyone XD

2. Writing (and not writing) Moon-Sitting:

After I recovered from my cold, the first thing on my agenda was finishing a draft of Moon-Sitting. My initial intent was to get this novella out before the end of 2018, and my pace at the beginning was excellent. I hammered out the first draft in a few weeks, but after that things came to a grinding halt. I want to talk about this in more depth in a future blog post, so I won’t go into the details here, but basically I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of months trying to talk myself back around to finishing it. It’s only in this last week that I’ve recaptured my excitement for the story, so it’s looking like Moon-Sitting should be out early next year.

3. Proofreading:

Finally, I took on some proofreading work during November, including an MA Literature dissertation of 30,000 words and a non-fiction history book of 40,000 words. It was something I enjoyed a great deal and, if anyone is looking for a proofreader, feel free to contact me via e-mail (em.harding@hotmail.co.uk) or DM me on Twitter (@EM_Writing). I don’t bite and I’m very thorough 😉 Fiction or non-fiction, I’m happy to look at either.

 

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, but things are finally settling down. I also had some excellent news in November; I got a distinction for my MA in Applied Linguistics (including a distinction for my dissertation). I graduate this week (on Wednesday 12th Dec), and there is some talk of trying to edit my dissertation into an article for publication. I am incredibly excited, as you can imagine.

Anyway, I’m hoping to start posting fairly regularly again, but I may swap to Sundays (rather than Saturdays) when things are a bit quieter at home. I’ll try to post weekly, but may go for fortnightly during busy periods.

Hope everything is going well for all of you and that this winter season is treating you kindly, if a little coldly!

Best,

EM.

Fiction: The Bathroom Floor

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Fiction: The Bathroom Floor

Eva got off the bus and waved to Ally and Kyle as it sped away. It had been a weird morning. A session of English and a session of Psychology, followed by coming out to two friends in the front seat of a 168. Eva had only known them for a few months. The confession sat weirdly in the pit of her stomach, but Kyle was gay and Ally bisexual, so it’s not like she was the only queer on the bus.

Eva trekked up the hill towards her house and let herself in. Her phone buzzed.

So are you seeing anyone at the moment? – Ally

Eva blinked at the screen and put it back in her pocket, then washed the dishes left on the side from breakfast. She plodded up the stairs, put her bag in her room and walked into the bathroom and locked the door.

She took her phone out of her pocket, bit her tongue and wrote:

No. I’m not dating anyone.

Eva lay down on the floor next to the bathtub and traced the outline of the wooden panelling. Her phone buzzed again. She counted to ten.

I was, uh, wondering if you might like to go out with me? – Ally

Eva plopped her phone down in the middle of her chest and stared at the ceiling.

She was 17. She’d been kissed once during a game of spin the bottle, but no-one had ever paid her any real attention before. The ceiling was white, but had a couple of marks where her sister had swatted a moth, but wasn’t tall enough to clean up the mess.

Ally was nice. And she was cute. Eva was attracted to her, but as she lay on the bathroom floor she realised that her whole body felt numb.

Finally, Eva took a long, tight breath. Then shot back:

Yeah! Okay 🙂

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Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

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Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

“Kill your darlings” is a time old piece of writing advice, that’s been attributed to Stephen King, William Falkner and Oscar Wilde. It’s also one that I think gets up the nose of most writers, after all, none of us like to be told to get rid of that bit of writing that we absolutely love.

However, the point of “kill your darlings” is not to tear out every sparkly new metaphor and destroy all your precious similes. It’s about reminding you to find a place of objectivity, so that you can become a writer that other people will want to read.

Step 1:

First things first, I want you to take off your ego and leave it at the door. Whether you’re a sufferer of crippling self-doubt, or one of those rare writers who’s cursed with arrogance, your ego has no place in the editing room. It’ll only serve to trip you up and send you sprawling. So, when you’re reading your own writing put yourself to one side and step into the shoes of a reader. I’ve extended this clothing analogy too far, haven’t I?

Step 2:

Now you need to be brutal with your work. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to a reader, so question it! You’ve said her eyes were the blue of a stormy ocean, but do you also need to say her lips are the plush pink of an orchid and her hair hung like gilded satin around her shoulders all in the same paragraph? Or maybe you’ve described how the kitchen counters are dense black marble, but your floors are shimmering laminate and your cupboards are beautifully antiqued oak? Here’s the thing, these are all reasonable images and descriptions to conjure up. But stick them all in one breath and you’re likely to give your reader a headache. Pick your favourite children, then suck it up and kill the rest.

Step 3:

Now, learn when to resurrect. What am I saying? Well, let’s pretend you’re now two chapters down the line and you’re staring at the same woman. Previously your hero was looking into her eyes while she was angry, so the stormy ocean imagery made sense, but it didn’t make sense to talk about her plush pout and glistening golden locks. However, now your hero has realised he has feelings for this woman, and they’re having a blink off over a cup of coffee. You can now sneak one of those murdered babies back in to your text. And if your description is looking particularly sparse, you can resurrect both.

Step 4:

However, learn when to bury it deep. While there will be occasions when an image is so good, it’s worth sticking back in somewhere else…there will also be darlings that just need to stay dead. For instance, the Writeryjig Clubamabob crew recently called me out for using an image in dialogue that seemed far too rehearsed. Arguably, Olivia (The End of Atlas) is the type to rehearse conversations over and over, so the line almost made sense, but given the scene it was over the top. As it was, I ended up editing the whole scene because Olivia was a huge drama queen at a point in the story where it was completely inappropriate, and my image died with the dialogue. And dead it will stay because it was too contrived. (FYI, I would tell you what the line was, but it’s a major spoiler.)

Step 5:

Finally, start applying “kill your darlings” to the bigger picture. This advice isn’t just about imagery, or even shoddily disguised polemics. It can also be used to look at the broader picture of your novel to pick out what’s not working. In my time, I have personally written characters with voices ten years too old for them, loveable assholes that have just been straight up assholes, and have essentially embedded the opening to a fanfiction of my own characters into more than one novel. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you love a character or scene (or indeed how much you chuckled when you wrote it), it’s just got to go!

 

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you who really struggle with the idea of “kill your darlings”. Cutting out things we love can be incredibly difficult, but if it’s going to irritate the reader or just seem plain silly in the greater scheme of things then better to kill a phrase than wipe out a novel.

Now, I’m off to get back to hacking my other love apart (my dissertation). Let me know down in the below if you have any tips for killing your darlings, or what your thoughts are on this tip.

Catch y’all next week!

Best,

EM.

Poem: Penny For Your Thoughts?

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Poem: Penny For Your Thoughts?

I remember the day,
Not the exact date,
But the moment
When the penny finally dropped.

It was another lazy afternoon,
Just me and you,
Walking for hours, talking for miles.

And then you said,
“I like these random conversations,”
And paused, still in motion,
As the tiny metallic object fell
And rolled around your skull.

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Plans: Life After University

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Plans: Life After University

I was really hoping that today was going to be a nice, easy day off. I was feeling a touch ill yesterday, but I pushed through thinking that I’d have today to recover. However, I woke up with random lower back pain, swiftly followed by an email from my supervisor which suggests I’ve got significantly more work to do on my dissertation than expected.

This has led to a crumby day, during which I’ve indulged in watching the show I turn to whenever I just want to wallow…12 Monkeys (TV series, not film). Seriously, I’ve never watched anything more depressing than James Cole running laps around himself through time. Mainly because I hate 90% of the characters, and the 10% I do like are crazy/ sociopathic.

But anyway, I still wanted to put a post together. After all, I’ve got a nice streak going, and I’d hate to break it. I also wanted to think positive thoughts for a little while, before I inhale a tub of ice cream. So, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the things I’d like to do after I finish my master’s degree, specifically in the first year.

1. Travel in the USA:

I’ve always wanted to travel, but my life pretty much went school, university, job…university. With this next year, I want to take some time to visit the places I’ve always wanted to see in person, and hopefully have some adventures along the way. I’m planning on doing a trip to New York and this little place in Ohio that I found by chance on Google Maps. Travel is going to be interesting, but I’m up for a challenge.

2. Self-Publish Moon-sitting:

Moon-Sitting is the working title for a novella that I’m playing around with. It’s much heavier on the science fiction than I usually go, but it’s an idea that was just going to keep rolling around in my head if I didn’t write it down. I hoped it would be a short story…it was not. So now, I want to use it as a trial story, which I’ll probably put up on Amazon for cheap, along with a sample here so folks can try before they buy. At the moment I’m about 3/4 of my way through the first draft, so I’m hoping to get it out before 2019.

3. Kickstarter a Lit Mag:

I really love reading other people’s work and helping them make it the best it can be, so I think I’d really enjoy putting together a Lit Mag. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since the beginning of last year, but it’s been so chaotic with work and then university that I just haven’t had the time to really sit down and think about how to get it started. However, I do know that I’d want to pay folks for their written work, and possibly commission some accompanying art work too. If you’re interested, I recommend following me here, or on Twitter (@EM_Writing) as I’ll likely put updates there, when there are any 😉

4.  Finish The End Of Atlas:

I’ve been working on Atlas since 2013, so the end has been a long time coming. My intention after my first round of university had been to take a gap year, but I let myself be talked out of that. Now, though, I’m going to bite the bullet and push to do what I want to do. Finish a novel and try to get it published. At least then, when I’m 80, I won’t be able to say I didn’t try.

5. Figure out if I still want to do a PhD, and what I want to do it on:

I went into my master’s thinking I’d come straight out the other end into a PhD. But at the moment, I’d love a break. And some thinking time. I’ve learnt a lot about linguistics this year – everything from discourse analysis, to psycholinguistics – and it’s opened up a lot of possible avenues for me to head down. I’ve really enjoyed analysing comic books, but I also liked playing with more numerical data, and even fiddling around in online forums. I know now, as well, that I could certainly turn my current dissertation into a book length project on the linguistic elements that make up fanfiction. But right now, this second, I couldn’t think of anything I want to do less than analyse more fanfiction (that’s a comment on my current mood, not a comment on fanfiction.) Thus, I’m going to take a year before I go thinking about putting in an application.

 

So yes, I have a big year ahead planned. Just have to make it through this dissertation, and I can get going O_O I’ll get there. I will.

If you’re interested in any of the projects I’ve mentioned above, do feel free to follow me over on Twitter for the latest bits and pieces (again @EM_Writing). I also post micro-stories daily using the #vss365 prompt. So go have a look see 😉

All the best for this week!

EM.