How do you write without seeing images in your mind?

DiscussionsCategory: QuestionsHow do you write without seeing images in your mind?
Jennifer McDougallJennifer McDougall Staff asked 5 months ago

Writing is a process. We all have different techniques and styles when writing. In this article award-winning author, Dustin Grinnell shares with us some of his strategies for how to write without seeing images in your mind. What strategies do you use?

Rachel C replied 5 months ago

I get writing by ‘patchwork’; one of the workshops I did while first planning out my novel involved listing things I liked, and then breaking down WHY I liked those things. And therefore, pulling what I liked from each work and attempting to make it work in different ways to make my novel. I don’t think that’s just an aphantasia thing, but possibly more common in them.

Further, I write notes, constantly. My bus ride to school is usually the time I jot down ideas while I listen to music. My phone’s Note app is full of them. Or I’ll bounce ideas around with my best friend, who we also have another joint novel in the works. She visualizes, so she is sort of my metaphorical wall to throw pasta against to see if it sticks.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have never had any issues ‘translating’ thought to writing; I don’t have to ‘translate’ from mental image to written word. It’s just constantly in words already. But that still doesn’t make writing any easier for me either. I would still love to see my book thrown as a huge movie blockbuster, but alas.

Jennifer McDougallJennifer McDougall Staff replied 5 months ago

Would love to know more about this book you are writing Rachel. What’s it about?

Rachel C replied 5 months ago

My very first novel has a stand-in name called Paradise, but is my attempt at a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s still incredibly rough and mostly unwritten at the moment, and it’s been hard finalizing a plot. I wrote it mostly out of order, so it’s been difficult filling in the plot and details. But I like it a lot.

Recently however I finished a very rough first draft of a fantasy short story I’ve had on my mind for a few months. I did the worldbuilding all on my own, but it does involve aphantasia imagery (ha) and metaphors. It’s based on a priestess that is inaugurated and allowed to “see” her goddess for the first time after going through intense training and schooling. Her ‘mind’s eye’ is an actual, physical, eye that forms under prayer, but it’s blind. She can’t see the goddess. But can hear her voice, and realizes that many prophecies have been misinterpreted because other priestesses can’t hear her voice.
It’s just a short story atm, but I could expand it further into a book if I so wanted to. I have a few more ideas kicking around to expand upon.

Michael McDonald replied 5 months ago

Literacy is my weakest skill. It is tiring to read and I prefer an image or short movie to make a point over a thousand words. Spelling still trips me up, I just don't mind it anymore with tools built into Google docs that highlight my creative spelling.
On a slightly related topic of note taking I"ve adopted a strategy that may be useful to others.
It requires the font to have a constant width like "courier new".
interesting/useful/new concepts are put on a new line.
related info is
easy to scan down the page for primary topics of interest
grouped together
I need only read to the level of indentation where I get the point
if the thought is not clear then I go to the next level.

I find reading a story with complex character names really challenging because I have no internal images to describe them. A character might be defined early in a novel then not referenced until much further along. The disconnect does my head in. The stories I enjoy the most are those that focus on the moment relying only slightly on detailed knowledge of the past. This is probably why I like action movies the most, "The Power of Now". I do not seem to store detail information well, instead I seem to generalise most things. Happily, although much later in life did I learn this, my auditory learning is very good. Not good enough to recall exact conversations but good enough to teach a concept. All this requires is hear a new concept clearly explained, then it sticks. Don't ask me to read and comprehend a complex science paper but if someone speaks it so it is sufficiently clear to understand then hey presto. So I love podcasts.

I think there is a skill novelists and managers have in common that I lack. The ability to plan in the head. I cannot plan a chess play multiple moves ahead for example. I do not seem to be able to store multiple tasks concurrently in my head in order to shuffle them around to optimise a flow. I "imagine" that being able to hold a map in the head would greatly aide a manager/novalist/chess player. (the noval or novel is a prime example of what I was saying earlier about spelling). Similar to that philosopher that memorised a speech by assigning segments to different statues placed around a room. To me all faces are the same in my head – black nothingness. It took me awhile to click that what all those meditation experts were talking about when they said visualise the air as light, or the chakras just wasn't worth my time. Empty mind – I got it.

5 Answers
Rob BRob B answered 5 months ago

Having only been made aware of being aphantastic relatively recently, I’ve never really given much thought to how I write. I write short stories and reports and things and have never had a problem. I do tend to drop lots of notes into notebooks about things I find interesting and can generally ruminate on something (non-visually) and figure out a tale or a yarn or two.

I used to be in a small group of people who gave each other prompts to write short stories (3 of the group are now published authors).

When I write from prompts, as I know do with my local Writer’s Circle, I generally have no idea what is going to happen until I put pen to paper and I kind of just "go with it".

I do read a lot, so I’m sure I draw inspiration from things I remember or film and TV shows that I watch.

There is certainly know imagery involved! If I’m writing something character-centric (rather than event-centric, perhaps) I have to write a pen picture of the characters so I can keep referring back to it. I tend to be a bit factual and logical about it and keep lists of facts or figures that I may want to weave into it.

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