The Perils of Writer Brain

It’s possible I might be biased, but writing is the best thing in the world. You get to disappear into other universes for hours at a time, playing around with magic and mayhem and whatever else takes your fancy, and spending time with people (human or otherwise) who are so much fun to be around that deep down, you’re pretty sure that they’re actually real.

Writing Brain is a brilliant defence against boredom. Long day at work? I’ll visit the Spider Circus. Slow train journey? No problem, I’ll just hang out with Sigyn and Loki for a while, see what they’re up to.

Unfortunately, Writing Brain also has its drawbacks, and these drawbacks become particularly obvious when it has to face up to that most confusing of places, The Real World.



Don’t get me wrong – the world can be a wonderful, magical and mysterious place, all by itself. But sometimes, I find myself wishing it was a little more like fiction. When Writer Brain comes into play, I can’t help noticing that…


Real life is poorly structured

In stories, things happen in a way that makes sense. Actions have consequences. There are narrative arcs, character arcs, main plots and sub plots, but they either follow a pattern, or break from it in a way that’s meaningful.

If real life were a book, it would be the most badly-plotted piece of drivel ever set to paper. All right, sometimes a scene might have some kind of satisfying payoff, but it’s never a guarantee. I just spent my lunchbreak waiting in a glacially slow queue at the post office. In a story, this would either be useful character development, or something would have happened that was relevant to the plot. In reality, it was just a very dull half-hour.




There’s very little resolution

I worry. I worry a lot. It’s probably my worst habit. I’ve spent so much energy over the years trying to break the cycle of worry -> resolve worry – > worry again. It’s like being permanently trapped on the teacup ride at the fair, except I rather enjoy the teacup ride, so actually that was a pretty terrible simile.

I’ve had endless epiphanies about how my worries are all in my head and there’s nothing stopping me from beating them except…well, me. If this was a story, that would be enough. I’d walk free from my anxiety, possibly with a power ballad playing in the background, and it would never trouble me again. Or, alternatively, something drastic would happen that would snap me out of it forever.

Writing Brain expects this, and so I’m frequently disappointed that my character development doesn’t seem to stick, and the same old anxieties rear their ugly heads time and time again. Come on, reality, can’t I have the “and she lived peacefully ever after” moment on this one?



The dialogue is terrible

Everyone knows at least one person who is permanently witty and wise, who says the perfect thing in every situation. I’m starting to believe that these people are actually fictional, because most of us can’t do that. If you transcribed an average human conversation into a novel, the page would come back covered in editorial notes, mostly pointing out that it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

The other day at work, I confidently told my line manager “I can definitely yes.” What the hell was that supposed to mean?



Too many characters

The Song of Ice and Fire series, for all its dragons and murderous shadows and zombies-in-the-snow, is incredibly realistic. Why? Because there are about seven billion people in it, and I can’t remember who most of them are.

The real world has so many characters, and every single one of them is a protagonist. This makes it really difficult to keep track of them, especially when you don’t have a cheat sheet or a wiki to refer back to.

(Okay, this one isn’t a real Peril of Writer Brain. It’s just my rubbish excuse for why I can never remember anyone’s name).



Writer Brain doesn’t always stay completely in step with the real world, and sometimes this can be strange and disconcerting. But then, maybe that’s what makes us write in the first place.


Alice’s books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Her webcomics, co-created and illustrated by Emily Brady, can be found at the Footloose website. Ally rambles about writing, feminism, and odd questions that cross her mind on Twitter and Facebook.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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