A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Writing ate my brain

This weekend, I threw a party for 30 five-year-olds. Call me naive (and many parents did) but this was the plan:

Scan 5The reality was less Oranges and Lemons, and more like riot control.

At least I had plenty of time to think about this blog, as I re-rolled 105 metres of toilet tissue (first rule of riot control: never suggest playing ‘wrap the mummy’).

I was equally naive when imagining life as a full-time writer.

In my head, writing was The Perfect Job to fit around children: serene days at my desk; short breaks for coffee and chores; an early finish for the school run.

In reality, life feels just as frantic as it did when I commuted to an office. Writing eats time, and the more you give it, the greedier it gets. I sit down, become absorbed, and suddenly the day is over. Sometimes, it was over 15 minutes ago and that distracting noise is the school ringing to remind me.

Psychologists call this flow: concentration so intense that everything else falls away. There’s a great TED talk about it here and this article explores the science.

For me, flow is the best and the most challenging aspect of life as a writer.

Flow heightens creativity and makes you happy. The ability to not just ignore housework but forget it even exists is fantastic for my word count. But it can be hard to snap out of it afterwards.

I reach the school gates like this…


… dazed, wide-eyed, a bit disconnected. Unable to predict the consequences of feeding 30 children Haribo and asking them to take turns on a bouncy castle.

My short-term memory is biroed on the back of my hand, and I’m useless with names unless I’m writing about them. Right now, I can list more 19th-century doctors than guests at that riot.

I also blame creative flow for my failure to finish unpacking a year after moving house. For the toy soup in the playroom. For a laundry mountain so big, my children outgrow clothes before they are washed.

I worry that one day I’ll look up from reworking a sentence, and find three feral boys hanging from the curtains, having raised themselves.

Actually, that won’t happen. I haven’t got around to putting up curtains yet.

Isabel Thomas has written more than 100 non-fiction books for children and teenagers, published by DK, Pearson Bug Club, Collins Big Cat, OUP, Raintree, Wayland and Bloomsbury. Her first fictional picture books will be published by Curious Fox in 2015.
Website | Blog | Twitter

Owl photo by Calvin Smith, cropped under Creative Commons License 2.0

About Isabel Thomas

Isabel Thomas studied Human Sciences at Oxford University before becoming a writer. Her books for young people include HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (OUP), shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2016, and SELF-DESTRUCTING SCIENCE: SPACE (Bloomsbury). Isabel lives in Cambridge, where she is zookeeper to three young sons. Website: Twitter: @raisingchimps

10 comments on “Writing ate my brain

  1. bridgeanneartandwriting
    October 1, 2014

    I love this post so much! I feel normal! Thank you so much!

  2. bridgeanneartandwriting
    October 1, 2014

    I hasten to add I feel normal because I feel exactly the same! Maybe it’s not ‘normal’ exactly – more ‘not alone’ !

  3. marjma2014
    October 1, 2014

    Hi Isobel. 30 kids your brave! I love your owl, those wide eyes are great. Must catch up soon haven’t been to Cambridge Writers meetings for ages. Finished my novel so will be on the search for a publisher soon.

  4. Janet Edwards
    October 1, 2014

    Great post, Isabel. I get lost in the flow a lot when I’m writing, and my husband says that owl picture exactly captures my desperate eyed expression when abruptly forced back into reality. The science article on flow is fascinating too. Given how much the brain changes in flow state, it explains why it’s so hard to make a sudden shift out of it.

  5. Isabel Thomas
    October 1, 2014

    that made me laugh! thank you x

  6. Isabel Thomas
    October 1, 2014

    Yay! Don’t tell me it’s the novel you discussed at Ruth’s house though or I’ll weep into my coffee – I can’t get anywhere with a novel!

  7. Isabel Thomas
    October 1, 2014

    Thank you Janet, and for tweeting… owly eyes anonymous! x

  8. Samantha Salisbury
    October 1, 2014

    Made me laugh Isabel! See you at school tomorrow!

  9. Isabel Thomas
    October 2, 2014

    Reblogged this on The blog what I wrote.

  10. Pingback: Making it work as a full time writer | AUTHOR ALLSORTS

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