Jodi Sh. Doff

Writers are different. Not outcasts, but outliers. Outlier: phenomena that lie outside normal experience. We are not normal.

Normal people don’t need a pencil to read a book. Deciding whether to use a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, doesn’t keep them up at night. There’s us, and there’s them. They’re not looking for that single perfect sentence. It hasn’t occurred to them such a thing exists. They’ll never know the joy in writing it. They don’t consider grammar and spelling competitive sports. And they don’t have strong feelings about fonts, italics, or the use of…the ellipsis.

But the essence of our commonality, the tie that binds, is the voices in our heads. In an online medical column David from Arizona asks: For the last few months there has been a voice talking to me. Can you give me suggestions on how to make the voice stop? The response talks about bipolar issues, aging, schizophrenia, alcoholism, medication, then says: (T)he voice comes from a brain malfunction, and under no circumstances pay any heed to what the voice says.

And there it is. The thing we have in common with each other. We entire conversations and whole worlds living in our heads. Not a malfunction, they are the perfect function of our brain. And under no circumstances do we want them to go away. We want them to land, fully formed, with back-story—or in rhyming couplets—on the page.

For me, the voices—non-writer translation: ideas—stay locked away in one of the many rooms in my head, and when they think it’s safe—that there’s no chance of being recorded and the cameras are off; when I’m in the shower or talking a walk; when I’m late for work; at 4 a.m. when I have to be up at 6 a.m.; at 6 a.m. when I’m covered in sleeping cats and cannot find my glasses, a pen, or anything to write on—then, a switch is thrown, the prison doors slide open, one by one they roll out, and what had been a low background rumble builds until it becomes too loud to ignore. They all want to be heard, to be made real. They want to live.

Take notes, eavesdrop, and transcribe. I always carry a camera, a notebook, and at least one pen for each of the voices in my head, because I will invariably run out of ink when my voices are being particularly clever and I don’t want to miss a single word. Because that brilliant phrase, the sparkling idea, the twist and tweak that’ll make it all work, will be gone by the time I get home no matter how many times I repeat it in my head.

If I don’t write them down, the words will turn a corner and become something else.

There are voices in my head that aren’t mine. There are people walking around in here I haven’t even met yet. Respect them. Record them. Tell their stories. Take notes.