When you lack a particular skill, you are often curious what it would feel like to have it. For example, I marvel at people who can sing in key, or even recognize the right key when they hear it.  I suppose it's more about feeling the music than thinking it. So I wonder what that feeling is like.

My little window of talent involves selecting the right words to make things sound either funny or compelling. I'll get to that in a minute.

My job also involves drawing, but that's not so much a talent (obviously) as it is a simple skill that I developed through practice. If I have any talent in that area, it involves knowing how to make the drawings fit the way I write. I could draw in a lot of different styles, albeit just as poorly as the one I use now, but my current style might be the only one that fits my writing.

Let's forget about the drawing part of my job and talk about word selection. In that area, I can actually feel a sensation that is like no other in my life. And I wonder if it is what musically inclined people feel when they write the perfect melody, or what athletes feel when they are in the zone.

I can literally feel words. And I wonder if it is a mild form of synesthesia, a condition where people have a form of crosstalk in their senses. A person with synesthesia might perceive certain words or numbers to have colors. Or they might perceive a particular month or a year as having something like a personality or a location.


My relationship with words is that I can feel them more deeply than most people. At least that is what I think is happening. To me, the word aura feels beautiful, but when I see osso bucco on a menu, I feel as if I have been slapped by a crabby skunk.

By the way, I experience the words "osso bucco" the same way I experience the words "crabby skunk." The words and their meanings are completely different, yet the feeling I get from them is the same. I probably store those words in the same parts of my brain.

I'm reading Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open. I assume it is ghost written, since Andre is barely educated, he says. My first reaction to the writing style was that it is heavy handed, and it bothered me. In time, I realized the writing style evoked the same feeling in me that Agassi evokes as a public persona. It was a perfect match. I assume Agassi's publisher hooked him up with a world-class ghost writer, and it shows. The writer found a style that fits the subject, probably leaving a lot of writer's ego at the curb. It's brilliant work. The book is fascinating.

People often ask how I get into the writing frame of mind. To me, it feels like being the night watchman in a museum. My job is to make sure all the doors are locked, and the blinds are pulled, and the lights are out. As a writer, you need to shut out all of the distractions from your other senses. I make sure I'm not hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or listening to anything. Then, like the night watchman, I go room by room with my flashlight until something scares me, surprises me, or makes me laugh. I have to feel something. And when I do, that's the part I keep. Then I wrap up the inspiring words in ordinary words, to form sentences. That part is more craft than art.

Writers tend to work early in the morning, or late at night, when brains are naturally able to focus deeply on one thought. In the middle of the day, distractions are unavoidable. I wonder if anything worthwhile has ever been written in the afternoon.

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Feb 9, 2010
Feb 7, 2010
One of the things that is very upsetting to many artists is that they have this gift that allows them to do whatever they do, and have it taken away from them. This has actually happened to me. I used to be able to sing opera, and fairly well at that. About two years ago, I was in a boating accident and my throat was partially collapsed. It took months just to get my voice back, and my opera voice may never come back. And it is painful knowing that I could sing so well before, knowing exactly how it is supposed to feel and sound like, and failing to do so.

So I say to you all this: If you have an artistic gift, treasure it. Keep it safe. Protect your brain and limbs, because you never know what's around the bend.
Jan 27, 2010
I wonder why the *real* night watchmen are not highly creative :P
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Jan 27, 2010
Hey Scott,

a topic for your next article.

California - a failed state - http://www.newsweek.com/id/232575

thought it would be interesting
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 27, 2010
It was showed that if you do something 100,000 times, you get it right. No really, not 50.000,
Jan 27, 2010
Oh, so that's what it's called! Thanks for that tidbit for the mind.

I "feel" words, phrases and even sentences, and when they don't "fit", I won't be able to explain why.

I write a lot for my work, but I do all my creative writing between 10.30pm to midnight - at all other times my muse refuses to work. Part of me believes that it's due to me being more of a 'night person'. The other part of me thinks that is more of my own conditioning, since I can only use those few hours out of an entire day solely for myself. So I guess the night museum guard analogy will work for me too... though I like to picture myself wondering the streets of an empty city at night, peeking into different windows and seeing people live out their lives.

No, not a voyeur. At all.
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Jan 27, 2010
I've tried to convince my husband of the necessity of peaceful, distraction-free space and time in order to write. He believes I'm just making excuses. My dream is to have my own office, away from the house - with no phone. Actually I will need two offices. I will give my spouse the address for one of them....
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Jan 26, 2010
I'm an EE with unusually good verbal skills, and I'm also very visual. When I need to solve a problem, depending on the context, mathematical terms, computer code, musical notes, or words do lovely acrobatics on the blackboard in my head, bouncing and flipping themselves around in a graceful ballet until they've arranged themselves into perfect order with a satisfying "plunk!" (that "plunk" feeling is how I know they're done).

When I was first taught Arabic numbers, I felt each one as if it had its own personality. Fours were rather sharpish and mean, fives were friendly, and nines ... well, nines were just plain magical (they do some of the best tricks).

I do feel music. Having been a musician since early childhood, I could feel it in my hands from very early on. About fourteen years ago, I started contradancing. Uncoordinated geek that I was, I needed about five years' worth of dancing every week to feel the music in my body (it took that long to dawn on me that all those body parts were attached to my brain and needed commands to move). It was definitely worth the wait: ever since, whenever we the dancers and the musicians in the band land in the same groove, we all end up in Nirvana (a good band becomes the third partner in your couple).

I can't work worth s-q-u-a-t in the morning, but I do just fine in the afternoons. However, night is best if I need to be creative--the later, the better.

Someone else who posted wondered whether all engineers are at least slightly high-functioning autistic. I'm sure I am, and I suspect that the rest are, too.
Jan 26, 2010
Do you pick your title after your write the blog entry?
Jan 26, 2010
Wow Scott, thanks to your post, I just discovered that I have number form synesthesia... I knew I did it, but I never knew there was a name for it. I also suspected most people didn't see numbers, months, and years the same physical arrangement as I did, but it always just seemed right to me.
Jan 26, 2010
the night watchmen. a poem:

when you,

my little window of talent,


let's forget about the drawing

i can.

my relationship,

by the way,

i'm reading



in the afternoon.
Jan 26, 2010
As far as the book about Agassi; go to the back of the book(the last page I believe) and read what is said about the author. You are correct, he is an accomplished author who kept his name out of the book to make it better.
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Jan 26, 2010
My personal metaphor for writing is picking ideas out of a garden. Unfortunately, my garden is tangled with ideas from decades of reading -- unsorted, unweeded, and in crooked rows. Trees and vines are mixed in to make it a dark jungle. In groping to harvest something edible, I'm as likely to grab a fallen apple as an oinion. This makes for some crazy salads, figuratively, like rutabago-okra-persimmon, or elderberry-nettle-kohlrabi.

Undisciplined reading is my downfall. Right now I'm reading Wells's MEN LIKE GODS, Gould's BULLY FOR BRONTOSAURUS, and the latest big book of NEW YORKER cartoons. Is there any useful pattern there?

When I wrote my first interesting short story, having finished it just the way I wanted, I couldn't sleep that night for my mind racing and fizzing with amazement and hope. I felt touched as if by some part of the radio spectrum that caused my thoughts to vibrate in synch with a large and mysterious force.

I have a love and feeling for words and ideas, but it hasn't gotten beyond a certain level; and never will, I realize. Too late I realized writing is hard work.
Jan 26, 2010
I don't mean to be picky but it's actually "osso buco" with only one 'c'. Literally it means "the bone with a hole in it", and yes it sounds a bit creepy to me too because the dish is actually bone marrow, cooked inside the bone.
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Jan 26, 2010
In a previous life (read: job), I was a writer at a magazine. I can totally relate with what Scott is saying.

Non-writers used to ask me how I could write 2 or 3 articles in a day. Other than trying to meet gun-held-to-your-head deadlines, I told people it was because I could "see" the words. Now, this doesn't just mean on paper, naturally. It means seeing them in the mind and transmitting them to print. I suppose this could be the same as feeling words, however, I wouldn't agree with that sensation. For me, it's more visual -- mentally visual. An artist once told me that he could "see" in his mind what he wanted to freehand. He would just copy the image in his mind.

I agree with Scott that writers must have a sanctuary in which to do their best work. For me -- no joke -- I did my best work in the shower. I literally had a board on the wall in my bathroom at home. There was something about running water that triggered creativity. I would quite literally jump out of the shower, grab the grease pencil, and write ideas on the board. My old publisher used to tell me he was going to have a shower installed in my office at work. (Never happened, though. Something to do with construction code...)

We used ghost writers quite a bit. I did some ghost writing. The publisher would say, "Here is so-and-so. He can't write. Make him sound good." There is nothing quite like taking a piece of work and really making it a piece of work!

Morning is the best time to write. That's when creative energy is at its peak. Come afternoon, I don't feel like doing anything but surfing nude fish sites....
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 26, 2010
The correct choice of words is just so important when it comes to humor. George Carlin did a bit about the airline safety lecture (and as a frequent flyer I can't help but think of it every time I fly) where he makes fun of the line "Please check around your seating area for those personal belongings you might have brought on board".

He replied, "Well, I *might* have brought my arrowhead collection, but I didn't, so I'm going to look for those things I *did* bring on board".

The joke is a play on "might have brought" so pretty much anything could have be used, but, damn it, "arrowhead collection" is just so perfect, and part of what made him so amazing.
Jan 26, 2010
For me Osso Bucco feels scatalogical. Like kissing a**. I've never ordered it. Other food names that scare me- anything with "shanks" in it. Lamb shanks. ecch.

Thanks for the insightful post. It gives me some insight into my own adhd-writing-interruptus. I need to become a night watchmen, instead of the guy who lets people in the back door for ten bucks....
Jan 25, 2010
Word synesthesia is an interesting idea... I've only read about music synesthesia.. lots of interesting anecdotes and ideas in Oliver Sack's book "Musicophilia"
Jan 25, 2010
Wow. A few months back, when the "Tell 25 things about yourself." thing was going around on Facebook, this was my number 8.

8. Sometimes words, phrases, sentences seem rock-solid and very physical to me. Turning over well-crafted words in my mind feels as physical as holding an object in my hand.

Your posting explained it very well. Thanks very much.
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Jan 25, 2010
Check out "The Man Who Tasted Shapes". Also, I've known plenty of musicians with perfect pitch and they all say that the notes have a color. It sounded neat and I was always a little jealous.
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