Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

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Progress, word count, and a sign that I may have a brain tumor

An extended weekend coast getaway and I have made some middling progress on Book 2. Gray skies and sea and a cozy cabin will do that to a girl, especially a writerly sort of girl, which I am. God bless the Oregon coast and all its inspirational glory.

Word count for today: 3,274

The day isn’t over yet — I expect I’ll be adding more tonight, after I’ve had a bit of supper — and I got a late start. But as word counts go, it’s pretty sad, considering I regularly bust out 10,000 words or more at a go when I’m more on my game. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on my game in quite some time, a state I don’t quite know what to do with, frankly, and I’m grateful at this point for any word count at all. I may in fact have to start regular word count posts as a means to keep the momentum, at least until I get this train back on track.

And speaking of trains, and tracks jumped thereof…three separate times today, I wrote “thrown” when I meant “throne”, and was in fact thinking “throne”. A simple mistake, you might think, but you would be wrong.

I’ve never had a problem with homonyms, homophones, or homographs, other than the occasional mistake caused by a momentary brain lapse. I have no trouble differentiating the correct usage of there/they’re/their, its/it’s, red/read/read/reed, nor even words that are not technically homonyms/phones/graphs, such as accept/except or insure/ensure. And in fact I have never really had a problem with these vagaries of our delightful language, though I certainly understand the confusion they cause others.

Never, that is, until recently. In the last few years, I’ve noticed an alarming problem that has me a bit freaked out. Have I suddenly begun confusing there/they’re/their, the bane of most English users? Do I now struggle with whether it’s it’s or its? Am I now conflicted about whether the word I want is accept or except? No, no, and no. Again, except for the occasional brain lapse, these give me no trouble.

But recently, I have found myself typing words that are different than the ones in my head, homophones that I’ve never before struggled with and in many cases, didn’t even think about as being homphones until I found myself typing the wrong word all of a sudden. Like today’s repeated use of “thrown” when I meant “throne”. It wouldn’t have been a homophone pair I ever would’ve thought of if I were listing them, and yet my brain made the connection and took it upon itself to order my fingers to make the substition. Even as I was typing the word, I was thinking “throne”, yet I typed “thrown”. And even after I was aware of it, I kept doing it.

It happens in blog posts, emails, texting, book writing…I’m doing it frequently, discovering homophones that never before occurred to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize before that the word I’d intended had a homophone equivalent, but simply that they were never connected together for me before unless I was specifically trying to think of homophones. We’re not talking about common, everyday mix-ups here. And it’s happened to me so often now that I’ve lost track of all the different pairs that’ve popped up, and I’m constantly discovering new ones (thrown/throne is my new one today).

Other homophone mix-ups I’ve made since this whole problem began:  roil/royal, bawled/bald, sordid/sorted, brood/brewed, wrapped/rapt, nose/knows (this one happens to me often now), righting/writing(!), chews/choose, sewn/sown, rigger/rigor, praise/preys, coulee/coolly, wheeled/wield. Those are just the ones I can remember at this moment, far from a complete list.

It’s got me so freaked out that the day that I substituted “eyed” for “I’d”, I googled demon possession and brain tumor pathology. Because seriously! How is this not a sign of something being majorly frakked in my noggin?? My brain is melting together, you guys! The orderliness of my previously awesome cerebral cortex is breaking down into chaos!

I have an alternative theory that my synethesia is spreading…that in addition to my spatial-sequence synesthesia*, where my brain has made connections between the flow of time and the three-dimensional world, my brain is now forming connections between words that have similarities. This would be a far cooler explanation than a brain tumor, and it’s the only reason I haven’t fled to the nearest neurologist’s office for every expensive brain scan available.

Or it could just be that I’m getting old and losing a bit of my mental faculties. But I think I’ll stick with the synesthesia theory.


*(For those new to the show, yes, I have spatial-sequence synesthesia, which that link up there explains very succintly:  “In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).” My synethesia is strongest in relation to time, but I experience it with all number forms (hence the number form link). And that is the cool fact about me for today.)

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Reader Comments (4)

I don't have any brilliant theories, but for what it's worth, I've noticed a marked change from visual to auditory information processing in my own brain in the last few years, and I observe that the problem you mention is also very much one of auditory processing.

Good spelling, especially in English, is a highly visual activity. I'm sure that you, like me, can skim a page of text and spot a misspelled word almost unconsciously because it's "shaped" wrong, if you will.

The problem you're describing here seems like a reversion to auditory spelling (which works a whole lot better in, say, Italian than in English), and I wonder if it's a phenomenon related to my own shift from eyes to ears.

I blame the internet. I can't give you a rational argument for that statement, but I feel it very strongly!

September 20, 2010 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnne Hawley

Hmm...interesting theories here. I hadn't considered the visual/auditory angle, but you make a compelling case. I'll have to pay a bit more attention to how I experience the problem and consider that aspect.

I also hadn't considered the internet angle...as much as I love the internet -- and you know I do love it so! -- I've been a bit freaked out by how much it's affected my attention span and reading habit. So much so that I've made conscious effort to limit my A) multi-tasking and B) online reading. I have always been an avid reader, and when I started noticing that I couldn't sit still with a book as long as I used to, it really bothered me. I wasn't making time for reading like I used to either -- which, to be fair, is partly to be blamed on my insane work schedule...I didn't use to work as much as I do now, either, and it took no thought or planning at all to have an entire evening gobbled up with a good book. I don't want to lose that, so I'm working against it.

Strange, isn't it, how the internet has affected even our micro-evolution?

September 21, 2010 at 12:48 AM | Registered CommenterWriter's Cramp

Not sure if you're even checking old posts, but I came across this while googling this exact problem -- mixing up homophones -- and it's got me freaked out as well! I do it with won/one, hear/here, etc., and I have always been a perfect speller/writer.

I'm chalking it up to fatigue (newborn son)...but did you ever figure out what was going on?

February 21, 2012 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDan

@Dan: Hello and congratulations on the newborn!

I haven't yet figured out why this started happening to me, but like you, I think lack of sleep is probably at the root of it. Why it seems to have just suddenly manifested, I have no idea, but I can say that it doesn't seem to be as frequent now as it was when I posted this. Am I more well-rested than I was then? Hardly! :) But a combination of factors have improved my mental well-being overall, so maybe that's the correlation.

I'd say it's probably just your brain telling you Help, it's fallen over and can't get up!, and it'll pass when your life settles down a bit. So...approximately 20 years from now. :)

February 21, 2012 at 8:19 PM | Registered CommenterWriter's Cramp

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