…How can you not remember?
Here’s a thing that happens to me: Last week I was talking to a book club (Hi, ladies! I love the fuzzy socks – thanks again!) and someone asked me how I pronounce the name “Carras” from Sugar Street. In my imagination it’s pronounced like “Care-Ehss” which I’ve seen spelled Kerys and Kerris as well.
While we were discussing it, another book club member pointed out that there is, in fact, a scene in which this is explained, because someone mispronounces Carass’ name.
Book Club Member: He pronounces it ‘Car Ass.’ Right?
*Looks at me for confirmation*
*Imagines entire room is staring at me, suddenly way more interested in this topic than four seconds ago, which is not true but still*
External Me: Oh, yeah. Of course. He does.
Internal Me: Who the hell is ‘he’? Did I write that? It sounds like me, but….
*Reaches for wine glass and waits for the subject to change.*
When I got home, I looked it up. And yes, there is a scene in which a police officer at the Sugar Mills Jail refers to Carras as ‘Car-Ass’ when the ladies are being bailed out because… (No spoilers!) As soon as I read it I was like, “Oh yeah, of course. That was kind of funny. I’m glad I wrote it.”
But why couldn’t I remember it?
The truth is, this happens to me all the time. When I get notes back from readers and editors who are helping get my work into publishable shape, I’m often surprised to find a whole paragraph that I am reading as if for the first time. It’s not like a blackout or anything: I remember writing it. I know it was me. But it comes to me fresh, like a cute pair of shoes that gets lost at the bottom of the closet until you find them months later and think, “Oh, yeah. I should really find something to wear with these.”
When I talk with friends who’ve read my books, they sometimes mention a line or a small moment that struck them, a scene with a side character they liked (or didn’t), and I’m like… “Who wrote that? She must be awesome.” (You can add vanity to forgetfulness on the list of my character flaws. I’ll own it.) It’s worse with my older books, like The Marriage Pact trilogy. But it even happens when I return to a current work in progress after a break, like the Easy as Pie installments I write every few weeks for my newsletter subscribers. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, and other times it’s simply disorienting.
Is this part of my distracted nature?
When it happens, I often attribute this sort of forgetfulness to my ADHD. I am definitely forgetful in all areas of my life. (Just ask the many friends who have to text me from the restaurant or the party to ask if I’m on my way… Hi, guys! I love you. Thanks for not judging me!) And ADHD may very well have something to do with it; but when I’m writing, I am super-focused on what I’m doing, so it doesn’t seem like an attention issue.
And no, I’m not pulling a Faulkner or Hemingway and binge-drinking while I write. First of all, that’s totally unhealthy. Also? If I drank while I wrote, you’d get 100,000 words of how much I love you and how special you are to me and how we should really go dancing all night and wind up at Waffle House at three a.m. like we used to. Because you are the best. THE BEST.
So, does all this mean I don’t really care about my books or my characters? Are there too many to remember? Am I bored? Uninvested? Careless? Suffering the early effects of middle age? (Well, a little, but I don’t think that’s all of it).
Turns out there could be a totally legit creative brain reason.
As researchers like neuropsychologist Kenneth Heilman learn more about how our brains work, they are finding a connection between creativity and lower norepinephrine, one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters. Among other key functions, norepinephrine regulates our level of arousal (all arousal, not just sexual — so, think excitement of any kind) and plays a critical role in committing things to long-term memory. High norepinephrine levels are also related to psychological stress and anxiety. Which maybe explains why life’s most stressful events are also the hardest to forget.
When we are being creative, our levels of norepinephrine are lower, which means our brains are free to wander and get into that excited, creative “zone” so many artists describe when things are really flowing. This may explain why it’s so hard (aka, impossible) to be creative under stress, or to perform well at tasks that require high-level reasoning.
Creating = Forgetting?
It stands to reason then — and this is my own theory rather than something I’m pulling from the literature — that while we’re being creative we commit less to long-term memory. Maybe that’s why some of those funny little lines and incidental characters are so memorable to others, but not to me. Those things are created while I’m in the writing zone (unlike the more rigid parts of a book like the overall plot, structure, etc. which are created more deliberately, and become what’s called “crystalized knowledge”). So, perhaps that’s why I am less likely to remember them later. Unless they require intense editing, which probably kicks those norepinephrine levels way up!
So next time someone asks me why I can’t remember something, I’m totally going to plead “creative brain reasons.”
Join me, won’t you?
P.S. I did a quick search looking for the a pronunciation guide for “Carras” and got this from one of the baby-naming websites.
P.P.S. If you’re reading this in December 2018, be sure to check out the multi-author sale and giveaway next door!
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